Podcast Special: Customer Communication During These Challenging Times

 

Chad and Ian speak remotely with Nick Hopkins, Hibu’s AVP of Digital Product Management, about the vital steps your small business needs to take to stay in touch with your customers during these challenging times. We walk through the crucial, but relatively simple things you should be doing right now — why you cannot just disappear, or seem to disappear, online — and what you must be doing now to stay ahead of your competitors today and once we’re through these troubled times..

“…the key lesson is that it is a crisis. It doesn’t have to be a catastrophe for your business. There are ways to work through it… starting with communicating with your customers.”
Nick Hopkins

“Obviously safety of your employees, safety of your customers is first and foremost.” Hopkins says on the podcast, “But once you get through those things, it’s really, REALLY, your first order of business is to communicate to your customers — to make them understand your status, what you’re doing as a business… and make sure they understand how they can engage with you and stay safe in doing so.”

 

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[Podcast transcript]

Announcer:
This special episode of Small Business Small Talk was recorded while we practiced social distancing. Please forgive any drop in audio quality and join us in staying safe.

Chad:
Hi, my name is Chad David, and I’m here with my co-host Ian Messenger, and you’re listening to a special episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. Like many of you, we’re working from home. And today we’re joined with Nick Hopkins, Hibu’s AVP of Digital Product Management, talking about steps your small business should be taking right now to stay in touch with your customers.

Chad:
Every small business across the country is really experiencing a pretty unique set of challenges right now. As Hibu is a company that’s worked with small businesses so closely for so long, obviously, across the business, we feel for and empathize with you pretty acutely. So, we put together this podcast. We wanted to get out and talk to you guys really quickly because we want to help every business out their – client or not –navigate their way through the storm and do what they need to do to come out intact on the other side. And as we sit here… I think it’s easy for people, for small business owners to panic and make some pretty rash decisions right now. But in our experience and from what we’re seeing actually out in the market right now, that that’s probably the last thing you want to do. So, I think as a group, let’s all take a collective deep breath… and sort of just dive right in.

So, Nick, my question to you would be, looking at what they’re facing right now… what do you feel like small businesses should be doing, in the short term, right now, as they’re looking to adjust to customer expectations in this new status quo?

Nick:
Yeah, thanks, Chad. It’s a great question, I think, obviously safety of your employees, safety of your customers is first and foremost. Then, once you get through those things, it’s really I mean it… REALLY, your first order of business is to is to communicate to your customers — to make them understand your status, what you’re doing as a business, where you where you are in the community. And make sure they understand how they can engage with you and stay safe in doing so.  And really, that comes down to the three main things to focus on…

First is adding a notice on your website. When people want to know what you’re doing, they’re going to go visit your website, right? So, make sure you have information posted on your website about your status. Are you still open? Have you changed the way you’re doing business? Have you have you put practices in place to try to keep people safe so you can keep conducting business with them? Whatever those things are, you want to make sure people see those as soon as they get to your website.

Then, you want to do the same thing on your Facebook Page, and typically the best way to do that is by creating a “pinned” post. That’s a normal post, but when you go into Facebook, you set it up to say I want this post pinned, and that means it always stays at the top of your Facebook page. If you’re not sure how to do that, you could go in and just Google “Facebook pin a post.”  There’s a lot of great instruction out there from Facebook and from other people about how to do that. That means that any time somebody comes to either your website for your Facebook page, they’re going to see that information and understand how they can work with you or whether they can work with you through this through this crisis period.

And then the third place to update your information is really on your Google My Business page. If you’re not familiar with that term, that’s the page that shows up on ah, at least on a desktop or laptop computer, shows up on the right-hand side of the search results page when you search for a business by name. For example, say you search for Joe’s Plumbing in Podunk, Iowa. Joe’s Plumbing’s Google My business page which shows on the right-hand side, is kind of a mini website. It’s where Google captures a lot of the information about the business, so you’ll want to go in there and update your hours of operation, if they’ve changed. You want to update your business description, and again, just make sure that people know what you’re doing, how you’re operating, and when they can conduct business with you — and how they can conduct this business with you.

Ian:
That’s an easy thing to forget, too. I mean, I think a lot of these small businesses are really feeling the impact and the uncertainty of this crisis, whether they realize it or not, and making the assumption that, “Well, in my state… I’m closed for business. No one’s looking for me.” And it’s just not true. You know, folks are, even if they’re not necessarily looking for you to, you know, get their hair cut this week or, you know, get a new roof put on next week. You know, they may just be poking around to see how the businesses in their community are faring. You know, what if they go to Facebook Page that hasn’t been updated or they look up your hours and it says you’re open right now. That’s kind of a head scratching moment for your local customers.

Nick:
Yeah, for me, as a consumer, that’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve found is I go to a business’s website… I know very well that they’re not operating normal… this isn’t normal times for anybody… and yet there’s no information there. It’s just business as usual. I know that’s not the case, and when it leads me to think is that the business has just gone underground and it makes me less confident wanting to engage with that, right? If they’re up front and communicating well about what they’re doing, how they’re serving the community now, they’re serving their customers… I’m much more likely to engage with them. And I think that’s important for the short term. It’s also important for the long term because I think people will remember that.  Consumers will remember those businesses that are doing a great job of communicating… that stuck with their business, are trying hard or trying to serve their customers, and they’ll build up a loyal following is a result of that.

Along the same lines, I would say is that once you get past those basic building blocks of getting the right information out there, you really want to make sure you’re communicating on a regular basis with your customers. So that could be things like doing more frequent post on social media, going into Facebook, Instagram, even your Google My Business page and posting there periodically, letting people know that you’re still around, letting them know how you’re doing. And you want to personalize that. You want authentic information. You want to be talking to people in your voice. And if people are posting back about your business, you want to be responsive to them. Again… people are going to remember those businesses that are staying active in their community that are trying to pivot, trying to serve their customers and continue to serve their customers through this. And, you know, one thing to think about along those line, too, is if you’re not active on a chat service like Messenger, maybe you want to turn that on on your Facebook Page. That will be found by a lot of people. When they’re sitting at home, they’re sheltering in place at home, practicing their social distancing at home — they’re spending an awful lot of time on Facebook, on social media, and on websites. And one of the ways they like to communicate with the business owner is by chat. So, if you haven’t enabled chat, now might be a good time to think about going into your Facebook and turn that on, so that people can message you. And if you do that, make sure you try to be responsible as well, just keep that dialogue going with your customers and make sure they know you’re there. You’re around, you’re ready to serve them, and you’re a responsible… a contributing member of the community

Ian:
Building on that, it could be a challenge if you’re thinking “Hey, I’d like to do that. I’d like to post you know, every other day or at a minimum once a week, just to let folks know that you know we’re still around. But what? What the heck do I say?” You know, my shop is closed or something along those lines. I mean, there are things you can absolutely post that show that you’re paying attention – there’s the guidelines from the CDC. I’m sure there’s local advisories from your township of your county or even at the state level. And there’s other content out there that you can share through your channels and kind of put your own spin on. But just say, hey, you know what? All my customers, in case anyone didn’t see the latest guidelines, here’s a great way to get some content out there without fixating on the fact that you don’t really have any news to share per se.

Nick:
Right! I mean, you don’t want to be creating content just for the sake of creating content, but you want to be communicating with customers the same way you would if somebody had stopped by your shop – you would update them on what’s going on. You know, a lot of people are pivoting their business — where a retailer is no longer able to stay open in their brick and mortar location may host virtual events are lying, or maybe running contests online or doing other things online that they want to talk about. And you keep people connected with their business and keep people engaged.

Announcer:
You’re listening to a special episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. We’re committed to helping small businesses today, during these challenging times, and tomorrow, when we all get back to business as usual. For more information, visit us at Hibu.com. H-i-b-u. Hibu.com.

Chad:
We’re back with Nick Hopkins, Hibu’s AVP of Digital Product Management, talking about the steps your business should be taking right now to stay in touch with your customers.

Nick:
It’s a big misconception that that consumers have gone, are going, away at our table right there. They’re not. They’re spending an awful lot of time on their computers Were spending an awful lot of time online on social media. They may be postponing discretionary purchases. They may not buy the car that they were going to buy, or do the big renovation of the house that they were planning before. But they’re absolutely out there, actively looking for businesses to serve them. Yeah, they still need plumbers. They still need doctors and dentists. They still need a lot of the services that are out there.

You know, we run campaigns for tens of thousands of small businesses around the country, and we’re seeing most of those campaigns do really, really well right now and in fact, as you see some advertisers dropping out, it actually creates a better opportunity for some of the ones who are staying in the game. And they’re getting more bang for the buck in a lot of cases. So, I would encourage you, once you get beyond that point of making sure you’ve got the right information out there and making sure you’re communicating with their customers, think about your marketing as a positive way of investing… continuing to invest in your community. And your dialogue with the community continues to keep you top of mind within your community. So that as this passes, and it ultimately will, so you’re in a better more solid position in your community, with those consumers to grow your business again.

We see a lot of businesses really pivot their business model. You see, obviously that would be the obvious things like restaurant having a takeout and delivery model, companies that are moving to online service. We’ve seen examples of cosmetic surgeons who are now focusing instead of, since they can’t have people come into their office and do elective surgery, they’re focusing on online consultations, and they’re promoting that. It’s all kinds of examples like fitness people running fitness classes online and so forth. So, if you are able to pivot your business, start thinking about pivoting your marketing as well and promote that. Make sure people know that you’re still active in the community. You’re still out there and you haven’t going in the ground on them. You know, people are going to remember those businesses that are that are flexible, that are creative. They’re continuing to service their customers and their clients as best they can, and they’re going to be a wealth of those business as they come out of this crisis.

So, I think the worst thing to do, as you said early on Chad, is that when other people are panicking, the worst thing for you to do is panic as well. It’s really time to sit back calmly. Think about it. The building blocks of any good business… how do you communicate? Well, how do you get your message out there and how do you morph your business or mold your business around the conditions in the market today? The conditions there are different, you know, in this COVID-19 situation than they were even two or three weeks ago. So those businesses that are able to pivot and change their marketing around and promote the new way that they’re doing business and are able to continue to service their customers… they’re going to come out of this the strongest.

Chad:
Obviously, there are some things that you have to react to in the present, but in doing so, you have to make sure that you’re also planning for and setting yourself up for success in the future, because as much as this is all consuming and taking up all of our attention and time right now, you don’t want to do things that are sort of like shooting yourself in the foot, hobbling your business when it’s time to bounce back and hit the ground running… when the smoke has cleared.

Nick:
Right. And we covered a lot of ground here, talked about a lot of different things, and to the small business owner, it may seem daunting to do all those things, but there are a lot of DIY tools out there. As I mentioned, there are a lot of people posting guidelines. If you go into Google and search for “How to do a pinned post on Facebook,” “How to update your business hours” — things like that — there’s lots of good online instruction for that. If you are working with an agency like a Hibu, often that agency can do a lot of those things for you. We manage websites and Facebook pages and ad campaigns for a large number of our customers, and so we’re able to help them through that, give them guidance, give them examples of people who have done things well and smart and evolved their business, and help them be successful. But there are lots of resources out there for you to do it yourself as well, if you’re inclined to do that and if you have a lot of time on your hands right now, that may be a good thing for you to dive into. But the key lesson is, you know that, it is a crisis. It doesn’t have to be a catastrophe for your business. There are ways to work through it, and it goes back to starting with communicating well with your customers, servicing your customers and then really trying to pivot your business and your marketing to adapt it to the way it’s the reality of the way that consumers are searching for services today, searching for products today and engaging with businesses today,

Ian:
And we know from all the campaigns we manage, and the listings we help folks with, and everything else – digital marketing in a lot of cases could be a game of inches. You know, it takes a long time to establish yourself with Google and establish yourself online. And there are definitely risks to kind of, you know, pulling the plug on that or putting things on hold. I mean, eventually, the silver lining here, if we can all kind of, you know, think that way is things will go back to business as usual eventually. And Nick, you’ve touched on this already. You really don’t want to find yourself in a position where whatever you’ve built online being, you know, just an up to date Google My Business profile or a real, true, dedicated marketing campaign. You don’t want to find yourself as the dust settles here suddenly, you know, behind the eight ball. And once everything’s back up and running, your competitors are suddenly outranking you. And you’re not showing up for this search term anymore, because you, understandably, kind of put things on hold. But, there’s definitely ways to pivot and adapt and adjust in this time of crisis versus just, you know, saying “Whoa, time out. I’ll be back when this is all cleared up” and suddenly finding yourself in a worse position than you are now.

