Contributed by Small Business Expert Barry Moltz

Customers’ habits drastically changed when the COVID pandemic forced the physical closing of millions of small business retail and office locations this year. With expected restrictions on “in-person” contact continuing into 2021, how can you continue to provide the best customer experience to land and retain customers when faced with another year like 2020?

Here is what every small business needs to focus on for 2021:

Solve Customers’ ‘Now’ Needs

Customers’ needs will change depending on the stage of the pandemic waves in their local community and the progress of the administration of the vaccine in population segment. Through most of 2021, small businesses should continue to expect to provide a “contactless” experience to their customers.

This will include at least some online or self-service component. If you have not yet reimagined your business using these resources, you are already behind your competitors.

Get ‘Personal’ with Customers

The requirement to “be personal” in all your customer communication does not change next year except it will need to be tailored based on the progress of the pandemic and distribution of the vaccine. For example, if your customers are medical professionals or residents of nursing homes, they may get the vaccine early in 2021. What matters to them will be different than other consumers.

Every company should continue to plan how to personalize these interactions by phone, text, social media, video or email. Whichever you use should be based on your customer’s preferences and the infrastructure tools they have to support them.

Communicate with Customers Often

Your customers are more isolated than they have ever been and as a result are more open to reading and reacting to your communications with them. Encourage conversations and show them you want to stay connected to what they need during this evolving and uncertain time.

Discuss what your company is going through and the challenges that your team has faced during COVID. Make it personal so it is “relatable” to your customers.

Solve Customer Service Issues in Less Time

With so many people working from home or out of work, the time to react to your customer is shrinking since they have more time without a commute.

Their needs also become more urgent; they could be literally waiting for your response immediately after they send their request. Most customers expect to resolve their concern on the very first call (or at least the same day).

This is particularly important because in 2021, loyalty will continue to be “flexible.” During times of disruption, your customers are looking for new solutions. They will not stay loyal to you if you provide an inferior customer experience.

Similarly, you have the chance to take your competitors’ customers if they do not perform well. For example, after flying American Airlines for 40 years, I have now switched to Southwest and Delta since they are keeping the middle seat open.

Finally, don’t expect the distribution of the COVID vaccine in 2021 to return everything to “normal” immediately. Challenges still exist in the acceptance and distribution of the treatment, which will effect your customers all of next year.