How Can Small Business Owners Nurture Trust Post-COVID?
There are two notable reasons why people have become more wary of businesses following the COVID-19 outbreak.
Firstly, they’ve seen many companies collapse altogether - unwilling or unable to adapt to the changing times — and if you’re thinking about being loyal to a business you need to be confident in its ability to pivot under pressure.
Secondly, they’ve witnessed job losses on a massive scale, with thousands upon thousands of employees fired or furloughed. Were those jobs removed for good reasons? Some of the time, yes: companies had to reduce their costs simply to remain in operation. But other businesses that weren’t in great danger still let employees go simply to protect their profits. It’s easy to see why many would prefer to avoid working with such cutthroat organisations.
Factor in the restrictions on what companies can do to market themselves (with real-world activity being heavily restricted) and it’s clear that small business owners face a tough challenge in trying to earn the trust of their prospective customers. In this post, we’ll explore three key actions you can take to set yourself apart. Let’s begin.
1. You can open up about the challenges of your industries
Meaningful trust requires brand transparency, and that applies to both external and internal communications. Getting in-depth about industry news is a savvy content marketing move — and one of the easiest ways to get attention — because it doesn’t serve an obvious promotional purpose to discuss how the sausage is made.
We’re all more likely to support people or companies who are truthful with us when they don’t directly benefit from it.
Small business owners who want their existing and prospective customers to trust them more would do well to make some frank admissions about what’s been going on: the steps they’ve been forced to take to survive, what (if anything) they regret, and what they realistically expect to happen within their fields. If it’s going to be a long and difficult road back to regular operations — as is surely the case for those within the travel industry, for instance — then there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. People will see through such deceptions with ease.
This might seem like a big challenge for those who’ve made their names as pioneering successes. After all, admitting that you struggle at times shows that you’re vulnerable in some small way. But everyone is vulnerable, and we all know that deep down. Pretending that they’re unaffected by what’s going on won’t make business owners look strong - just less than honest.
2. Talk about your new ways of working
Moving to online operation has been a key move of the pandemic era, with food businesses in particular surviving the dearth of bookings by accepting online orders and using flexible delivery or collection methods. Many have had to take major steps to make this work: they’ve had to change how they prepare and store food; migrate from outmoded platforms; work with unfamiliar systems; and learn how to market themselves online. Talking about these efforts will endear you to your audiences.
At the time of writing, social distancing is still very important, but it’s unrealistic to expect all in-person meetings to be abandoned — particularly in the B2B world where business deals may be dependant on inspecting a company's operation. So make sure those you are meeting with are told in advance what you are doing to keep them safe.
The same applies to those businesses that have traditionally relied on face-to-face interactions with their customers, such as bakeries. The owner of a bakery must understand why people would be reluctant to buy goods that could plausibly have been exposed to viral matter, and respond accordingly by stressing their safety steps (e.g. wearing gloves and masks while baking, keeping goods safely — and responsibly — sealed, and so on).
3. You can clearly define your stances on corporate ethics
The broader repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it even more important for modern brands to have clear statements concerning corporate ethics.
It isn’t just about standing by your employees: it’s also about committing to ethical operation in general. Using sustainable materials and processes, investing in mental health (Made of Millions has a good piece on why this matters), treating people of all kinds with fairness, respect and dignity — each of these things is a key part of the puzzle.
So much of the corporate ethics movement has been about public-facing statements, but it’s much easier to make a bold statement than it is to act in an ethical way as a matter of course. Making it clear to prospective customers that you know your moral responsibilities will allow small business owners to improve how they’re perceived and show that they deserve support.
Trust is more important than ever before in the business world, with customers increasingly eager to support companies that operate ethically and reliably. Following the steps we’ve set out here will help a small business owner to nurture that all-important trust, establishing a strong foundation for future success.
About the guest author:
Rodney Laws is an ecommerce platform specialist and online business consultant. He’s worked in the ecommerce industry for nearly two decades, helping brands big and small achieve their business goals. For more tips and advice, reach out to Rodney on Twitter @EcomPlatformsio.