The impact of the MCO or pandemic lockdown is being felt by all businesses in Malaysia. Many business owners are now looking for ways to get back and retain their customers amid this tough period to survive. These 10 tips reveal how businesses can manage and improve customers' experience during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we’re starting to see the light at the end of the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) tunnel, more and more businesses are gearing up to reopen their operations. But the thing is, so much has changed and so much has been lost. How can businesses navigate in this new normal?
First up, if you’re preparing to reopen, that’s major good news in itself. In these trying times, many companies have taken austerity measures to manage the pandemic’s impact on their cash flow, such as taking up stimulus packages, making pay cuts, and even worse, letting go of their staff. Beyond that, some hotels, media titles, bubble tea shops, and retailers had to bite the dust, one after another.
Even though things will be different for a long time, people are eventually going to go out again and sink back into their usual habits and lifestyle. As such, businesses need to be ready for them, or risk facing even greater losses this time around.
So for those of you who are a little luckier, what to do with your business after Covid-19? How can you retain your customers after Covid-19, and improve customer loyalty at the same time? Before we embark on the probable answers or suggestions, let us try to understand the general consumer behaviours first.
The Different Consumer Behaviours In A Pandemic World
The world as we know it has changed, and the sooner businesses adapt, the better. It’s risky to think that everything will be business-as-usual, so it’s important to be aware of the different customer behaviours after Covid-19 and how Malaysian businesses can tailor their post-MCO marketing strategies effectively.
Right off the bat, you’d know that everyone is online. Companies have been going through their digital transitions for a while now, but the MCO was really a catalyst to what was already happening. To think that this may slow down in a post-Covid-19 world would likely be wrong too - as consumers are getting used to the benefits and conveniences, they’re less likely to opt out from it.
With no place to go, everyone goes online.
Beyond that, consumers want things fast. Sure, there’s a general understanding that the MCO would affect delivery times, but companies are doing their best to circumvent that logistical challenge by using on-demand delivery services such as Goget, GrabDelivery, and many other new services mushrooming in the local scene.
As the pandemic has put health as a priority, consumers are also more cautious about hygiene and cleanliness. Not many would take a chance on businesses that have poor hygiene guidelines.
To add to that, we also obviously see more people cutting down on food orders, and trying to cook things on their own. This makes them a little more independent, and even the undomesticated folk find themselves frying an egg for the first time.
A Nielsen webinar also showed that there’s real customer disloyalty too, as the past few weeks have seen a myriad of challenges plaguing supply and demand. When it comes to stocking up, we’ve thankfully gone past the nightmare of having people resort to hijacking bread trucks just to get a slice… but we’re definitely expecting people to look for more value-for-money items instead of spending on their favourite brands.
People are also less likely to make big ticket purchases, such as cars and properties. Kenanga Research said consumers are increasingly cautious with their spending patterns, leaning towards more value-for-money purchases instead.
The grim reality is that, even after the MCO is lifted, people are still likely to be less inclined to make big purchases. For more information, we found that The Borneo Post had covered this pretty extensively with multiple sources - you can read more here.
Being aware of these new behaviours make it easier for businesses to tweak their strategies to attract back their customers. Here are some tips for business owners to try to get back their regular customers after MCO, and gain new ones along the way.
10 Customer Retention Strategies During The COVID-19 Pandemic
1. Get digital if you haven’t already
This is by far one of the most important investments to make for your business right now. From what we’ve learned, tech is the most vital tool for businesses to survive post-MCO, so if you still have a sizable budget or savings for your business, you know what to do.
Regardless of the business you’re in, you can always start with the easiest, least intimidating thing: setting up a Facebook page. Facebook is easily the fastest way to reach new and existing customers regardless of the size of your business - whether a big conglomerate or even a pasar malam stall.
With features to post up your products, livestream product demos, automate your conversations with customers, generate instant leads, and a whole lot more, there’s so much that you can do at your fingertips.
Bring your business to your customers - not the other way around.
In fact, you can also consider advertising on Facebook and other platforms within their network. Unfortunately, without advertising on Facebook, your business is still pretty much invisible. Of course, this would require you to learn a little bit about Facebook advertising, and thankfully there are so many free resources available online.
Another very important one - your Google My Business page. It’s a free business listing feature on Google, and all you have to do is to set it up, and you’ll get to reach some of the 5.6 billion searches that happen everyday on Google.
