Market Forces Move the Covid-19 Response: Informing Your Customer

The debate on whether to reopen the economy appears to be shifting from partisan politics to the economy itself as consumers on the demand side will decide how much they want to go to businesses and as businesses themselves differ on whether to reopen or how to reopen.

Here in Texas, a movie theater chain has moved its business online, using the handle “Alamo At Home,” and while the governor is allowing restaurants, retail stores and theaters to reopen May 1 at 25% normal capacity, this particular business isn’t ready.

“We will not be opening our Texas theaters this weekend. Opening safely is a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which require extensive training. This is something we cannot and will not do casually or quickly,” Alamo Drafthouse tweeted on April 27. Well, that’s crystal clear. This is an excellent example of a business managing expectations and clearly stating an objective.

And, though there was a political backlash against Harris County (home to Houston, the largest city in Texas and fourth-largest city in the U.S.) issuing an order requiring people wear masks while out and about, businesses are deciding how to handle that. For instance, HEB, the largest grocer in Texas requires employees in its stores to wear them, period. “All Partners in customer-facing roles are required to wear masks,” according to its website. Personally, I would feel more comfortable if customers were required to wear masks in the store, so because they are not, I will stick with curbside pickup for groceries. Still, I wonder how many germs the non-mask customers are spewing about the inventory as they shop carefree.

On the other hand, some consumers and businesses find the social distancing requirements to be draconian or unnecessary and are pushing to reopen. One local restaurant, Federal American Grill, decided to reopen for dine-in customers, but only at 30% capacity and reservations are required. The staff wear masks and gloves and have temperature checks. Personally, I will enjoy a cocktail on the patio in our backyard. The owner of this restaurant has been quoted in the local news saying he understands this is about personal choice.

What do your customers, clients, business associations and employees expect from you? Regardless of where you fall on the health and safety spectrum when it comes to know risks and exposure, you must clearly communicate the policies you are instituting. Are you allowing employees to work from home indefinitely? Fine, let them know. Are you calling for a skeleton crew to come in and follow proper sanitation and social distancing protocols? Lay out the rules for that.

We still lack clarity on how the novel coronavirus affects populations (e.g., can people be reinfected?) and there is a lot of confusion and concern about what to do with key business sectors. For instance, President Trump may order meat processing plants back online when they have closed due to the illness spreading among employees. If your business environment means you can unilaterally decide whether to open, make that decision based on the best medical information available and add several doses of conservative precautionary measures. It is essential that you not only communicate what those measures are, but that you are hearing and incorporating feedback from employees, customers and social media commenters.

Bear in mind, please, it’s not just about your risk tolerance. There is a difference between rugged individualism and reckless selfishness.

For some businesses, there has not been a slowdown in activity even with social distancing. This morning, I dropped my dog off at the vet, in the parking lot, and the vet tech told me, through a mask, that their business is a busy as ever. (Perhaps all the new stay-at-home workers are paying more attention to the needs of their furry friends.) When you drive in, big signs on the front door urge customers to stay in their cars and to call the office for a vet tech to emerge. The staff informed me over the phone that they would use their own lead on the dog and that his collar and harness could not come in. I was handed a clipboard with paperwork to sign and informed the clipboards are sanitized between uses. I paid over the phone.

Business was conducted safely and now I once again have a happy hound. For marketing and communications consulting from Adroit Narratives, you’ll find me at home. Be safe.