During the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak of 2020, many governments and businesses are asking employees to stay home and telework. And for many lucky businesses, remote work is a viable option. That’s why we’ve seen a spike in posts like Forbes’ recent “9 Tips To Be Productive When Working At Home During COVID-19.”

But, any business that makes a living using more than a computer and a phone (like many of our small business clients) can’t implement the same obvious teleworking standards or guidelines. So our clients are being forced to get creative. When we see successes happening, we’ll share them so we can adapt and rise together.

While remote work would be ideal, for small businesses, remote work just isn’t that simple. Check out the CDC’s latest recommendations:

In short, the CDC is advising businesses to:

  • Know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if staff become symptomatic.
  • Review and update workplace plans to include leave, telework and personal protective equipment.
  • Consider alternative work schedules.
  • Clean and disinfect regularly.
  • Limit all non-essential travel.

Makes sense. For most homes and businesses, these steps will keep as many people as possible safe and healthy.

But, what if teleworking isn’t an option? What if you work with your hands? Or, what if you have to visit clients’ homes to perform your services?

What if your typical day-to-day business is built on customer interactions?

5 Proactive Steps to Adapt Your Business for the Virtual Customer

For small businesses like home services providers, brick and mortar stores and restaurants, serving customers…without physically interacting with customers…requires some creativity.

Here’s what you can do to adapt to a new, more-virtual-than-ever-before marketplace.

  1. Use video conferencing to maintain face-to-face interactions.
  2. If you have to have in-person interactions, avoid touching shared surfaces.
  3. If you haven’t accepted online payments before, start now.
  4. Use SMS text messaging to share real-time updates with clients.
  5. Collaborate and work together with other small businesses.

How to Get Started

1. Use video conferencing to maintain face-to-face interactions.

Video conferencing isn’t just for corporate professionals anymore (and many are free, at least to start). Leading virtual conferencing software Zoom is even taking proactive steps to enable business support and continuity during the COVID-19 outbreak.

(Thryv is also working to launch an integration with Zoom, to make hosting online meetings easier for business owners and teams. More on that soon!)

Some healthcare providers have used video conferencing to offer virtual diagnoses for some time now. But if you operate a home services business like HVAC installation and repair, for example, you may be wondering how you’ll deliver accurate estimates for projects you can’t evaluate in person.

Video conferencing tips:

  • You don’t have to do it from behind a desk. Have clients use mobile versions or download a mobile app for your favorite conferencing software. That way, you can provide personalized quotes and estimates without having to visit them in person.
  • Use video conferencing to demonstrate your work live, in real time, instead of trying to email descriptions and pictures of what you do.
  • Send a virtual meeting invite to your clients, and explain the status of your business’s operations to everyone at once.

2. If you have to have in-person interactions, avoid touching shared surfaces.

This one may sound simple, but most of us don’t realize exactly how many shared surfaces we touch daily. Some frequently touched surfaces are obvious — like door handles and handrails. But what about things like credit cards, mobile payment terminals, and receipts?

To ease customers’ minds, eliminate all physical business communications, and replace them with virtual, online alternatives. Then overcommunicate these proactive safety measures to customers.

  • Send electronic estimates so customers can approve them on their own devices, without having to provide a signature or touch your screen.
  • Scan credit cards or enter credit card numbers into your payment processor without ever touching them.
  • Send digital receipts via email or text instead of writing or printing them.

3. Make it easier to pay you online and via mobile.

If your business operates in an area that’s encouraging social distancing, you’ve likely seen a sharp decrease in in-person purchases of your goods and services. An obvious way to continue serving customers is to offer online payments.

You can offer online payments on your website, through email and text communications, inside invoices, even via online booking.

  • Communicate alternative payment methods you’ll offer via text and email.
  • Consider adding an option for personal delivery, as long as you’re able to deliver your goods yourself. Even offer online scheduling so they know exactly when you’ll arrive, and let them pay you through the appointment.
  • Many small businesses don’t have an online marketplace or distribution strategy in place, and that’s OK. Offer curb-side pick-up during a set time frame. Use the same online scheduler, or even a form on your website so customers know exactly when to show up.

If you take any of these steps, you have to let people know! Add a pop-up to your website, and send regular and repeat announcements to your clients electronically.

4. Use texts to share real-time updates.

Now’s the time to overcommunicate. It’s one reason you’re probably getting emails from every business you’ve ever worked with detailing how they’re adapting given COVID-19.

Don’t be the business that fails to communicate. And even better, do so in a more human, real-time, transparent way. Send texts. As always, keep them short, sweet and professional. And don’t try to sell anything.

Crisis text updates from businesses should benefit your contacts, not your business. (Though, by keeping lines of communication open, you should see positive impacts in the form of repeat and new customer interactions.)

5. Collaborate with other small businesses.

Though you’re competitors, now’s the time for small business owners and entrepreneurs to band together. Explore what other small businesses in your community are doing to limit the impact of COVID-19. Implement similar measures, or see how you can work together to keep doors open.

We’ll do the same — we’ll continue to share creative tips and tactics small businesses like yours are using to get through these trying times.

Visit the COVID-19 Resources section in Thryv’s Knowledge Center to stay up to date.