You can also consider setting up other things to supplement your digital efforts, such as:
- A proper website (for you to post up your products and information)
- An e-commerce store on platforms like Lazada and Shopee (for you to tap into their traffic, resources, and logistics solutions)
- Other social media platforms according to your business, like Instagram and Twitter (for you to reach out to a bigger audience)
- A WhatsApp business account (for customers to easily reach out to you, and vice-versa)
- A simple payment system, like iPay88 or PayPal (to make it easy for people to pay on the spot instead of having to manually perform an online transfer)
- An automated response system, like chatbots (so your customers can quickly get a response instead of feeling like they’re talking to a wall)
- An e-wallet payment system for your offline store, like GrabPay or Touch ‘n Go (so customers can enjoy clean, contactless transactions and get rewarded while they shop. More on this later.)
- A logistics service provider, like Lalamove or J&T Express (so you can get your stuff to your customers wherever they are)
Of course, these are just a few of the many things you can do to bring your business to the digital forefront.
Speaking of which, if you need any help with financing your business operations, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to browse through some financing options available on our site to see which would suit your budget and limitations. You can browse them here.
Also, we’ve previously covered how to use personal loans and credit cards to help benefit your business, such as reducing your business cash flow and reducing your current interest rate. Read more from the links above.
2. Update all your communications, especially on Google My Business
This is the easiest thing you can do, but also, easily the most important thing to do as well.
Customers are always searching for information online, especially on Google since that seems to be the default. (Sorry, Bing.) If your business is closed, temporarily open, or open according to normal working hours, all you have to do is to simply update these details so that it would be easy for your customers to know what to do next.
Keep your customers updated with Google My Business.
If you have a presence on Facebook, why not share an announcement post with the latest details of your business operations and pin them to the top? And on Instagram, it wouldn’t hurt to create a series of Stories with the same information, and set them as Highlights so that visitors can see them first thing on your page.
But thinking that having an online presence is the magic bullet to success, would be likening it to driving from JB to Penang in a car without wheels. You’ll still need to tailor meaningful messages to your customers. It’s important to enhance the entire experience by providing clear, concise, and consistent communications.
Unlike an offline store, customers have no visibility… and this means a lack of communication could potentially drive them up the wall in anxiety. Don’t just think about posting promotions - think about constantly updating your customers with information on their purchases, such as delivery and stock statuses. It’s all about managing expectations, and getting it right at the start can go a long way.
3. Use data on your customers to further strategise your efforts
Running a business without analysing your audience is like throwing things to a wall and seeing what sticks.
If you’ve got your digital efforts up and running, why not look into the data you have on your customers? Data is essential to any business today, regardless of size and industry. That’s because business owners now have concrete visibility and understanding into whether their efforts have worked or not, and why.
By understanding your audience data, you’re able to find the right method to engage with your customers, and eventually increase your chances of making a sale.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the fundamentals - understanding your customers first, and then tailoring your strategies accordingly. Knowing your customers will allow you to find the right ways to engage with them, including:
- knowing how to angle your messages in a language that they understand,
- knowing how to target your ads to the right audience, and
- knowing how to give them what they need.
This can be pretty intimidating if you’re new to the scene, but as always, there are many free resources to help you get started.
4. Run promotions to help your business stand out
If you’ve always been hard-pressed against giving out vouchers and discounts, NOW would be a great time to bend your rules. This Nielsen webinar on the Malaysian consumer behaviour during the MCO showed that 75% of customers took advantage of a special offer or deal - an increase from the previous year.
Promotions can help your business stand out and be more attractive to your customers.
Unless your business has zero competitors, promotions are a great way to stand out from others. Giving your customers an added advantage - be it a small discount or even a free dessert - will help with your business survival during this time.
It’s also an investment in the long run, too. Promotions will help you collect more data on your customers, both new and existing. Much like in point #3, knowing them better will help you launch more successful promotions in the future. Rinse and repeat.
Some quick ideas for promotions during this time:
- 15% off total bill
- Buy 3 Free 1 deals
- Discounted cash vouchers
Just remember to be tactful in this difficult time. Avoid using insensitive messaging such as asking your customers to spend their stimulus checks with you, or using voucher codes that literally spell ‘CORONAVIRUS’. Be extra careful with how you word your communications during this time, as it will be easy to look like you’re capitalizing on public fear and anxiety to push sales.
This brings us to our next point…
5. Communicate with empathy
In a time where everyone is affected one way or another, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to open up about the struggles you’re facing as a business. However, it’s important to do this with honesty, sincerity, and transparency, as the last thing you want is for your customers to think that you’re only doing this for sympathy.
This goes hand-in-hand with point #4 - if businesses seek empathy, they should also do the same to customers with promotions that will give them more value for their money.
