The Power of Connection

Northern Michigan business owners won’t let COVID-19 take them down.

While it’s true the crisis is impacting the small business economy in ways we never could have anticipated, many of our local businesses have learned to stay agile and stay connected to their customers during the COVID transformation.

Staying connected can help your business make the necessary changes both short and long-term to keep your customers happy and engaged.

I have discussed the impact of these changing times with many Independent Bank customers and local small business owners. They all agree how important it is to look ahead and take good care of their customers.

They have used this time to build trust with their customers, letting them know they’re there for them and have their best interests at heart. When you help and contribute, it can have long-term positive effects on both your customers and your business.

I believe you can even emerge from this with a stronger brand by adhering to the following:

Communicating to customers. Try blogging on your website or posting on social media to let your customers know how you are evolving your business, what it means for them as customers, how it is affecting your industry and how you plan to respond. Use real stories from your company to get your point across, add humor your customers can relate to, add pictures and build trust. Let them know that you’re there for them and you have their best interests at heart during this challenge.

This communication should:

  1. Be transparent. Everyone is in the same boat these days. Don’t pretend your company is above the crisis. Be transparent about the choices your company is making, especially if you are faced with difficult challenges like having to lay off employees or close stores. Customers will likely understand your decisions, but be open and don’t make excuses.
  2. Be available. Your goal should always be to make customers’ lives easier and that’s especially true during a crisis. Work harder so that your customers don’t have to. Go to customers where they are. Bolster your social media presence if appropriate. If the crisis has people watching the news more or using certain apps, use those channels to connect with customers. Have channels open for feedback and responses.
  3. Be respectful. These are difficult times for many people, so be respectful of the uncertainty, stress and worry your customers are likely experiencing. If the majority of your customers are out of work or facing reduced hours, it probably isn’t the best time to push a big sale and expect them to make large purchases. Be sympathetic to their needs, acknowledge the pain and use a respectful tone.
  4. Be generous. Do what you can to spread positivity and make an impact for good. Be generous with your time and resources, especially when your customers are struggling and their key employees are possibly out of work. Do what you can to help, no matter how big or small. Your kind actions won’t go unnoticed.
  5. Be genuine. There’s enough negativity and bad news in the world. Your company should be positive when communicating with customers and try to bring some brightness to their day. Customers appreciate authenticity, so strike the balance between being positive while still being genuine. Building honest and authentic relationships during times of trouble can lead to loyal, long-term customer relationships. Express your appreciation for others.

 

Personal connections. In addition to taking good care of your customers, don’t forget to nurture yourself. It is essential to keep your mental health and overall wellness in check, so adapt to new ways of staying connected. Here are some options to try out:

  1. Make a video call. If you’re feeling isolated and cut off from your normal water-cooler talk, call your co-workers/employees or video conference with them. There are free video calling apps available for smartphones and desktops, including Zoom, FaceTime and Messenger.
  2. Play online games/start a book club. Invite your co-workers, friends or family to an online party night by using Houseparty, a video and social gathering app. (Test your brain with a round of trivia, a game of charades or Pictionary.) Or host a virtual movie night via Netflix Party, a free Google Chrome extension that allows you and your friends or family to watch Netflix together and share commentary. Or start a virtual book club!
  3. Write a good old-fashioned letter. Handwritten, original letters are treasures. Tell your family, friends and significant others how important they are to you and why.
  4. Start a garden. Gardening is a great way to bond and it’s also been shown to decrease anxiety. Ask your family what they want to grow – it could be something edible, beautiful or fun. This gives you all a common purpose, a sense of personal pride and makes you a stronger family.

 

Human connection, both business and personal, enhances your mental health and personal wellbeing. The more closely you are connected to the people you care about and love, the happier you will feel and the more personal satisfaction you will have.

Connie Deneweth, CPA, is a developer and managing member of Copper Ridge; a former board member and vice chair of Munson Healthcare; current chairperson of the Munson Healthcare Audit Committee; co-chair of the Grand Traverse Area Catholic School capital campaign; and a board member of the Cherryland Cares Foundation and the Oleson Foundation. She is also a business development consultant at Independent Bank. She was the community bank president of Republic Bank from 1992-2000 and CEO/director of Traverse City State Bank from 2009-2018.

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