A human tragedy first and a business crisis second, the coronavirus outbreak, or COVID-19, has become a pandemic affecting millions of people and businesses big and small around the world. Its effect on the global economy is undeniable and unprecedented, forcing online giants like Amazon and Google to adjust to its impact. The entertainment industry has slowed down significantly while retailers the world over are forced to shutter their stores.
While countries have shut their borders and imposed isolation measures to control the virus outbreak, hackers have taken advantage of this situation and accelerated underground economy activities. Hackers have come out of the woodwork to provide discounts on their "services" or "goods," which usually involve malicious software. Coronavirus-related domains have also spiked since the outbreak, and they are 50% more likely to be malicious than other domains.
It's more vital than ever to prepare yourself and protect your online business so it can survive the global crisis that is COVID-19. Here are ways you can do just that.
1. Manage your online presence.
"Business as usual" may be something entrepreneurs won't be saying or hearing for a while in light of the pandemic. However, there are ways to keep your customers updated via your own website, your data structure and local business profiles.
Keep your customers updated through FAQ pages that address common questions such as your modified business hours, changes in products or services you offer, and how your business is addressing the COVID-19 crisis. You can also create pages dedicated to COVID-19 if your business or those of your customers are significantly impacted.
Your structured data
Depending on the type of business you run, you should use structured data to highlight content and "tell" search engines what your content is saying. If you have a retail business, for example, you can use the "item availability" structured data type to inform customers of your current product availability. If you are an event organizer or your business had events coming up, there are structured data types to help you update your users on event status – whether events are pushing through, canceled or going virtual. The pandemic has also motivated the creation of a specific type of structured data for special announcements, which you can also use on your website.
Your local business profiles
In times of crisis or uncertainty, most people go to directory listings or use online search engines to check temporary closures, updated store hours and service availability. Make sure to update your Google My Business profile with any changes to keep your customers in the know.
2. Increase your website security measures.
If protecting your website from hackers wasn't a primary concern before, it should be on the top of your list now. The global pandemic has created an opportunity for cyberattacks as more people are forced to work from home. Phishing and scam websites are on the rise, taking advantage of the people's need for information on COVID-19. Coronavirus phishing emails are now being used to lure people into downloading malware, and thousands of coronavirus-related domains have been registered.
A common scam cybercriminals now use is posing as a World Health Organization representative and trying to get email recipients to provide personal and financial information or to open attachments that are usually system exploits. The WHO has warned people of this and set up a page where you can report suspected scams.
Be wary of emails and attachments from unknown and unverified senders, and ask your customers to practice the same caution.
3. Adjust your online store operations and customer service.
If you're in the e-commerce business and selling physical products, prepare to be overwhelmed with orders, especially if you sell food or grocery items. Several online stores, including e-commerce giant Amazon, have limited product availability to what they consider essential, with most of them listing medical supplies and household necessities as available.
As brick-and-mortar stores close temporarily, beefing up your online store andensuring your customer service department can handle the demand and potential issues are key. Start checking your inventory to determine what you consider essential and nonessential products. Also remind your customers that, depending on their location, some products may be prohibited at the moment.
4. Listen to the 'voice of the customer.'
It's common knowledge that listening to your customers will help you get a pulse on what products or services they want or what they want your business to be. Voice of the customer (VoC) data is a research strategy that takes customer feedback and uses it to help you discover how customers perceive your business or brand.
With the raging pandemic, more and more stores are shutting down, but online sales are soaring, and it's expected that more and more brands will move into the world of e-commerce. How does VoC correlate with online shopping and reviews? Revuze recently conducted research showing that online reviews had increased by more than 200%, which makes VoC more crucial than ever.
Gathering VoC data is as simple as asking your customers the right questions. These are the most common ways to do this.
- Online surveys: This is the easiest and most scalable method. Before you conduct a survey, specify the end goal to yourself and your team, clarifying exactly what you want the survey to achieve.
Social listening: This goes beyond Facebook and Twitter; you should also check customer feedback from product review sites, online forums and blog comments. Find both positive feedback and complaints to give you an overview of customer perception of your brand.
Net Promoter Score: This is a useful gauge of who your loyal customers are. NPS simply asks customers how likely they are to recommend your service to friends, family or colleagues on a scale of 1 to 10. Customers are then grouped into promoters (9-10), passives (7-8) and detractors (0-6).
5. Prepare to work from home.
COVID-19 is a game-changer for many industries because it has forced various companies into a remote working arrangement. Working from home is the current trend, and it's best to prepare your business for this contingency – or, if you've already started, to optimize the situation. Here are a few tips to do so.
Prepare your home office. Identify what you need to get work done, and find a dedicated area of your home that's comfortable and free from distractions. Consider the lighting, the ergonomics and the placement of objects. Have a way to track time and separate the professional from the personal; ensure that one does not bleed into the other so you know when one begins and the other ends.
Create a data security plan. Working from home can put your data at risk if you're not extra careful. While it's good that you're using your internet connection at home, home internet plans do not have as robust security as business networks. A good rule of thumb for working remotely is to keep work data on your work computers only, and make sure your computer is set to encrypt all stored data. Avoid using random flash drives or storage devices, and set up a storage system to use only for work if possible.
Make work hours flexible. Working from home may mean working at different hours of the day from the norm. Prepare a plan to account for time differences, productive hours, and times that you may need to take a break to address personal concerns.
6. Always have a Plan B.
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that you can never be complacent when it comes to business. A survey of economists shows that 34% of them predict a recession to hit the U.S. again in 2021. You can continue doing what you do, especially if it's working, but it's vital to prepare for a downturn. Having a contingency plan in today's unpredictable landscape isn't paranoia – it's common sense. Nothing stays good forever; make your business flexible so you can easily adapt to change.
7. Reach out for help – and offer it when you can.
This is not the time to keep to yourself; if ever there was a time when helping each other out is pivotal, that time is now. If your business needs assistance, big companies are providing grants to help out small businesses, along with the financial assistance available from the U.S. government and the Small Business Administration. You can also take this opportunity to give back to your customers and the community by providing whatever help you can, no matter how small.
In times of crisis, it's essential to stay in contact with your customers and continue to provide your product or service as best you can. Integrate the tips above with your current marketing strategy to combat the global business crisis that is COVID-19. It's never been more important to adopt an agile business approach so you can change direction as necessary.
For more resources and information to help your business weather the storm of the pandemic, visit business.com's COVID-19 business resources page.