Strategies for connecting with your customers in the COVID-19 era and beyond
By Darryl Brisebois, Mackasey Howard Communications
All industries have been changed by COVID-19. Every owner in the market has lost sleep, planned for a bad quarter, then planned for another. With gatherings capped and events canceled, the catering industry is among the countless sectors facing substantial roadblocks. It’s an uninspiring task: anticipate a lack of sales, adjust, repeat.
Maybe, though, it’s not the lack of sales that keeps the owner up at night. Sales are a performance indicator, a meaningful one, but maybe the nightmare is a loss of customer affinity. Most owners could hold their breath through a quarter or two if they knew their clientele would await them. Sales return if customers do.
Today, foodservice businesses find themselves in different stages; some have closed their doors temporarily, some confront the task of reopening a physical location, and some are venturing slowly back into small-scale, in-person events. Regardless, consider the invitation to forget the stress of sales and focus on fostering customer connection, because solving the latter could remedy both.
Offerings, Not Sales
As your clients experience their own financial stress, look first to what you can provide them outside of the context of sales. Professionals in the catering business know they deliver more than food; they help curate a meaningful experience. Even without the ability to design a menu, present a plate, or weave in and out of the tables of big groups, you can still extend the offer of a meaningful experience.
The exchange of information, at a time of such uncertainty, is the current currency. Most catering companies are experts when it comes to food safety and hygiene. What advice can you offer to your clients who may be left to feed and host small groups on their own accord? By offering process tips and safety hacks, you’ll be a part of the event even in your absence.
Information can take many forms; simple recipes, knife-skill tutorials, plate design inspiration. The important part is that numbers take a back seat. This is about staying true to your mission to deliver an experience, even when it doesn’t end in a sale. Your offers will make an impact, and customers will remember your generosity as conditions improve.
Connection Across Touchpoints
Even without the big, in-person events, there are a number of ways your customers are still in contact with you. And without the opportunity to seamlessly facilitate an impressive seven courses, these touchpoints are all-the-more important.
First, consider the opportunities you have to be in direct communication with your clients. Common right now is the cancellation call. Though it may not feel like it, this is a perfect chance to convey the care you have for your customers. Devote time and employee-power to these calls. Relate to the person on the other end of the line, see if they might be interested in your free food-safety course/knife skill seminar/Instagram plate design challenge, and make them aware of what you’re doing on your end to make small gatherings possible and safe.
Next comes content marketing. There’s been a 70% increase in internet use since stay-at-home measures have been in place. You will no doubt see your customers online before you meet them again in person. Your website and social media are the perfect places to anticipate their concerns. While you may have gone to great lengths to hide the details of safety checks and FDA inspections from your clientele, things have changed. Transparency is a courtesy. Your customers are more interested than ever in the precautions you’re taking; make sure your process is visible.
Lastly, make the most of any extra time on your hands by investing in future events. Join local event pages on Facebook, and pay attention to your community’s media. Invest in your role as a member of your community. By engaging online without an agenda, you’ll remain a relevant aspect of your customers’ social sphere.
The pivots, the strategies, the bundle deals are all important. But none of it matters without a strong customer connection. Use this uncertain time—and the still sleepless nights—to reflect on and improve your connection with the clientele in your community. If your company operates with the goal of curating meaningful experiences for your customers, you’re still in business. Pursue that aim with creativity and devotion, and survive this storm with your hands outstretched. Your customers will walk with you, and those who don’t will find their way back.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Darryl Brisebois is a principal at Mackasey Howard Communications (mackaseyhow.com). Focused on results, he helps his clients communicate their brands through public relations campaigns, outreach and brand message design. He firmly believes in the power of connection, and he’s been instrumental in supporting his clients through the COVID-19 pandemic.