You don’t want to talk about COVID. I get it, we’ve been talking about it for almost a year. What is left to say? Alas, your business is not immune to the various impacts of the virus and you have to talk about it. Particularly if you deal with clients or customers face-to-face, clear COVID communication is crucial.

Recently I spoke with a friend who owns a bakery. A few weeks back, she had to shift a cookie decorating class from an in-person event to a virtual one due to a potential COVID exposure. I asked, what was most challenging in communicating this to her customers? She responded, “The most difficult part is that you don’t know how people are going to react.”

While we can’t predict how your patrons will respond, here are some ways you can build a positive dialogue with your clients about the impacts of COVID on your business.

Thank Your Clients for Sticking with You

An important part of COVID communication isn’t actually about COVID. It’s about your customers. While saying “thank you” may seem like a simple gesture, it can speak volumes in the eyes of your clientele. Especially if you’ve had to shift the way you interact with them due to the virus. Your gratitude for their business and continued support makes them feel valued, promoting brand loyalty and encouraging your customers to stick with you for the long haul.

“Thank you for your support during this time.”

“We hope you are happy with your purchase! Thank you for being just a loyal customer.”

Weave simple sentiments of gratitude like these into email messages, order confirmations, client milestones, social media posts and one-on-one interactions.

Be Honest, COVID Impacts You, Too

“We’ve been informed that a member of our staff has been exposed to COVID by a member of their household.”

Telling the public that your business has a case of the virus can be scary. Will your clients think you and your staff are being careless? You may be tempted to withhold that particular piece of information when announcing a shift in services.

But being open and honest can instill a sense of trust in your business. In a time when everyone is trying to figure out the best way to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, comfort them by letting them know your business refuses to put them at risk.

“We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. This is not what we had planned, but we wish to keep everyone safe.”

Manage Expectations and Provide Solutions

Managing your client’s expectations about how the virus is impacting the ways you do business is important.

An example: You own a small gym and require patrons to wear a mask the entire time they’re working out. Let them know this before they come in, through social media or email communications. Make the transition easier by offering suggestions of masks that are most comfortable during high-intensity sweat sessions.

In the case of my friend’s bakery, they provided options for the postponed class. Guests who had purchased tickets could either attend the virtual event at a later date, receive credit for a future in-person class, or receive a full refund. While offering a refund may be the last thing you wish to do at the time, it can go a long way in helping your clients see you in a positive light.

Rather, if you or your staff travels to clients’ homes, communicate what is expected of them while you are at their house. Do you require they wear a mask? If so and they answer the door without one, be empathetic.

“I’m excited about our appointment today, but I think you forgot your mask. It’s okay, I do it all the time in my own house. I’ll wait here.”

One of the best ways to avoid conflict and provide a positive customer experience is to manage expectations. In a time where everything seems uncertain, let them be certain about what to expect from you and your team by having clear COVID communication and procedures.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Do you worry your social media posts or emails are just adding to the noise? Updates that are relevant to your businesses will keep your customers engaged.

For those whose clients come to their place of business for a service, a simple post about the new way you are sanitizing your space can ease your customer’s worries and encourage them to book an appointment.

“As we enter the new year, one thing will stay the same: Our efforts to keep you feeling safe and comfortable while at our facility.”

Remember, the conversation shouldn’t be one way. Open the lines of communication and encourage your clients to reach out to you if they have any questions or concerns.

Take it Easy on Yourself

“This is not what we had planned.”

As you may have figured out, there is no handbook that can tell you the right thing to say when it comes to your small business. Examine who your customers are and try to match your messaging to them. Some things you try will work, and others might miss the mark. But remember, this is all uncharted territory for everyone.