Why a customer-first community spirit is good for business
As the chillier nights draw in and the long summer comes to a close, the arrival of autumn can often represent a fresh start – ringing true in 2020 more than ever before. From tots enjoying big school to workers getting back to business after the long summer holiday, the changing of seasons is no longer just about turning over a new leaf; businesses must now adjust to a new world and with it, a new way of living – and working.
There are signs of growing optimism in the economy, according to Barclaycard data - UK SMEs are outperforming expectations; so much so that fewer are reporting coronavirus as having a negative impact on their business at all. Barclaycard Payments’ quarterly SME Barometer revealed that ‘optimism’ had jumped 16 points – and that four in five start-ups are planning to invest within the next 12 months, despite the pandemic. In contrast to Q2, Q3 would now seem to indicate that the tables are turning, and that SMEs continue to remain positive about the future.
None of us know just how long COVID-19 will be a part of our lives, but we can always focus on the horizon ahead. As autumn gets well underway, it’s all about changing our perceptions, and continuing to keep everyone safe while preserving a happy and relaxed atmosphere. Not only can this help to deliver a positive experience for valued customers, but it can also support the health and mental wellbeing of employees.
Whether working remotely or in an office, we explore how businesses can continue to adopt a customer-first approach in a bid to support loyal, local communities as we adjust to the ‘ever-changing normal’.
Reviving the community spirit
Where shoppers had perhaps not ventured before, many small businesses within the local community have enjoyed an upturn in business as consumers spent more at local, independent businesses. Barclaycard research showed that 55 per cent of consumers wanted to show their support for nearby businesses during lockdown, with specialist food and drink stores such as off-licences and greengrocers seeing an increase in sales as the nation chose to buy locally and support independent businesses. With a large number of non-essential employees now advised to work remotely, the removal of a commute has, for many, spurred consumers to seek their everyday shopping closer to home.
As a welcome boost to the economy, the Chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme also encouraged customers to dine closer to home – with spending in UK restaurants and fast food outlets was up 34.2 per cent on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August, compared to the same days in July according to Barclaycard data. The offer was so successful, that many cafes and restaurants are still offering a further weekday discount to further entice new visitors this autumn. With transaction volumes rising, Barclaycard spend data for August showed takeaways and fast food establishments enjoyed a 2.8% spend growth, while pubs, bars and clubs grew 9.3% as people sought socially-distanced dining experiences with friends.
For smaller businesses, both remote working and the lasting effects of the Eat Out scheme continue to provide opportunity to foster loyalty and retain new customers for the long-haul. Whether this includes the introduction of a click-and-collect or local delivery service, or rewarding first-time/returning customers with discounts, adjusting the shopping experience with a friendly face to match makes a huge difference when it comes to providing a service that is convenient, value for money, and trustworthy through these uncertain times.
Giving back to the people
Whether buying sourdough from the local bakery or venturing out for a burger in the city, a customer’s choice to spend (and help the economy) should remain the no.1 focus for businesses wishing to retain their loyalty – whatever changes lie ahead. In a bid to safeguard communities and meet increased demand, retailers have already been busy sparking new initiatives so as to encourage repeat spend in the future.
Household names like Morrisons have doubled in-store flower stalls to meet the needs of customers, and have also launched a subscription service – creating thousands of new jobs in the process. Family-owned key-cutting firm Timpson also continues to offer a free dry cleaning service to customers preparing for a job interview. It’s not just the retailers who are getting on board with the community spirit. According to Barclaycard research, 41 per cent of Britons have checked in with vulnerable neighbours to see if they need any help with their shopping.
Positive vibes near and far
When it comes to creating a seamless customer experience, every detail counts – however your business may be operating. Investing in the ‘customer journey’ pays, whatever your business model. Many businesses are already being proactive in their recovery; according to Barclaycard research, 80% plan to invest over next 12 months – with tech and marketing high on the agenda. For remote-working businesses unable to offer their usual consultation services, the use of video conferencing tech can offer a friendly face where email cannot. For retailers adjusting their opening hours and stock levels, a marketing drive can help to raise awareness – encouraging people to visit as and when possible.
As coronavirus keeps the nation on its toes, SMEs that take the time to invest in their customer experience – whether that’s refined safety measures or a friendly face during uncertain times – will only succeed in building an atmosphere that is both welcoming and safe to shop in. Giving back to the community and spreading joy is one of the things businesses can do to keep spirits high, and customers coming back for more.