As the B.C. economy begins to carefully reopen during Phases 2 and 3 of the BC Restart Plan, small businesses have many things to consider. Developing a communications plan for reopening should be near the top of your to-do list.
This plan isn't just to let people know you're open for business. It also needs to answer questions and concerns around how you plan to reopen and operate safely during the "new normal."
Here's a roadmap to creating an effective communication plan for reopening.
Step 1: Set Clear Goals
Be clear about what you want your communication strategy to achieve. Steps involved could include all or some of the following:
- Reassure customers and employees that you've taken all possible steps to keep them safe
- Educate customers and employees about COVID-19 and the best practice measures to prevent its spread
- Make it clear what customers need to do or not do. For example, stay away if showing symptoms, or the wearing of a face mask
- Communicate important business information such as changes to opening hours and what products and services are available
- Manage expectations around what customers should expect when you reopen
Step 2: Know Your Audience
While your primary audiences are likely to be customers and employees, you should also consider who else could be interested in what you have to say. This could include investors, contractors, suppliers, and potential new hires. It's crucial to be empathetic in your communications at this time. Attempt to answer your audience's specific concerns and information needs, such as:
- How will you keep me safe?
- When are you open?
- What products or services are available?
- What instructions do I need to follow when I come to your place of business?
Step 3: Focus on Safety
In terms of messaging, this probably isn't the time for talking up your products and services, or leading with special offers. First and foremost, people want to know how you will keep them safe. How effectively you communicate this could make the difference between a customer doing business with you now, waiting a while until they feel safer, or just going elsewhere.
Follow official, trusted guidelines from credible sources such as WorkSafeBC and the Government of British Columbia. Things can change fast during this pandemic, so refer to these websites daily and update your communications as needed. We are continually updating the B.C. Business COVID-19 Support Service with the latest information.
Step 4: Develop the Right Content
Your communication to customers needs to both reassure them and earn their trust. At the same time, it must also help you keep your promise to protect them from COVID-19.
It's a team effort. Like all of our efforts to flatten the curve, the success of Phase 2 depends on everyone working together—businesses and customers alike. With that in mind, aim to communicate information such as:
- Your safety measures, such as your cleaning and sanitizing routine and use of PPE
- Physical distancing measures in your place of business
- Checkout and payment processes
- Must-knows before coming, such as if there are restrictions on the numbers of people in your premises, if an appointment is necessary, and if a face mask is required
- Opening hours, including if there are special hours for certain groups, such as seniors
- Any new or changed products or services
- Any sweeteners for customers, such as discounts for health workers or partner offers
Step 5: Use the Right Tone
If ever there has been a time for plain language and clarity, this is it. Stick to the language the Government of British Columbia and Provincial Health Officer use as your audience will be very familiar with it.
Above all, keep it warm and friendly, keep it clear, and keep it simple. It's totally fine to communicate using your brand voice, but the tone should still reinforce how important and serious the messages are.
Step 6: Communicate in the Right Places
Promote your safety measures and other information everywhere you can, including:
- Post a summary of the most important information prominently on your website and link to a more detailed FAQ section. Here's how Steveston Barbers, The Profile Coworking, and Ocean Village Resort are doing it.
- You are required to make your COVID-19 Safety Plan available to customers and employees, so we recommend creating a page for it or linking to a downloadable version. It doesn't need to be a fancy design; just the facts.
- Write a blog post and link to it from everywhere you can.
- Pin your safety plan to the top of Twitter, Facebook, and other channels so it's always easy to find.
- Edit your social media bios to include up-to-date information and a link to your safety plan.
- Especially as you start to reopen, focus most of your social media output around reassuring customers and meeting any other objectives of your communications plan. This could mean a post on physical distancing measures one day, and something about checkout and payments another. It's OK to repeat posts to make sure these important messages hit home.
- Be active on social media and share the love. For example, you could congratulate other local businesses near you for reopening, share their messages, and recommend them to your followers.
- If you aren't already, start collecting customer email addresses on your website so you can keep them up-to-date on changes.
- Send out a special email blast to customers announcing your reopening and explaining your safety measures.
- Depending on your business, signage is a crucial part of your communications plan. This could include directional signage on the floor, checkout instructions at the till, and window signage communicating capacity restrictions.
Step 7: Invite Feedback
Your communication strategy shouldn't be a one-way affair. It's important to encourage, listen to, and act on feedback from customers and employees alike. The one thing we know about COVID-19 is that things are constantly changing. Your communication strategy will need to change with it, and customer and employee feedback can help you refine it as you go.
In the current spirit of togetherness, your customers want you to succeed. If you can reassure them and earn their trust during this crucial phase of the BC Restart Plan, your business could benefit for years to come.