Most importantly, be extra careful with how you speak to your customers. While you match your tone to the current climate, you still don’t want to be called out for taking advantage of a crisis, or using it to push sales.
6. Be strict with hygiene… and make sure everyone sees it too
Whether you’re in F&B or retail, be extra strict about how you and your employees manage your daily operations.
As the public is anxious about their health and safety, the best thing that businesses can do is to assure them that they are following health SOPs to the tee. It’s one thing to equip your employees with masks, sanitisers, gloves, and a thermometer. It’s another thing to ensure that they actually use it properly.
Improper use of face masks just defeats the purpose of having them in the first place.
Potential customers don’t just look at your employees - they also look at other patrons in your premises. Another customer who doesn’t seem to be following the health SOPs (e.g. pulling down their mask to chat while browsing through products, not maintaining social distancing rules) can easily turn them off too.
As a business owner, you also need to do your part to keep your premise safe so that others can be more confident in shopping in your store. Politely tell such customers to adhere to the SOPs as it is mandatory for them to do so.
7. Make it easy for your customers
Apart from hygiene, customers don’t really want to linger around too long either. Not that they don’t have the time - the SOPs have just made it a little less convenient to ‘lepak’ as and when they like. As such, simplifying the buying process for your customers can help them make their decisions fast.
For example, if you own an F&B store, why not print out a large menu of best-selling items that don’t take too long to prepare? Or better yet, have sample boxes displayed at the front of your premise so that your customers don’t have to go through the hassle of flipping pages. All they need to do is to point and order.
All these are subjective to the kind of business you’re in, so take a look at where your decision-making bottleneck lies, and try to simplify it as best you can.
8. Adopt a cashless payment system
In point #1, we said that an e-wallet payment system would be a great way to expand your digital efforts. If you haven’t added this, now’s the time to do so. This also goes hand-in-hand with our point of making things easy for your customers, as you’ll eliminate the need to fuss over notes and coins.
With e-wallets, there’s no need to exchange germy paper notes and coins.
It’s not just rewarding to your customers (as each e-wallet has their own benefits, i.e. Touch ‘n Go’s cashback, GrabPay’s reward system) - it’s also a lot cleaner too. It has been scientifically proven that cash carries germs and can easily be passed around, so any option to avoid anything like that would be a lot more attractive to customers.
There are other plus points for you as a business too - you get automated bookkeeping, reduced risk of theft and cash leakage, shorter transaction time compared to credit cards, and the ability to leverage off the e-wallet’s current network of users.
Besides, the transition to a cashless future started years ago - the MCO was just a really big push. An article from The Straits Times highlighted a finding by JP Morgan that in 2019, digital wallets accounted for 7% of the local e-commerce payment transactions. Before the pandemic, this figure was expected to hit 16% by 2021. And according to a Nielsen webinar, 45% of their respondents had started to use e-wallets more frequently due to the MCO.
So, why not start now?
9. Get customers to advocate for you
We live in a hyper-connected world where a single recommendation or complaint can create great impacts to businesses. Nielsen reported that 92% of consumers believe suggestions from friends and family more than advertising, and Ogilvy found that 74% of consumers identify ‘word of mouth’ as a key influencer in their purchasing decisions.
However, still a vast majority of businesses don’t actively seek out reviews or recommendations.
In order to tap onto this, you need to first have a great product. Keep the buying process as simple and as fast as possible for the customer, and go above and beyond for your customers if they ever need your help.
At the end, it also wouldn’t hurt to also incentivise your customers to leave a review. Lifestyle brand Oxwhite does this pretty well by giving users an RM5 voucher on their next purchase if they leave a review on their site, thereby keeping their customers coming back to spend more.
10. Consider empowering other businesses in your local community
Lastly, remember that you’re not alone in this. Many other businesses are struggling the same way, so it would always be a good idea to find a business that you can partner up with to empower each other.
Local partnerships almost always help businesses grow together, especially when they each offer services which complement each other. It could be something from as simple as a social media cross-platform promotion, to a joint activation event where all parties come together for a cause.
By partnering with another local business, you’ll be able to reach out to their customers to grow your base (and vice-versa). Just remember that in order for a partnership to work, both parties need to agree on expectations and deliver exactly that.
There’s No Secret Formula… So It’s Important To Learn And Adapt
Truth be told, you may or may not be able to utilise the points in any listicle you read online. (Even this one!) So the most important thing any business can do is to really look at how your customers’ needs have changed, and what you can do to help meet those needs.
It can be a difficult course to navigate, especially since this pandemic is an unprecedented event that nobody saw coming. The best thing to do is to learn, adapt, and listen to your customers for insights to steer your business direction the right way.