The COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ is having a massive impact on businesses across the globe. Retail is one of those sectors that has been worst hit with with many retailers closing stores and furloughing staff. For those that survive the lockdown, helping to keep their people and customers safe and well on re-opening must be the number one priority.
Staff are likely to return with mixed emotions – elation at the opportunity to get back to work (or at least away from home!), to earn money and rejoin their teams; yet at the same time nervous about what engaging with the public will mean for their health and that of their families.
Now, more than ever; the key to business success will be engaging them in vital messaging to help keep them and customers safe.
To add to the challenge, with large numbers of people from head office support functions furloughed, many retailers also now have limited resources to prepare at this critical time.
There are some key points to consider:
Prepare for ‘safe service’ – embed any new safety restrictions and standard operating practices required to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy.
When stores re-open there will be a requirement for new ways of working – many could be temporary, but some could be permanent.
Social distancing will certainly be with us short term and possibly for a 12-18 months, this will almost certainly affect the way teams work with each other and with customers as they continue to serve and sell.
Customers will also need reassuring that staff know how to keep them safe, that premises are safe and that there are established safety protocols.
The key to this is to, rehearse and practice – embed new ways of working so that teams are clear and comfortable on what is required.
Adapt the customer experience to the new working conditions so that they provide a warm and welcoming environment in which they can still sell to customers.
Social distancing does not mean staff cannot be warm and friendly towards customers. Help people to understand how they can provide a welcoming environment despite the restrictions and help them to sell effectively. It’s about helping employees understand how they can still provide a customer experience that says, ‘we care’ and ‘you are safe while you shop with us’.
Help store management teams to be well prepared.
It will be critical that store management teams are enthusiastic and well prepared so they can engage their teams in creating their new working environment and doing what they do best, creating positive customer experiences in these unusual circumstances.
Key things to be communicated include:
- clear guidance on protocols for who should attend work and what to do if someone feels ill
- social distancing guidelines and how to apply them throughout the store
- guidance on cleaning
- clarity on which parts of the store/premises are open and how to set up each to ensure a safe environment for all.
With the pressure to act quickly and with limited resource comes the danger that retailers forget to apply the basics of effective change communication and take the quick option to blanket broadcast instructions and rules at employees rather than engaging them by:
- sharing why and how the required behaviours link to overall goals of the business
- enabling conversation and reflection so that employees can work out and buy in to for themselves what the new ways of working means for them
- ensuring messages are clear, relevant, targeted and meaningful and, importantly, include examples of what it means in practise
- enabling feedback so that employees can share their own ideas, concerns, and questions.
Prepare simple tools to engage managers, their teams and their customers – to reassure and win their trust.
Having supported some of our global clients on this journey already, these are some of the tools they are using to engage their audiences:
- effective tools for use in webinars/online meetings for HQ to prepare managers and staff for a safe and productive return
- simple manager’s support packs/tools to help store managers engage their teams in ‘how to operate’, key practices, dos & don’ts etc
- animations outlining safe working practices:
- to help employees (and customers where appropriate) to feel comfortable returning to work/stores
- helping employees to understand how to create a welcoming environment so they can sell safely through a positive customer experience whilst maintaining social distancing.
- signage, posters and stickers to be applied in the workplace and in back office spaces to re-enforce new working practices and safety measures.
One thing is clear, when retailers are able to re-open their doors they will need to work hard to win the trust of employees and customers alike, visibly demonstrating leadership, support, care, and delivering effective and engaging communications which make employees and customers feel safe and well – all of which will help contribute towards a return to commercial success.