Webinar Recap: SMB’s Take on Communication During the COVID Crisis
On May 19, 2020, Agentz jointly hosted a webinar with local marketing thought leader Localogy. The panel discussion was on how the small business can continue to communicate effectively with customers while they are experiencing mandated business closures.
Localogy small business consultant, Charles Laughlin and Agentz Advisor, Kerry Baldwin, heard from small business owners Matt Hunt and Hema Patel on how they successfully managed the COVID disruption, how they prepared for it, what technologies they leveraged and what new opportunities they uncovered and will continue with moving forward.
Matt Hunt, Co-Founder and CEO of fitness franchise chain Hard Exercise Works, discussed how he prepared his location owners to leverage communication channels in new ways including their website, social media, text alerts and online chat. California dental practitioner Hema Patel, discussed how two weeks of shutdown became two months for DiabloView Family Dentists but how they were able to adapt to service emergency patients abiding by CDC and State guidelines as well as leverage online consultations for non-emergency cases.
Kicking it off, Kerry Baldwin spoke about changes in consumer dynamics and how they prefer to communicate with businesses. She said: “Consumers have increasing demands and expectations on how they prefer to communicate with businesses so picking up the phone or sending an email still happens but, of course, now consumers are very much interested in other channels such as chat and text.” And, as we learned, these businesses were taking advantage of various channels of communication including chat.
Prepping Franchises for Business Continuity
Hard Exercise Works included in their franchisee playbook how to obtain PPP money, a disaster line of credit, how to send video communications to fitness members and even completed a cash flow analysis for each location to ensure they would survive.
Matt, who had built his business during the financial meltdown of 2008 and so was no stranger to disruption, implemented a successful four-pronged approach for his franchisees:
Hema’s practice reached out to all of their patients to update appointment schedules and inform them of current practice policies. Online consultations were made with true medical emergencies able to be treated in the practice’s office with appropriate precautions.
For Hema and her practice, “Having an interactive website with a chatbot was a big thing. It just helped engage patients who were looking and going on the website to see our current status and updates.”
For Matt, over-communication was key to helping his franchisees remain solvent. The brand created videos on how to handle virtual classes and required their locations to loan out fitness equipment so that their members would remain engaged, fit and mentally healthy.
Communicating with members was also important. Facebook Live and Instagram for proactive communications and then email, chat and SMS text for reactive support were put in play. According to Matt, “Chatbot and texting were the two main sources of communication with emails and social media as the third and fourth.”
Charles Loughlin summed it up well: “Obviously you’re all using various Agentz tools, chatbots and so on, and it’s interesting that I didn’t hear alot about leaving voicemails. It’s all sort of text communication and chatbot and email. It seems like you’re both on board with communicating with customers more the way customers want to be reached these days.”
Building Trust with Customers
It is certain that communication was a key ingredient to the success that both Matt and Hema had with their customers. Despite having to cancel or postpone most appointments, Hema’s dental patients also benefited from easy access to the practice via communication channels. “Constant communication was the key for them to feel like they’re not abandoned, especially the people whose treatments were not finished and it was on hold… Mentally they felt that we were with them and we’re going to help them” Hema explained.
Matt added, “From a franchisee role, they learned that the customers really trusted them by loaning out, you know, essentially $40,000 of equipment to their customer base at each location and that the customers felt an obligation since their membership [fee] was reduced… The communication back and forth was extremely high.”
Technology Lessons Learned
Both Hema and Matt recognized the power of communication technologies during business disruption. While social media and video were important to both of their businesses, chat stood out as one of the key components of a successful customer engagement and retention plan. According to Matt, “Not [all locations] use a chatbot but we realize the strength of that now and what we need to do across the board.”
For Hema, “The chatbot picked up a lot of messages that we weren’t expecting. When we started out we started out with Agentz services mainly for the crisis but we’re realizing the value more than ever now and it did pick up a lot of messages and it was a really really helpful tool to stay connected.”
Opportunities for Growth
Hard Exercise Works may be an in-store fitness experience, but virtual technologies opened up the obvious move to online classes. Rather than just using those technologies to maintain engagement with and revenue from their members, Hard Exercise Works uncovered a previously unthought of opportunity – leverage the full resources of the brand’s network to produce live classes for the entire membership base. Instead of simply accessing classes from a member’s home gym, they now had access to yoga instructors in another state, meal prep sessions with nutrition experts and even live wellness discussions for those struggling with quarantine and who just wanted to be able to talk with others about it.
Matt firmly believes that online service delivery will help Hard Exercise Works expand. “People were begging to come back when we opened the first day and I think our business in particular is a communal business, there’s no doubt about it, but what it did do [quarantine] was it opened up the doorway for us to see that there is a way to do this virtually to increase awareness of what we do and to potentially have new customers.”
Hema also sees expansion opportunities. “What’s interesting is American Dental Association’s recent survey shows that about 15 percent of the dental offices may not come back after the crisis. It’s sad. I think a lot of these offices were just not prepared.” For Hema, communication was what kept them stable throughout the crisis. She added “We’re looking to expand out of this. We’re looking at the local markets and surrounding areas and if we can help the struggling practices… with mergers. We’re rolling out a plan to help them out if they wish to merge, so that way they can stay in business. And that’s going to be a win-win situation. So, I think that’s something positive coming out of this. It’s a way to expand and also, at the same time help the other practices.”
Summing up the discussion, Kerry stated: “What I took away from the both of you was your proactive nature about dealing with this and being in front of the customers. Heavy, heavy usage of communication right from the get-go and then, of course, using technology to make sure that you were able to support your business through this time and for your staffs as well.”
Business contingency planning is more imperative than ever – how will these businesses resume normal operations and thrive? Listen to the entire Localogy webinar and learn: