OP-ED: Communication builds confidence and comfort

Deborah Yonick
Codorus Township

Reopening during a global pandemic is an unprecedented event for all businesses grappling with it today. The concerns and unknown risks about how to conduct business during the “new normal” are many.

What is certain is that businesses cannot simply pick up where they left off, as COVID-19 is still very much with us and will be for the foreseeable future.

As a longtime business writer in the fine jewelry industry, I’ve been pouring over consumer reports, referencing resources from trade organizations and garnering advice from business consultants to develop content to help jewelers navigate this unchartered territory.

Server Angela Garbo takes an order from Aaron West and his mother Helen, both of York City, at Central Family Restaurant Friday, June 12, 2020. The restaurant opened to indoor dining as York County and other areas in the state went into the green phase of the pandemic recovery on Friday. Owner Karl Spangler said, among other precautions, seating was limited to alternate tables. Bill Kalina photo

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Groups tracking consumer behavior, like McKinsey & Co., find COVID-19 has already changed habits, permanently. Used to staying home now for weeks at a time, consumers are shifting to online and digital solutions, as well as reduced-contact channels to get a variety of goods and services. In the future, they won’t visit retail outlets unless given good reason (i.e. an in-store exclusive).

Many trends were underway pre-pandemic, with the virus pushing businesses to streamline operations and re-imagine physical and virtual spaces and how people interact, shop and do business.

As we reopen, some customers will resume daily activities outside their homes without reservations. But most consumers are uncomfortable to fully re-engage, finds McKinsey. As consumers determine where to visit, research shows they want extra reassurances, prioritizing cleaning and sanitization, and looking for the use of masks and barriers.

Consumers decide with whom and how to do business based on their needs, priorities and values. Businesses should be upfront as to what customers can expect when visiting them.

I have not come across many YoCo businesses posting prominently on their website and social media their efforts to keep employees and customers safe — mostly information regarding curbside pickup, special business hours and policies for making reservations.

A business doing it right, The Glen Rock Mill Inn has been regularly communicating with customers on its website and social media as to what guests can expect. In a recent Facebook post, owner Brandon Hufnagel shared: “Sustaining our staff members and protecting the investment in our business, historic property, and community will drive how we begin to reopen and reinvent our restaurant and hotel. We developed a set of guidelines to help us focus on the goal of protecting our investment in our restaurant family and our business.”

Hufnagel talked about services like pre-ordered and prepared menu and curbside carryout, and efforts for outdoor dining and re-imagined indoor dining to come. He spoke about mask-wearing and social distancing, reduction in guest capacity, and rising costs in food, sanitation and personal protective gear. Refreshing, enlightening and keeping customers invested in its success.

Thumbs up as well to Flinchbaugh’s Orchard and Farm Market for its open dialogue. Prominent on its homepage: “THANK YOU for your patience as we navigate this new shopping experience.  Please join us in wearing a mask and distancing as is respectful to others when shopping in our Farm Market and outdoor garden area at this time.”

The website details how the market is reimaging services, and favorite seasonal activities like its kids summer camp, and asks customers to join the staff in implementing the protocols that will help it be successful.

Businesses that are not promoting their safety protocols, and how they are innovating and adapting their operations to meet the challenges of the day, are missing opportunities to tell their stories and build trust.

Consumers, particularly those endorsing businesses to reopen now, should get behind health protocols in place, as advocated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the well-being of theses businesses and the community.

Most consumers research online, starting with a company’s website. And Millennials and Gen Zs, the biggest consumer demographics in America, are using multiple platforms in a single customer experience. This makes it even more critical for businesses reopening to have clear, concise and consistent messaging across communication channels.

While consumer confidence is at an all-time low, it has only one way to go but up. Businesses that promote their best practices and protocols, innovations and value-added services will inspire confidence and help consumers feel more comfortable getting back out there.