Contributed by Small Business Expert Barry Moltz

Customers changed when the COVID pandemic forced the physical closing of millions of small business retail and office locations this year. With the “shelter in place” and restrictions on “in-person” contact, how to provide the best customer experience to get and retain customers also has changed.

Here is what every small business needs to focus on to provide the best customer experience now:

Determine How to Solve Customers’ ‘New’ Needs

What has not changed is that customers want their problems solved now. But the type of experience your customer wants probably has shifted to being online, self-service or in most ways, contactless.

You need to reimagine what the delivery and follow up for your product or service looks like in a COVID economy.

For example, many restaurants have pivoted to online ordering and contactless delivery. Gyms are teaching their classes either online or outdoors. Car dealerships will now bring a test vehicle to your home. Theater companies are streaming their productions over a period of a month.

Get ‘Personal’ from a Distance

The most effective way to interact with every customer in the last five years was to get individual and personal. They still require this, but they want it to be done from a safe distance.

Every company needs to plan how they can personalize their interactions by phone, text, social media, or email based on their customer’s preferences (and have the infrastructure to support it).

Communicate with Customers Every Week

Many businesses that are closed or partially shut down have stopped communicating with their customers. This is absolutely the wrong approach; during tough economic times, your company needs to communicate more with customers.

They may not even know you are open for business! Remember, customers are very isolated and are even more likely to interact with your customer service message. Encourage a conversation and show them that you care about them now in this tough time.

During the pandemic; clothing brand, Icebreaker invited customers remotely to their company yoga classes in New Zealand. Travel agents are giving educational video tours on places customers might find interesting. These have nothing to do with selling and everything with keeping the company experience alive for customers.

Solve Customer Service Issues in Less Time

In this 24/7 instant gratification world, the time in which your customer expects you to be able to resolve their problem is getting smaller.

In the COVID pandemic, the time to react to your customer is shrinking since working from home (or being out of work), they have more time; they could be literally waiting for your response immediately after they send it.

Most customers expect to be able to reach you 24/7, and for you to resolve their concern on the very first call (or at least the same day). This is putting increased stress on companies’ depleted staff and pressuring them to still ensure the profitability of each customer.

Even during months with less revenue, businesses still need to “fire” customers who don’t meet their revised profitability metric.

Loyalty is up for Grabs

Depending how your company does in each of these areas, your customers will tell everyone online through reviews or social media. Unfortunately, dissatisfied customers will share more than happy ones.

On the flip side, “raving fans” can be your biggest source of new business since with COVID-19 disruption, loyalty is up for grabs.

I left American Airlines after 40 years to fly Southwest for the safety of not filling the middle seat. I now regularly tell people about my move and how great my new choice is.

Remember, customers trust what their peers say about your company more than they believe any of your own paid advertising.

How have you adapted the customer service experience for your customers in the COVID economy? Tell us in the comments below!

For more ways small businesses can succeed right now, join Barry Moltz at Thryv Connect20 on Nov. 10-11. Register now.