A number of states and municipalities are begging to open up again. Georgia took the first steps this past week. Colorado, where I live is starting to relax stay at home orders at the end of April, as are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Texas.
The largest city in Colorado, the state capital, Denver, is keeping stay at home orders in place until May 8th, at the time of this writing. Perhaps your state too has conflicting city and state regulations. As I read The Great Influenza, by John Barry, and listen to other experts tell about the relaxation relapses and spikes of infections in the fall of 1918 and throughout the following winter, I wonder how we will fare in the coming weeks.
We obviously can’t hide forever. Too many people are out of a job. Too many people are struggling to make ends meet. Too many businesses are teetering on the edge with rent, payroll, and inventory invoices to pay with little if anything coming in. So, many of us are going to start emerging from our corona cocoons over the next few weeks. How will we have changed over the past couple of months? How will our customers and patients have changed?
I notice every person jogging without a mask, every bicycle rider, every skateboarder, all spewing respiratory droplets well in excess of a 6-foot radius due to their forward momentum. I notice every person shopping in a store with our without a mask. I notice how the barista in the coffee shop on the way to work wears or doesn’t wear a mask or glove, and hands me a cup with a lid that could have been exposed to the virus from the last customer. (I don’t drink the coffee until I get to the office and microwave the cup for 12 seconds, just to be safe).
How will you make your customers and patients feel welcome, yet protect your health and the health of your staff and your patients and customers? Just like a butterfly emerging from their cocoon, those first few moments are taken with nervousness and an uneasy balance. Only after the butterfly has fully emerged and shaken off the grogginess of metamorphoses can they spread their beautiful wings and take off.
We Are Open
First, let’s announce that we are open for business. You all have an email list of all your patients and customers. Create a good looking NOW OPEN email blast and prepare accompanying social media blasts. You want to let your patients and customers know when you will be open. Are your hours the same or different?
Let them know you have thoroughly cleaned your space…every nook and every cranny. There should be no excuses for dirty anything in your stores after a month or even two away from day to day operations. Let your patients and customers know the new ongoing policies for cleaning exam rooms, equipment, frames, countertops, and waiting rooms. Where will you place eyewear needing to be cleaned before going back up on your boards or shelves so they are not mixed back in with the rest of your inventory?
Are you providing masks to your staff? To your patients and customers? Let them know that. Can they touch eyewear with gloves? Without? Will you allow customers to freely try on eyewear or will they need to be accompanied by a staff member who will pick up and eventually return every pair of frames to your boards? What are your rules? Will you create POP letting people know those rules upon entering?
Will you ask every customer and patient entering your store or practice to sanitize their hands upon entering or require a fresh set of vinyl, latex, or nitrile gloves?
What rules will you have about employees who are ill or patients of customers who may be too?
How many patients or customers will be allowed into your practice at any given time? How will you change traffic flow to accommodate social distancing when you have spent a lifetime creating choke points like central front counters or a waiting room/corner? How will you let your patients and customers know these rules?
How are you collecting for exams? For eyewear? Even if you don’t do sell eyewear online, you can reduce the taking of possibly infected money or dirty credit cards by asking your patients and customers to pay over the phone or via a simple e-commerce portal you can set up easily, such as PayPal. What about touchless payment systems? I now have a much greater appreciation of those systems where I don’t have to wash my credit card after using it.
What protections have you put in place for the ultra-close job of dispensing? Do you have a plastic shield you or your staff can put up when leaning into a customer to perfectly fit those new glasses? It may seem overkill at first, but trust me, both you and your customer will breathe easier when you are closest anyone has been in months.
What policies and procedures do you have for curbside dispensing?
How will you market? How will you promote your practice? Will discounting be a consideration? If so, say it loud and proud.
The old rule book has changed. Whether we wanted it to or not, we are not living in the same world today we were a few short months ago. Customers will not be lined up waiting to buy all that eyewear they couldn’t buy in March and April. Toilet paper? Maybe. We must all be aware that what we sell and how we sell it has changed and at least for the next few months will be competing with every other consumer product on the planet like never before.
Make sure you make your patients and customer feel safe first, so they can relax a little, and with that relaxed attitude, so too will they relax the grip on their checkbook or credit card.