Make sure your customers are as ‘confident’ as can be

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Penny McBride

Business owners have a lot on their mind right now. And, their most pressing concern is survival. Even with the path of reopening the economy being gradually lit, business owners still face many gut-wrenching decisions.

To set the stage, consider a few highlights from the COVID-19 Business Impact Study the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce conducted last month. More than 200 businesses participated, with responses received from every industry sector.

It will come as no surprise that 96% of businesses had experienced a loss in revenue, but the fact that 58% reported revenue declines of more than 75% is sobering. This effect is only intensified when the businesses hardest hit are unable to be the customers of other businesses that may have fared better.

Many local businesses were able to receive assistance through programs within the federal stimulus package known as the CARES Act. And I have to commend our local lending institutions who literally worked around the clock to consult with businesses and quickly process applications, knowing the funds would quickly be depleted.

Primarily, these programs will help business owners retain workers in the short term and hopefully free enough liquidity to give a bit of breathing room. But even the timing of these programs is worrisome because the clock started to run before the business could reopen and best utilize the resource. Even with the boost these programs provide, when the survey was compiled in late April, nine percent of the respondents were considering permanent closure.

We are now a couple weeks into limited re-openings with a higher capacity bandwidth than many other Texas towns. This marks progress on the economic front, but even so, imagine trying to fill a swimming pool with a water hose that is halfway kinked. Some businesses have yet to re-open because the expense of doing so may not balance the shortfall in revenues.

When asked about their chief concerns in re-opening, a whopping 87% worry about the speed at which consumer confidence will be restored. So, to use the swimming pool metaphor again, how can we assure customers to “come on in … the water’s fine.”

I read an article this weekend that complimented a major airline CEO for a message sent to the company’s frequent flyers. The Local CEO newspapers expressed keep what a privilege readers it up-to-date was serve on their these customers own communities. and thanked them at a time when many cannot In many instances, local or will newspapers not fly.

Customers are indeed a privilege. I believe our recovery strategy, and the path to restored confidence, must center on telling and showing them that we care and proving what we are willing to do to ensure their safety, deliver quality and provide for their emotional well-being

This past weekend, I stayed in a condo owned by a friend. While I looked forward to a change in scenery, I was still surprised by the wariness I felt. Could it be that “consumer confidence” thing?

We mostly stayed to ourselves, wore our masks, kept a reasonable distance from others, and washed and sanitized our hands. In my own experience, the businesses that communicated their safety measures and customer expectations up front were the ones I felt almost instantly at ease in patronizing.

We ate one meal out and the restaurant we selected was the one with an employee that greeted us before ever entering to explain how everything worked and provide us with instructions. It was friendly, safe and even fun!

We cannot control the impact the coronavirus has made on business, but we can work together to operate in a way that shows our customers we value them as the treasure they are. Keeping customers as safe as possible and letting them know it’s our priority is our best survival measure.

McBride is the president and CEO of the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce.