Businesses around the world are currently experiencing one of the toughest challenges they’ll ever face - maintaining and regaining customer trust in the midst of a pandemic. With the threat of COVID-19 transmission looming, businesses are being forced to juggle the issue of how to protect employees and customers while staying open and trying to turn a profit.
The issue of customer trust has been especially difficult for the restaurant industry, which has faced a crushing reputational downswing in the wake of the pandemic. The industry is inherently geared towards catering to groups of people dining indoors, but the pandemic has made this nearly impossible. Until recently, foodservice businesses have gotten around this by moving dining areas outdoors and putting emphasis on delivery services. With the country slowly reopening, patrons are once again allowed to enjoy food and beverages indoors, albeit with reduced capacity, social distancing and other protective measures in place.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely stressful for just about everybody - worries about being safe and healthy, staying employed, and protecting loved ones have affected everybody. It’s also done a great deal to erode our trust in beloved businesses and institutions which now pose a potential health risk. COVID-19 is extremely contagious, and can affect people of any age group, gender, or background - it can also be picked up anywhere, even when you take the proper precautions. It’s natural, then, that customers are currently uncertain about spending their valuable time and money in restaurants, where they could potentially catch the coronavirus.
The and the erosion of customer trust, affecting businesses everywhere. The stakes are high and failure could mean the end for many restaurants. It’s now the responsibility of restaurant owners to regain and maintain the trust of once loyal customers in any way possible. This needs to be done carefully to avoid the threat of spreading the virus, and in a way that doesn’t rush things. Jumping in too soon could be devastating for your business’s reputation and the health of your employees and customers. Waiting too long, though, could result in your business going under, so regaining trust and re-establishing credibility in a responsible manner is something of a race against the clock.
The first step towards regaining customer trust is communication and leadership - show patrons that you’re taking this situation seriously and that you won’t let up until the pandemic is over. You need to show customers what you’re doing to protect them and the staff members who will be serving them. This can be done by publishing materials on what COVID protocols you’re applying to your restaurant and how you’re enforcing them, being transparent about your business’s cleaning and sanitization processes, as well as by clearly communicating the options that customers have when dining at your establishment (indoor and patio dining, take out, and contactless delivery).
Giving your staff PPE and training them on how to effectively use protective equipment will also go a long way in improving and maintaining customer trust. You’ll also have to show customers that the rules will apply to all those who enter your restaurant rather than enforced selectively or waived for loyal or favourite customers. What good are rules if they’re not applied consistently? Stressing that rules will be applied evenly and fairly in terms of capacity limits, mask wearing, hand hygiene, and social distancing can do a lot to alleviate the worries of potential customers. You might even want to ease customer worries about potential supply chain issues by communicating what measures are being taken by suppliers and how your employees are applying similar strategies when preparing and serving food.
While you’re working to regain and maintain customer trust during the pandemic, it’s important to remember that some people simply won’t feel safe at your restaurant until the pandemic is declared over. They may still opt to buy food and beverages from your business, so don’t forget that they matter too. This makes it important to continue innovating and focusing on how your business can accommodate those customers through things like contactless delivery, curbside pickup, alcohol delivery, and more. Remembering this segment of your audience, no matter how small, will mean that they’ll remain loyal and more likely to trust your business when the world once again reopens.
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