In order to gain the trust of the general public, customer service and great hospitality will, more than ever, be the major difference between surviving or not.
Yes people have been stuck at home during lockdown, but they’ve also become accustomed to the home luxuries of their own (rather generous) measures and paying £6 for a bottle of wine rather than a glass.
Home drinking offers a shorter commute to the bar, lower prices and many less risks. So, it’s now your venue versus the comfort of the sofa.
There are thousands of people desperate to get back in the pub for a cold pint but more than half of people are still hesitant. The way to win people back is by taking things slowly and very seriously, with thoughtful, crystal clear communications to spell out how you have their safety concerns covered and how they will be enforced.
With hospitality re-opening this weekend the government has set about giving guidance, and there’s a whole load to consider, and a hell of a lot of ambiguity according to Barlife and Club Oenologique – so venues planning on reopening promptly need to ensure the service they offer ensures customers are happy enough to come back for a return visit.
Here are our top 5 tips for nailing customer service to market yourself as ‘Covid-19 safe’
1. KEEP YOUR CUSTOMERS FEELING SAFE
It pretty much goes without saying that staff training needs to be front and centre of plans. Training needs to be delivered in accordance with the new guidelines; which means revisiting ‘hospitality 101’ as well as crafting new training plans, new staff room signage and new step by step protocols when serving and clearing. You can’t afford for a staff member to slip up, so thorough training is a non-negotiable. Customers need to feel safe throughout every touchpoint of their experience with you and feel that your staff are sufficiently reinforcing the rules.
It’s not just your employees you (and the government) are asking to use common sense and follow guidelines, you’ll also have to trust your own customers not to spoil it for everyone else. Clear communications through social media, POS and consistent verbal messaging from your own staff is key to ensure a holistic approach to hygiene and social distancing which keeps all your customers feeling safe. Any flouting of the rules needs to be addressed immediately by your own staff who should feel empowered to do so.
2. UTILISE DIGITAL
If your digital marketing was ever your ‘shop window’, now it has glowing lights and klaxons all around it. You’ll need to ensure people know you are open for business. Make sure you are easy to discover on Google by upping your SEO and PPC efforts, either yourself if you have the skills, or investing in a trusted expert to reignite your digital footprint to target your audience successfully. Also remember to update your opening times on your business profile on Google, making sure they are accurate and don’t lead to any wasted customer journeys that could hurt your reputation.
Use your website and social media channels to extend your hospitality virtually, update your customers on what steps you are taking to re-open safely and how they can book! This is your chance to engage and reassure your customers before they step foot into your venue, aiming to alleviate fears with engaging visual posts and crystal clear and consistent communications.
Digital also provides many options to rethink how your customers will view your menu. Instagram Is a popular choice with some venues opting for this route for both hygiene and social engagement reasons. Or you could think about engaging experts to utilise QR codes, ensuring your guests don’t need to download an app just to get a cold pint! Always remember to make sure you think about who you could be excluding when embracing digital, a good old fashioned chalkboard should be part of your ‘offline’ menu strategy too…
Track and Trace
Businesses have also been asked by the government to help the efforts of the track and trace campaign by keeping details of customers on file. Think about what technology might benefit you and your customers by doing this in the safest and most streamlined way possible, to capture data safely, not disruptively. You’ll need to be both Covid-19 and GDPR compliant, whilst not alienating your customers. Explore what digital technology could help you get this right.
3. TURN YOUR CUSTOMERS INTO ADVOCATES?
In terms of trust between venue and customer, you are almost starting from zero. You’ll need to think about what you can offer your customers, both in terms of your service and tangible added value so they have an exceptional experience and become active advocates. With referrals and word of mouth becoming more and more important in a 360 marketing strategy, you can’t afford for your customers to have any negative experiences with you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your brand reps, wholesalers and distributors; they’ll be looking for ways to help their on-trade sales kick off again so creating decent value-add partnerships for your customers will help ensure they leave feeling like they have got more than they expected from the experience.
Whilst unnecessary POS is a hygiene no-no, there are many other options of how you can partner up to drive mutual benefits all round. Drive engagement to your social channels through competitions to win bar tabs, offer bar snacks free with certain purchases, or engage with the likes of Proof Drinks to receive one of their generous support packages to help your GP go further.
There are now more relaxed regulations on outdoor service meaning you can utilise car parks and terraces to create outdoor bars and seating areas. This is a real opportunity to get creative, don’t just think ‘temporary’ or ‘makeshift’, think about how you can keep the customer service experience memorable in new areas of your venue with clever signage and quirky seating areas.
With 69% of millennials taking photos of food before actually eating it, you’ll also need to ensure your food presentation remains as high up in your priorities as your hygiene protocols. The power of social media has never been so important, so carry on your customer service through every step of the customer journey, with each and every bar snack or meal served. Consider each touchpoint of your business as a little part of your reputation.
4. TAKING YOUR EXPERIENCE TO THEM
During lockdown, there’s been a growing demand for better in-home experiences as home premiumisation has skyrocketed, with more budding bartenders and amateur chefs turning their hand to whatever they’ve seen on social media or TV that day. Therefore it’s also a good idea to include in your offering something your customers can take with them or a way to engage with your customer service at home.
Takeaway cocktails have been one of the on-trade’s lifelines during the pandemic. There’s no reason why these can’t continue once the footfall starts to rise again. It’s a new revenue stream for you, and a value add for the consumer, taking a little bit of hospitality home with them. The perfect Margarita, Martini or Negroni can be hard to perfect, so take away some of the hard work and offer a hand crafted version whilst visitors are enjoying the real deal in person.
With new ways to engage with consumers popping up left, right and centre, how about offering home masterclasses on how to make your renowned house dish or signature cocktail? Again, it’s another revenue stream, and with social distancing reducing the number of customers allowed in your venue at one time, it’s a chance to continue to reach more people as well as create more brand advocates. It’s up to you to choose when you are available, and how much you charge.
5. OH, AND DON’T FORGET THE PLANET
And if you haven’t already, join the war on plastics, don’t let a pandemic get in the way of moving forward with your sustainability goals. Consumers don’t want to choose between sustainability and convenience.
With more outdoor areas, more takeaways and more hygiene factors to contend with, plastic may seem like an option, but don’t forget all your customer touchpoints that impact your reputation and potential referrals. If you can’t use glass for whatever reason, look for biodegradable, compostable and ideally customisable options to help your brand awareness with each drink sold. And despite the delay in the ban of plastic straws and stirrers, don’t be tempted to use them.
Good luck to all venues in the throws of preparation to reopen safely. Ultimately, it’s about engaging your visitors innovatively and rewarding their trust with excellent hospitality to turn them once again, into active advocates of your pub, bar or restaurant.