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October 6, 2020

How to connect with customers in a social distancing environment 

Business is still not “back to normal,” with social distancing and mask-wearing being the status quo. Those businesses that rely on face-to-face contact are struggling to survive and thrive.

Nancy Marshall
Provided file photo
Nancy Marshall, founder and CEO of Marshall Communications.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, even the most successful brands cannot “touch” their customers, so they need to rely on alternative modes of contact like webinars, e-newsletters, and social media platforms to inform customers about new product lines, new sales, and so forth.

Keeping your customers engaged is the key to nurturing the loyalty that will keep businesses in business — always, but especially now.

So how do you nurture that loyalty? And how do you generate the absolute best kind of marketing, word of mouth? The best way to start is by focusing on your most enthusiastic customers. You must continue to make them feel appreciated, like you genuinely care about their interests and needs on a human level. Think of these customers as your brand ambassadors, who will spread the word about your business.

Word-of-mouth remains the most powerful form of marketing, even in a pandemic. It may take different forms now, but your most enthusiastic customers need to validate your business in the eyes of others, so that they can one day become just as enthusiastic. As Walt Disney put it, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

Sugarloaf is my favorite example of this. Think of the cars driving on Maine’s roads that are sporting the blue triangle logo, which remains one of the best logos anywhere — ski industry or not — just for its simplicity and distinctiveness.

The people driving those cars are Sugarloaf’s most important brand ambassadors, promoting the brand because they believe in it and want others to know about it. Those brand ambassadors form a “true blue” tribe of die-hard skiers, who drive hundreds of miles to get to Sugarloaf because they love the place and they love being part of the tribe. They make sacrifices to go there and brave the cold, just to be part of the scene.

All brands need to adopt the Sugarloaf model and cultivate their “tribe.” Mask-wearing and social distancing makes touching a challenge, but it’s still not impossible. Even as masks conceal our true smiles, you need to make eye contact and smile through your eyes. Business owners need to be extra warm and friendly with customers, acknowledging customers for spending their hard-earned money during turbulent times. Front-line staff need to make people feel appreciated, whether it’s via social media, on the telephone or in person. 

Front line employees are trying hard to enforce COVID-related policies but make sure they are kind in the process. I know, it’s hard when so many customers are demanding and anxiety-ridden, but right now the key is to be patient, kind and as accommodating as possible. 

Kindness goes a long way. Say thank you verbally when you get a chance. If you can’t, use digital tools to your advantage and form relationships via emails and social media outreach. Provide content on your website and social media platforms that is helpful to your customers and rewards them for being customers in the first place.

If you own a business selling pet supplies, set up a webinar on training your pets. If you have a restaurant, then share some of your favorite recipes online, so your customers can try to replicate those dishes at home. 

In a touchless pandemic, “touching” customers in other ways is the difference between success and failure. I call it the “brand touch.” Turn your customers into brand ambassadors, and you’ll retain and win over more customers than ever before.

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