How to reconnect with your customers after lockdown

A Café Javas delivery agent transports food on order in Kampala. Since social distancing is not going to go away any time soon, the use of Boda boda for delivery will continue. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

The coronavirus is continuing to change the way businesses operate. Due to the lockdown, businesses must continue innovating customer experiences to remain in business, Justus Lyatuu writes.

Are you worried that you could lose some if not most of your customer base as a result of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis?
This is because the reality is that since Covid-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), most businesses came to halt or are operating unusually due to the lockdown instituted by the government.
As a result of the shutdown, most businesses are struggling to hold on to their customer, resulting into uncertainty of what the future holds amidst or after the pandemic has been tamed.

Managing uncertainty
Keep in touch with past customers. This is an essential ingredient to building referrals and generating repeat business.
Business experts say you need to continue the relationship-building process if you want referrals to flow your way time and again.
The biggest challenge now according to experts is that people are coming out of the lockdowns with low incomes and different tastes and preferences. But how you are preparing to reconnect with them?
Mr Denis Jjuuko, a communication and visibility consultant, says it wasn’t a good idea for businesses to wait but they should have not stopped communicating.
But, “Don’t wait for Covid-19 to end to reconnect. Engage them all the time, check on them, be in touch,” Mr Jjuuko says.
“Call them, email, Whatsapp, sms using the way that you have been in touch with them but also during the post Covid-19, you may go for advertising and other ways to reach a mass audience,” he says.
He adds; “All of the methods above not only actually apply for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but also large companies where relationship managers should be touch with the clients.”
Mr Jjuuko believes since business might not be the same, SMEs can also start adopting online tools such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype to keep in touch with clients.
SMEs should not stop using social media at this time even when they are not selling anything. They can still engage audiences on social media platforms. Some clients may be in need of the services or are just waiting for a better time to get the service or product.
Mr Charles Ocici, the executive director at Enterprise Uganda, believes things are not going to be the same after Covid-19.
He observes that customers have learnt to do many things differently.
“There is a saying that if you repeatedly did something for 30 days you start being good. Now that we are almost doing 60 days, we are perfect,” he says.
He adds; “If your customer has done 60 days and they are okay, chances that they picked new preferences are high,” he said.
Mr Ocici illustrates; “If one used to buy a loaf of bread at Shs3,000 every week, but because of preferences, they drop buying the Shs3000 loaf. What does that mean? They have cancelled bread, so you need to think fast and bring on smaller units of bread in order to keep that customer back.”
He also said if a customer continues buying at lower units, it is the business to reconfigure and make different units.

The post Covid-19 is time to do serious marketing.
“Inform your staff who were used to making bread for Shs3,000 that they will have to do more but smaller units. Operations must change, appreciate the customer’s situation and be ready to adjust your products,” he says.
Mr Ocici also advises that SMEs need to be cost efficient to ensure that pricing does not include wasting, expiry of items; in other words eliminate all avenues of wastefulness.
For instance, where you used to have many wasteful lights, empty spaces; utilise every resource you have optimally. Eliminate unnecessary losses and let your prices come down or if it remains the same, you should give more to the customer.
“The price you used to have for bread was maybe Shs3,000, you could reduce to Shs2,500 or retain the Shs3000 but put more ingredients,” he says.
According to Mr Emmanuel Dei-Tumi, President, Human Capital International, the success of dealing with customers in the post Covid-19 will be determined by how businesses have been dealing with customers during the normal days.
“If during the lockdown businesses lost total touch of their customers, they have to invest a lot of resources to reconnect. Remember we are in a very competitive era,” he says.
He further explains that lockdown should have given you enough time to reflect and strategise on how you will get personal with your customers and avoid the ‘business as usual’ approaches of selling products and services.
Dei-Tumi illustrates, “You ran a laundry business before Covid-19 did you have data of all your customers? If you had, did you call to check on them? So if you didn’t invest some time, it is going to be very difficult and this will need more investments to bring back that customer.”

Customer care
“These are people who are coming out of a tough situation. You should be able to show them that you understand their situation, try to limit any inconvenience and make them understand that they matter,” Mr Ocici says.
Mr Ocici says there will be fierce competition and any business that will survive Covid-19 is going to more competitive.
“If your competitor took one of your clients and opened a branch ask why? If they are adding a certain service, ask why. This is the time to not only look at your previous performance, current performance, and future outlook but also at somebody in your type of business and learn from competition,” he says.
As for Dei-Tumi, with social distancing people should find ways of connecting with their customer.
“People are going to have different preferences and same should apply to businesses instead of buying beer, one can get a smartphone, set up a Facebook account because the smartphone is no longer a luxury but an essential,” he says.
The page can be loaded with pictures of what you are selling and when you tag your customers, it can ease interaction and create digital communication.

On financial management, Mr Dei-Tumi says you should learn how to manage the meager resources a business has. There should be a lot of probing before decisions to spend are made.
“It is not going to be easy either to get credit, the suppliers are also not going to charge you less, if you don’t manage the cash to pay the last supplier, you might affect the supply channel,” he says.
Like Mr Ocici, Mr Dei-Tumi agrees that SMEs will have to quickly learn how to care for their customers.
“You will be required to know how your customer is faring in their daily lives, family, children … Showing some empathy will separate good and bad ones,” he said.
Since social distancing is not going to go away, the use of boda boda for delivery will continue. So, serve the absent customer to their satisfaction.
“Caring for customers starts with thinking about employees first. When employees are not properly and adequately taken care, it becomes impossible for them to deliver similar experiences to customers,” Mr Dei-Tumi says.