How digital technology can help your business survive social distancing

Frank Zinghini

Founder & CEO
Empty Subway

It goes without saying that the current pandemic is having massive effects on business, including (and especially) social distancing. None of us know when things will return to “normal” (or what the new “normal” may even look like). 

Regardless of your industry, the way you do business with your customers or work with employees is being severely disrupted: you can’t physically relate to them, nor they to each other. We are sure most of you have already shifted to business crisis management mode, implementing basic remote connectivity for your employees where you can. But it’s time also to think of the longer-term implications of this isolation. 

If your business is suffering from this loss of connection due to social distancing, you have two choices—reimagine the way you deal with your customers, or give up. The good news is you can adapt quickly to these challenges with digital technology. Collaboration tools such as Zoom, Slack, or live streaming can get you started—your teams can meet, and you can deliver some services to your customers—but after that, you may need a more customized digital relationship to regain what you have lost. 

Based on years of experience helping companies use digital technology to grow their businesses, we have some insights into how that technology can help your business survive social distancing.

Digital technology survival kit

While every industry faces its own struggles when it comes to surviving the loss of social connection, there are certain categories of businesses that face similar challenges and can, therefore, use digital technology in similar ways to fight back.

Service companies 

Companies that sell any type of service can use digital technology to conduct business remotely. Some applications are straightforward, others will likely require some creative thinking. Let’s look at a few examples. 

Doctors and therapists are using Facetime or other videoconferencing applications to continue to diagnose and treat patients. The spike in telemedicine since the COVID-19 outbreak is a testament to how digital technology is letting doctors continue to care for patients without the risk of physical contact. 

Gyms and fitness centers have been forced to close their doors. If your gym doesn’t already have a mobile app, you need one—fast. An app will allow you to stay connected with your members. You can continue to provide valuable information, and even create personalized workouts and still keep tabs on individual progress. With any membership-based organization, you need to find a way to continue to deliver value to your members so that they don’t cancel their memberships.

With people forced to work out at home, they will need more motivation to stay on track. Fitness facilities could even hold online challenges to keep members connected, accountable, and engaged. We actually just worked on this with one of our clients, a major national fitness chain, who set up live streams of workouts on Facebook featuring guest celebrities in an effort to keep members moving and fit—and staying on as members. 

Spas and salons can use digital technology to consult with clients and share DIY tips to help customers pamper themselves at home. Social media is proving to be another channel to stay connected with customers and ask for their support. #showyourroots is a great example of how hair stylists are reminding their clientele they WILL be back. 

Dance and art studios can use digital technology to hold virtual classes. Yes, the format may need to change, and you will certainly have to improvise so people can follow along at home, but you can keep your students moving and happy at a time when they need it more than ever.

The meal preparation and delivery service business is experiencing a sudden burst of business, as people find their dining options more limited. Restaurants find themselves joining that market in order to survive. We actually sell a SaaS product that helps build those businesses; try to imagine how your business might transform into an online provider.

Many of these approaches can quickly tap into existing technology to get started. Then, to deepen the connection, expand the relationship, or introduce revenue-generating capabilities, you’ll need additional custom capabilities.

Service companies are finding new opportunities to increase customer engagement now. Those who find ways to stay connected will come out the other side of this pandemic with a stronger and more loyal customer base. Using digital technology to continue to provide your services at a time when people are in need of an emotional connection also enables you to continue to generate—or protect—your revenue when your physical doors are closed.

Product-based companies

Product-based businesses are working to sell more online. If you’ve been relying on your storefront for business, you’ll need to pivot. A mobile or web app is the best way to offer your products to existing and new clients so they can continue to enjoy your offerings. 

Depending on what you sell, this is a good time to offer more incentives to customers or diversify your product line. Companies selling essential goods (non-perishables, cleaners, and, apparently, toilet paper) are seeing a spike in sales as people look to stockpile items. 

Businesses in this category need to improve their digital presence so they can capitalize on increased demand. Is your mobile app optimized for the user experience? Can customers easily navigate and find what they’re looking for? Is checkout simple? Do you accept multiple forms of mobile payment? A small upgrade to your app could lead to big dividends in today’s conditions. 

For those not selling essential products, we suggest a different approach. You will, of course, still need a strong digital presence so customers can order your products, but you’re probably going to need to focus more energy on marketing and sales, because you will be competing with those essential products. Your marketing team can devise approaches to address this, but you need a digital connection to your customers to communicate those approaches. 

Personalization is also more important than ever. Your customers are now sitting at home, spending even more time on their computers and mobile devices, surfing the web. Leverage the data in your CRM to create personal, targeted messages to past customers. You can even have employees working remotely reach out to customers one-on-one to explain your current promotions and incentives, and to suggest specific items they might like based on past purchases. With people constrained to their homes, they might appreciate that personal touch—if it’s delivered selectively and based on real data.

Experience-based businesses

I mentioned restaurants earlier—and I’m sure we all know of a local restaurant that is struggling to stay afloat during this time. Most have shifted to take-out only, that being their only option. While doing so may not generate a profitable level of income during this period, it can help you survive it—and make sure your customers come back when the world returns to normal. You may uncover a new revenue stream that will continue once your physical doors re-open.

We expect that restaurants adopting our meal service delivery technology during this time will continue to support that model when they re-open. This SaaS platform lets you efficiently manage orders and deliveries, create schedules for regular deliveries, track recipes and create shopping lists, accommodate allergies and dietary restrictions, manage customer communications, and import orders from your e-commerce site. It’s a different model then restaurants just posting their menus on their website and taking DoorDash orders—it creates a lasting bond between the kitchen and the customer. 

Theaters, museums, and zoos are other experience-based organizations that face a unique challenge when people can’t walk through the door. Movie and live theaters can stream content via social media, a mobile app, or website. Museums, zoos, and national parks can provide guided virtual tours. Clever use of 360-degree views and augmented reality can enhance that experience, encouraging digital visitors to come see the real thing when they finally can.

Digital technology allows these businesses to keep current patrons engaged, and to reach new potential clients. Someone who is quarantined at home with all activities canceled may discover their love for Broadway, or use virtual tours to draw up a list of must-see spots once restrictions are lifted. 

General tips for all businesses

We also have a few best practices to share for businesses across all categories to help you cope with these social distancing restrictions:

Look for new opportunities—You may need to expand your product or service offerings to embrace variations that are more easily realized in a digital form. 

Focus on the customer—The customer experience has been a main priority for a while, but businesses now need to transition from experience to true engagement. Those who can keep customers interested and connected during this challenging time will be the ones who survive—and thrive when this is over.

Shift the internal culture—Even your own team is likely now working remotely, using digital technology to communicate and collaborate. Roles may change slightly, with a bigger focus on marketing and innovation. Executives need to remain positive and look for new ways to maintain (and maybe even grow) the business while in the midst of the crisis and after the crisis passes.

The bottom line is we are all in this together, navigating uncharted waters in our professional and personal lives. We hope these suggestions and best practices help your business adapt. Please consult additional resources on our site for maximizing digital technology or reach out to speak to us directly. We would love to hear about your specific challenges so we can best determine the right technology to help.