The coronavirus shutdown has been challenging for every small business, but especially so for service businesses, which generally rely on in-person interactions. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that over 100,000 small businesses have closed permanently due to the crisis – and that’s based on figures calculated back in April.
But small business owners are strong and optimistic, especially as restrictions are starting to be lifted. Some 79% were partially or fully open as of late June. Today, 43% of business owners say they’re “very concerned” about the impact of COVID-19 on their companies, which is a high figure, but it does represent a drop of 10 percentage points compared to the previous month. From lawn care to graphic design, network administration consulting to beauty treatments, small businesses are reopening and working hard to return to their previous revenue levels.
Success is in reach, but it’s hardly as easy as simply picking up where you left off. The virus is still with us, and we need to adjust to it. The world has changed. Unemployment remains relatively high, and it’s unclear to what extent the cash will flow. Consumers and service teams have new concerns, new pain points, new needs, and your business needs to identify, understand, and respond to them.
The good news is, there’s no need to do it alone. There are tech solutions for everything today, and that definitely includes reopening after the coronavirus lockdown. As with everything else in life and business, gadgets and software products aren’t fixes unto themselves. A manager who doesn’t care about her employees won’t suddenly boost morale and create a cohesive team culture just because she signed up for the latest shiny SaaS product for collaboration or productivity. It’s all about how you use them.
With a sound approach, however, the right tools can make returning to non-virtual work easier and more effective. Here are three starting points to consider.
While much of the country seems to have successfully flattened the curve, new infections are continuing to rise in many parts of the US.
We know that we won’t be entirely free from anxiety about infection until there’s an effective vaccine. That’s not likely to be until early 2021 at the very earliest.
Many employees are still nervous about coming in to work, especially if they have someone high-risk in their households or are considered high-risk themselves. Many are unsure about the risks, what to do to stay safe, or what to do if they suspect they are infected.
LiveChat’s Chatbot.com and Infermedica have teamed up to create a free Risk Assessment Chabot service to answer people’s questions based on information published by the World Health Organization and confirmed by Infermedica’s own medical expert panel.
The chatbot responds to natural language and in easy to understand sentences – no medical jargon. It isn’t a doctor by any means, but it’s an effective first-line self-assessment tool for anyone who feels ill or suspect they are infected, so employees will feel reassured knowing they have a place to turn for answers.
Chatbot.com offers native integrations with Slack and other tools that your employees likely use for communication during their work days anyway, plus hundreds of other conversational platforms using Zapier as a connector, so you can easily customize the service for your business.
You can also use the platform to add your company’s practices for reducing risk of infection, and to explain what you’ll do to help employees who think they are infected. For example, you can reassure them that they will not lose their jobs if they stay home – which also helps reduce the risk of infections spreading at work.
You, your employees, and your clients are all concerned about lowering infection risk when you meet face-to-face, or mask-to-mask, with clients. Using its online appointment booking service, vcita can help you reduce the risk of infection for clients and employees by updating your self-service scheduling process to include questions about client health.
Online appointment processing means you can build disclosure into your existing booking flow. You can ask questions like “Did you have any contact with someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days?” or “Is your temperature below 100℉?” before your clients even confirm their appointments. You can customize the messaging to ask about possible symptoms if you prefer.
You can also use vcita’s wider suite of customer communication tools to automate emails and text messages, asking these questions in the hours before each appointment, or add a line to your online booking process that makes it clear that clients can only come if they complete the health declaration within 24 hours of the appointment.
If you were able to innovate during lockdown to pivot/add extra revenue stream selling online services or products, now is not the time to abandon them.
If you were able to develop a physical product based on your business, or if you always had a sideline selling related products – for example, a personal trainer selling weights and mats – then you can keep that aspect of your business going without the risk of human contact, using “buy online, pay in store” (BOPIS) fulfillment.
With the right BOPIS strategy, also known as “click and collect,” your company can carry on selling products while maintaining social distancing. Pivotree is a software suite that offers several features empowering merchants with BOPIS, including multichannel transactions, notifications and fulfillment flows.
BOPIS can even apply to many pure service business situations, like tech support. If a client needs to add a new computer to his office network, for example, then you can likely walk him through the entire process on a video chat, once he has picked up that new ethernet switch from your premises. You can use Pivotree’s Virtual Associate Platform in situations like these, integrating video conferencing with physical product fulfillment.
Reopening is nerve-wracking and ramping back up to your previous revenue level can be hard work, but it’s within your grasp. With the help of the right tech tools, you can reassure clients and employees that it’s safe to return, help keep infection risks low, and streamline your sales and services to help make your business stronger than ever.
Disclosure: The author does not have any vested interest in the projects mentioned.