When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the country, many small businesses, especially those who relied on foot traffic and in-person customers were forced to either shut their doors indefinitely, operate in a limited capacity, or make a rapid digital pivot.
Now, we’re seeing customers cautiously returning to local businesses all across the country, as lockdown restrictions begin to ease and businesses start to open their doors for business once again.
Re-opening, however, is about more than switching the lights on, dusting off the shelves, firing up the POS system, and unlocking the doors. In fact, for the foreseeable future, running a small business is going to be anything but “business as usual.” Small businesses need to focus on keeping customers and employees safe; staying compliant with federal, state, and local regulations that can change almost daily; and finding ways to grow their business under a challenging new set of circumstances.
There are several considerations for small business owners as they begin to open their doors once again. It can be overwhelming, but technology can help ease the burden. By following this practical advice, you can connect with your customers, drive demand, empower your staff, and digitize your commerce.
In many cases, fully staffing a small business right now isn’t feasible. Either due to decreased demand or safety measures preventing too many employees from being on site at once, many businesses are running at partial staffing levels, implementing staggered schedules, or instituting hybrid staffing models, where some employees are on site and some are still working from home.
Designing a staffing plan that works for your business and your employees is important, but you also need to ensure that the model you choose is underpinned by technology to make it successful.
Even if all your employees aren’t all together at the same time, they need to remain in contact. Cloud-based communications, messaging, and collaboration solutions allow teams to stay in touch whether in the office or at home, and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) tools allow team members to take calls on their office or mobile phone with the same number, ensuring no communication breaks.
Even with the right applications in place, however, managing hybrid teams comes with bandwidth considerations, as employees working from home are jockeying for data along with their families, who are learning, streaming, and gaming on the same residential networks. In certain parts of the country, Comcast Business has introduced Comcast Business At Home, a dedicated, enterprise-grade and business-paid set of connectivity solutions for businesses that have a premise-based location served by Comcast Business as well as teams working from home. In parts of the country whereComcast Business At Home is not yet available, business-grade Internet is still available to run to home locations through a traditional, safe and easy installation.
Businesses with a high degree of customer-facing, traditionally face-to-face interactions have had to undertake sweeping changes. From arrays of plexiglass barriers to sprawling picnic tables on newly created restaurant patios, there are a number of physical changes businesses are making to adapt.
In order to further decrease contact, however, small businesses can undertake a number of technology and process improvements, starting with point of sale systems. Smart point of sale systems, requiring a simple tap of the card or wave of the smartphone, can reduce hand-to-hand cash or card contact, while at the same time improving customer experience.
Many businesses that have been open through the pandemic have put directional devices like floor placards in place to route foot traffic, reduce crowding, and ensure customers can abide by social distancing guidelines. From the ground level, it can be difficult to map and monitor foot traffic, but with a high-resolution video monitoring system, business owners can identify bottlenecks, tap into cloud-based storage to view traffic over time, and check on their business from anywhere.
On-premise WiFi systems can also serve customers information about new policies and protocols when they log on, and footfall analytics can give business owners a window into peak times and patterns and plan accordingly.
The severity of the outbreak, the extent of lockdown guidelines, and the comfort of customers and employees can vary widely from state to state, and even city to city. The reality is that conditions are unpredictable for small business owners and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Some businesses are welcoming customers back in, while others stay closed either due to regulation or by choice.
Small businesses can supplement in-person business, however, with a wide variety of digital tools. Customer interactions like consultations, estimates, and troubleshooting can be done via video conferencing. Businesses can stand up easy-to-use e-commerce tools to build online sales, and tap into the power of social media to stay connected with customers, no matter where they are.
Small businesses should stand ready to serve customers as business conditions continue to evolve. Businesses across the board will need to be flexible enough to support customer experiences as needed, with a likely focus on digital engagement for the foreseeable future.