As we slowly move toward whatever the next normal, think about how your customers navigate this week or next. Perhaps more than ever, it seems like an ideal time to lock yourself in your office and do the things you’ve always done better than they’re being done today. While I’m all about continuous improvement, hunkering down may not get your business from the before times to the after times, much less through the during times. For consumer-facing business, listening is as important as ever.
It doesn’t care what we think
It doesn’t really matter whether you believe about the pandemic because the virus and the impacts of it don’t care. The economy doesn’t care what you think about it. Customers (mostly) don’t care what you think about it.
What matters is your execution: What you do to deal with the what’s going on today, which I call the “during time”. Even though it’s a slightly different during time than May / June, which was considerably different from March / April – despite all of them being part of during time.
Customer behavior in the during times will continue to adjust. Think about how behavior of restaurant customers has ebbed and flowed over the past few months. My guess is that these changes will continue until there’s a widely-trusted vaccine – but that doesn’t really matter.
One thing that matters
What does matter is how the during times alter the behavior of those who spend money at your business. Let’s say you have a restaurant. I’d say there’s a good bet that demand for your outside seating has outstripped the outside seating you have.
That’s a good place to start even if you don’t have a restaurant because it’s easy to think about. Here in Montana, our smoky 93 degree days are probably gone for the year.. maybe. Our friends in Oregon may send us more smoke because they’re a sharing kind of folks.
Our recent cool overnight temperature are a little reminder that winter is coming. Depending on what phase we’re, some restaurants are surviving (or at least coping) thanks to carryout and outdoor seating. The reason for expanded outdoor seating is primarily sunshine and ventilation. What has to be done to take ventilation issues off the table as winter approaches?
There have been a number of studies about in-building airflow. They might be right. They might be wrong. By its very nature, scientific research starts as inaccurate because data / testing / research is sparse, then it zigs and zags toward a conclusion as data / testing / research increases. It’s similar to how businesses (generally) get better at what they do as they zero in on the right product/service formula for their market.
What do customers believe?
Ventilation studies don’t care what we believe. What matters is what restaurant customers believe. Whether your restaurant is setup for maximum outdoor seating and no inside seating, or the opposite doesn’t really matter as long as the health department is happy with the setup.
The gotcha is that customers also have a choice. They’ve probably sent a message already, by either showing up as if nothing has changed, or by just telling you (or “demanding”) outside seating, or more outside seating, or even by leaving because there isn’t outdoor seating.
For businesses dealing with those customers, it’s something you have to address before the weather turns. I am sure there are a number of companies willing to upgrade your ventilation system to eliminate any concerns about ventilation. Even if you spend 100 grand to neutralize the air so that every cubic foot of air through your place gets nuked or at least satisfactorily sanitized… it doesn’t matter.
What matters is what your customers think about it. They might be “Facebook doctors” or they might be a world-class scientist. Their concerns might be irrational, or spot on.
All that matters is “Do they believe in whatever you did?” based on their beliefs.
As with any sales job, you have to think how they think. You have to choose to have the conversation with specific subgroups of those people. You can’t talk to the millennials in the same way (mostly) that you talk to the boomers or the way you talk to the greatest generation.
For now, we’re all figuring it out as we go along – regardless of what we believe. Start the conversation on those terms.
Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter,or email him at email@example.com.