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Understanding Customer Needs in a Changing World: A Guide

5-minute read

Adapting to changing customer needs may include offering face coverings and safe browsing, like these customers are currently enjoying.
Emily Thompson

Emily Thompson

15 June 2020

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Has your life changed during the COVID-19 outbreak? Mine sure has.

Maybe you’re juggling a business and homeschooling. Or maybe your job puts you on the frontline. Either way, the pandemic has impacted most of us in very different ways.

Chances are, it’s impacted your customers too. As you adjust to the “new normal,” it’s critical to understand your customers’ new needs. For example, social distancing may still be in place, there’s an emphasis on safety, and unfortunately, the economy is suffering. But when you try to understand how these changes have impacted your customers’ lives, you can adjust your business model.

Successful businesses have to be agile. Here are a few key ways the coronavirus has changed our world and how you can adapt your business to better serve your customers.

Anxiety is running high.

Between watching the news and scrolling social media, the public is on information overload. Stress levels are up, especially for people who are concerned about their health or the health of loved ones. Social distancing and isolation can cause stress too. It’s no secret that people do better when they’re surrounded by friends and family.

In addition, many people are concerned about their financial well-being. According to government data, more than 36 million people have filed for unemployment over the past couple of months. Unfortunately for businesses, when people are concerned about their finances, they’re less likely to spend money.

But here’s the good news. You can address your customers’ anxiety to reel them back in the door.

Here’s how:

  • Speak to them like a human. People can feel it when you’re being genuine. Tell them that you understand their anxieties, and in many ways, you’ve been concerned too.

  • Ask questions. Ask your customers what they need to feel safe. It may help to send out a customer survey or conduct phone interviews. Do what it takes to gather accurate information.

  • Take action. Follow your state’s guidelines. Public health officials are experts in their field and are doing everything possible to keep us safe. After doing so, put as much of your customers’ feedback that makes sense for your business in place. Chances are, they have good ideas, whether it’s about cleaning, social distancing, or shopping online. Customers are innovative!

  • Communicate. When you have a plan ready, share it via email, phone calls, or on social media. Use the medium that is most appropriate for your business. Remember, the more transparent you are, the more your customers will trust you.

There are new risks to navigate.

It’s a new world, complete with new financial risks and customer needs. Think you could never get sued? Unfortunately, the statistics are not in your favor. Nearly 43% of small business owners have been involved in a lawsuit or have been threatened with one.

Imagine you follow government guidelines and do your absolute best to prevent illness or injury, but a customer still gets hurt because of your work.

What would you do?

Protect yourself financially by getting general liability (GL) insurance and professional liability insurance. GL insurance can help cover costs associated with accidents, injuries, and other medical expenses. Professional liability insurance can help protect you if you’re accused of negligence, libel, slander, or copyright infringement. They’re both important policies for very different reasons.

Depending on the type of business you own, you may want to purchase both policies.

Carrying insurance demonstrates that you’re professional, trustworthy, and prepared to make good if something goes wrong. It’s one more way to help meet your customers’ expectations.

Plus, you won’t regret having more financial protection!

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People have changed how they shop.

The pandemic has disrupted our nation’s supply chain system. Now people are shopping more online and buying products in bulk.

According to Statista, 31% of respondents in the U.S. have purchased takeout online due to COVID-19 and 27% of respondents have bought hygiene products online.

But this just scratches the surface. Consumers are buying everything from books to electronics to games online. If you don’t already have an e-commerce solution, now is the time to invest in one or you may be left behind.

If you have a brick and mortar store and want to keep your business afloat, you likely need to:

  • Build a high quality e-commerce website. This is a major investment, but depending on your business model, it’s worth the cost. Read our guide on how to easily build your own small business website.

  • Learn search engine optimization strategies. When most of your business is online, it’s critical that your site gets found. Learn how to use keywords and when to consider trying paid search.

  • Market your products and services well. Take attractive photos, spend time writing persuasive copy, and get feedback on your website.

  • Invest in customer service. Make sure you’re able to ship products to customers quickly and safely. If customers have problems, make a plan for how you’ll handle them.

  • Measure your website. Use Google Analytics to understand how customers use your e-commerce site. What pages do they visit? Where do they spend their time? Does your site need improvement? Document what you learn and then make adjustments.

Moving your business online may seem overwhelming, but it’s well worth the effort. In fact, right now, it’s one of the only ways many businesses can survive.

And given that we’re not sure when the pandemic will end, it’s a smart business decision.

There’s a desire to keep a distance.

Over the past couple of months, the government has put social distancing guidelines in place. To adjust, most businesses have shifted to remote communication. Employees are working at home and meetings are in video chat rooms.

Plain and simple, it’s what businesses have to do to operate safely at the moment.

Even as states lift their restrictions, many people aren’t ready to jump into “business as usual.” Instead, they want to keep their distance.

As a result, you’ll need to get creative to make sure they can still buy from you.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Rely on remote communication. Fortunately, we have technology at our fingertips. If you offer a service, whether it’s financial advice or therapy, you can easily meet with clients online. Bonus: this may open your doors to new customers who live far away.

  • Encourage small groups. If you host kids’ birthday parties or summer camps, or if you organize events, plan for small groups of people. Of course, you’ll also need to follow the government’s guidelines for group sizes too.

  • Offer masks. This is a nice gesture for people to visit your location. If you can, keep masks at the door and offer them to customers who walk in.

  • Try curbside pickup and delivery services. In many places, the government has already recommended this approach for restaurants and small shops. If it’s possible, move your business outside, so your customers can avoid entering a building.

Need more innovative ideas? Ask your customers what they need to feel safe. You may be surprised at what you hear.

People are concerned about finances.

It’s no secret that our nation’s economy has been rocked by COVID-19. People have lost their jobs at alarming rates, and there’s a growing need for food banks. Needless to say, if you offer to help, it can bode well for your business.

Here are some ideas:

  • Offer coupons and deals. During a recession, it can be hard to persuade people to shop. If it’s possible, and for a limited time only, lower your prices. Once your business gets going, you can readjust.

  • Show how you’re helping. Get involved in your community by donating to a food bank, delivering food to healthcare workers, or giving out free masks. Rally your customers to help too. People are more likely to shop at businesses that give back.

Remember, small business owners are incredibly innovative, which is a trait that’s needed now more than ever. Don’t give up quickly. Try new ideas, listen to your customers, and persist. It’s possible for your business to not only survive COVID-19, but to potentially thrive by working to understand customer needs.

Emily Thompson

Written by

Emily Thompson

I earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (go Bucky). After realizing my first job might involve carrying a police scanner at 2 am in pursuit of “newsworthy” crimes, I decided I was better suited for freelance blogging and marketing writing. Since 2010, I’ve owned my freelance writing business, EST Creative. When I’m not penning, doodling ideas, or chatting with clients, you’ll find me hiking with my husband, baby boy, and 2 mischievous mutts.

Emily writes on a number of topics such as entrepreneurship, small business networking, and budgeting.

This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer

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