During COVID-19, your customers have continued to support your business. They’re shopping local, ordering curbside pickup, sharing on social media, and more to keep you going. It’s always important to appreciate your customers and stay connected. It’s all the more critical now. This article discusses how to give back to your customers.
Big businesses have made the news with their goodwill initiatives. Microsoft announced it would continue to pay hourly wages to workers that support its main campus, even while more employees work remotely. “Shark Tank’s” Mark Cuban said he would reimburse any of his employees who bought lunch or coffee from local, independent small businesses. Packaged food brand Dole sends out nutrient-packed smoothies or fruit care packages to hospital workers with employee-written messages of thanks and encouragement.
Still, it’s not just enterprise-level organizations who know how to give back to customers. There are many things small businesses can do for their customers during COVID-19. These can include:
- Recognizing financial insecurities
- Donating time or money to those in need
- Giving people something to be excited about
- Changing your business offerings
- Showing your appreciation
- Encouraging a sense of belonging
Recognize Financial Insecurities
First and foremost, the global health pandemic has led to increased financial instability. The economic fallout of COVID-19 has been dramatic. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, launched in April 2020, provides nearly real-time weekly data showing:
- 24 million adults—11 percent of all adults in the country—“sometimes or often” didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to data collected January 20-February 1
- 7 to 11 million children didn’t eat enough because the household couldn’t afford it between January 6-18
- Black and Latino adults were roughly three times as likely as white adults to report that their household did not get enough to eat
- An estimated 13.2 million adults living in rental housing—nearly 1 in 5 adult renters—were not caught up on rent, according to data collected January 20–February 1
Your small business can give back to its community by recognizing these needs. You might make certain products and services available for free or at a reduced cost. Many national automobile insurers, for example, offered premium paybacks or deep discounts to customers during the coronavirus pandemic. The move was great for goodwill and recognized that millions of drivers were kept off the roads while being asked to shelter in place.
Even offering free shipping can help people with tighter financial circumstances continue to meet their household expenses. You could find that reducing shipping costs improve sales.
Waiving late fees is another way to give back to the community that acknowledges people are struggling to make ends meet. Extending return windows can also take some pressure off customers who are currently more focused on finding work or putting food on the table.
Donate Time or Money To Those in Need
Donating your time or money (a portion of sales) to those in need is one way to feel good while giving back to your community. Companies that donate a portion of sales to charity often grow their revenues too if they align the giving with their brand values and engage all stakeholders.
Big brands donating a percentage of profits to charity include luxury retailer Ryland Life, which is donating 50% of all sales to a domestic abuse shelter, or home goods retailer Boll & Branch, which donated 1,000 mattresses and 5,000 pillows to emergency medical operations.
Maybe you don’t have a product or service that you can donate. Don’t worry. There are other ideas for companies to give back. You might have the space a nonprofit group needs to meet and achieve its mission. Or maybe you have a kitchen or cold storage that could be used to help get food to the people who need it most right now.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Roots Catering and Cafe dealt with business interruptions during COVID-19 by making meals to donate to the food insecure. “Roots gets to keep a piece of its kitchen active, pay employees, and Feeding Charlotte can use that food to keep feeding people in need in our community,” stated Craig Barbour, owner of Roots.
Give People Something To Be Excited About
Really, we could all use a #win as this global pandemic drags on. You can help your customers feel some joy by holding a contest or giveaway on social media. It’ll help out your social profiles and relationship building. But if you target it right, you can also add some humor to people’s days.
- Ask people to share an uplifting story of community kindness.
- Solicit funny quotes you could put on your store sandwich board.
- Encourage people to submit photos of their #pandemicPet to be a business mascot.
- Invite customers to share videos that prove “my neighborhood is better than yours.”
- Get your community to vote on the best home office setup photo.
- Give out a prize for the best piece of pandemic survival advice for that day.
Change Your Business Offerings
Small businesses have the advantage of agility. They don’t have to spend months turning the massive ship around. There are many examples around the nation of distilleries that turned their attention to making sanitizer instead of alcohol at the height of the pandemic.
Or consider the stories of manufacturers repurposing production efforts to create personal protective equipment (PPE). A Chicago fashion label shut down its stores to focus on sewing masks.
Pivoting to “to go” or “curbside delivery” of products quickly became the norm. One New York City bagel company took it even further. Bantam Bagels partnered with Promobile Kitchen, a company specializing in food trucks, to deliver and donate food to NYC hospitals, medical centers, and health care workers.
Show Your Appreciation
You might give back to your customers by demonstrating appreciation. In some cases, you can accomplish this by sending a “thank you” email or a personalized note. Making a call to check in with customers can show that you care and give you a chance to listen to their changing needs and learn how your business can help.
Having a customer appreciation day can be a nice treat for the people who continue to support your business. One business took it further and had a dozen days in a row. In Western New York, a taco restaurant recognized its customers during the 12 days leading up to Christmas by giving out gifts and gift cards to different diners who stopped inside to order and pick up their food. “We wanted to think of a fun way to give back to our customers,” said one of Lloyd Taco Factory’s managers.
Or you might host a virtual event for loyal customers. This could be a local pub hosting an online fun trivia night since people can’t come in for the regular Thursday night event. Or a massage company having one of its therapists talk about self-care strategies to relax.
Encourage a Sense of Belonging
Once the need for food and shelter are met, we’re quick to seek a sense of belonging. Find ways in which your small business can help connect people and foster a greater sense of community. This could be as simple as sharing your customers’ stories on your social media.
A bookstore could host a virtual book group to encourage discussion of the latest release or classic favorite. A music store could invite people online to sing Beatles songs together. Or a fitness instructor could open up a live stream of a dance class to give people a taste of the camaraderie they might not normally expect at a gym.
This could also be an opportunity for your business to establish mentoring initiatives. There are hundreds of students looking for community service experience and professional skills. Now, they’re limited by social distancing protocols. Perhaps your business has an opportunity to connect with young community members and give them a sense of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
You’re not alone in trying to keep your small business going through challenging times. Finding ways to appreciate and connect with your customers during this constantly evolving situation can be rewarding. You can see benefits to your business bottom line, but you’ll also feel the joy of giving back in small or big ways to the community your business serves.