Nick:
Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, the worst thing you can do is go completely dark because you’re not only going to go dark to the consumers in your community, going to go dark to Google and being and Yahoo and the other search engines out there. And it’ll take a while for them to rediscover you when you decide to turn the light switch back on again, right? But the next the next worst thing you can do is just do nothing, because all those services look at whether people are updating their profile online, whether their information is accurate and complete on different places on the web. And so even if you just do nothing and you leave your website as is… don’t put any kind of notice… don’t change your hours every place… that also is going to be a negative for you. The long term, it’s going to hide your business effectively on Google on Bing and other places out there in ways that it’s going to take you time to recover from.

You talked about evolving and morphing and your business. One of the other things you know we’ve seen is businesses that are spending a lot of their dollars today —or were a few weeks ago anyway — spending a lot of their dollars on lead generation because they’re a very demand-driven business, they’re paying on a search campaign to find people who are actively seeking their product or service. We’re seeing some of those people that have shifted their spend around and focused more on brand building and awareness, and really staying top of mind within their community during this period, knowing that maybe there’s not quite as much instantaneous demand. But what they can do is build a backlog of people who know about their business. See that they’re out there, see that they’re still engaged and remember them a month or two months from now, when things do get back to normal and they’re ready to start spending.

Chad:
So, in closing after taking a look at all the information that you’ve given us… so far, what are the key points you’d like to leave our listeners with as they head back and try to implement these strategies for their own businesses?

Nick:
Yeah, great. There are a few key things. I think again you’re going back to getting the right information out there about your business. What are you doing today? How are you conducting business? Getting your website, your Facebook Page, your Google My Business page up to date, accurate and reflecting the reality of your business today. I think you’re engaging on social media, posting of information about your business, responding to comments, responding to reviews if you’re getting them a side note here. Google has actually suspended doing reviews for the interim because they don’t have the capacity to review them. But where there are reviews out there, you want to be responsive to those you want. Remember that social media is a two-way street. When people engage with you, they’d like you to engage back with them as well. Try to be as responsive and as visible and as present this possible.

And then you think about your business and how you want to serve consumers how consumers are out there looking for you and try to pivot your business around that concept and fill your marketing tow line up with that, I’d say those were really like the key things that you have to remember and act on during this time. And then to the extent that you can, you can pull in other kinds of tools to help you help you with that pivot, help you engage with consumers. You know, a lot of people are moving to online video conferencing, to talk to their customers instead of having a customer come into their business, so tools like Zoom are great for that kind of thing. Or Skype or even Messenger, and you video chat over Messenger. It is an effective way to do one-on-one communication with customers.

Chad:
Nick, thank you so much talking with us today. I think you know, you obviously gave us a lot of information and hopefully it will be really helpful to our listeners.

Nick:
Well, we’re all trying to work through this and at the same time our businesses is impacted just as much as our customers’ are. So, we’re all trying to work through this and create the playbook for it. But we hope that we’re going help our customers be successful here and get through this intact and ready to take off again.

Chad:
Thanks, Nick. That was great. I’d like to thank everyone for listening to this special episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. If you like what you heard, we hope you’ll subscribe, and if you can please leave us a review, it really helps the show. I hope you’ll forgive any drop in quality as we practice social distancing of course. At the top of our minds are all our small business partners. We hope all of you, your family and your friends are all healthy and safe. Small Business Small Talk… out!

Announcer:
Thanks for listening to this special episode of Small Business Small Talk powered by Hibu. We’re here for you today, to help your small business get through these tough times, and we’ll be here after we’re all safely through this unprecedented challenge. If we can help you in any way, visit us today. Hibu.com. H-I-B-U. Hibu.com.

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