COVID-19: Focus on service, not sales

In his statement on coronavirus on March 19th, Boris Johnson proclaimed, “I say to business, stand by your employees, stand by your workers because we will stand by you”.

It’s an important message to share. The COVID-19 outbreak – and resulting social distancing measures – mean that for many businesses, “business as usual” is, for now, a thing of the past. 

I know how tough things are for many businesses at the moment. Restaurants, pubs and retail stores have closed for an unknown period of time; gyms, cinemas and theatres are no longer able to open; airlines and holiday companies are at the very real risk of going bust. 

And with product demonstrations and sampling near impossible with social distancing rules in place, we at WDS have had to shut down all of our in-store marketing activity. 

At times like this, it’s easy to focus purely on quick fixes to increase sales in the short term. But – as Mike Ashley and Sports Direct proved – trying to capitalise on a situation like this, rather than doing the right thing, can lead to public outrage, as well as investigations into profiteering. 

At WDS, our business is all about people. Product sampling and demonstrations rely on having the right people – our brand ambassadors – in place. They know the product inside out, they build up a genuine rapport with customers, and they work tirelessly alongside Costco to ensure that every single demonstration is a success. Our relationship with Costco is also an incredibly important part of what we do. We’ve been working with the brand since they opened their first UK warehouse in the early 1990s, building a genuine partnership over the years. 

For now, running product demos and sampling campaigns in Costco warehouses is on hold. But building and maintaining that relationship isn’t. 

People power

If you want your business to succeed – now more than ever – it’s vital that you have solid, open relationships with your clients – and relationships that aren’t based on sales and sales alone. And it’s also important that the rest of your team has the same outlook, and that you lead from the top. 

Costco’s warehouses, as you’d expect, are seeing increased footfall and increased sales – and their online operations are similar.

As a result, their distribution centre in Crick, Northamptonshire is in need of more extra hands than ever. Costco showed the strength of our partnership when they called to offer this work to our brand ambassadors, knowing that ceasing all demo and sampling activity would have left them in limbo. 

The next day, I headed up to the distribution centre to pack online Costco orders: a steep learning curve, given the number of products they stock. It gave me a good insight into how it works, meaning we could approach our brand ambassadors about the role with all the information they needed to decide if they wanted to make this temporary switch. 

Making customers feel safe

Of course, traveling to Northamptonshire for work is only feasible for a select few brand ambassadors. Thanks to our relationship with Costco, though, we’ve been able to ensure that our brand ambassadors have regular work available (if they want it), as well as helping Costco to reassure customers across their UK warehouses.

Understandably, those who do shop in bricks-and-mortar stores are currently concerned about the COVID-19 risk, and while stores across the UK have implemented social distancing measures – a minimum 2-metre distance between people, limiting the number of people in-store, offering set hours for high-risk individuals to shop and preferring card payments over cash – it’s reassuring if customers can also see visible efforts to keep the virus at bay.

That’s why a number of our brand ambassadors are now helping to fly the flag for the Costco brand, working tirelessly to sanitise trolley handles and other surfaces in the warehouses to reassure customers as much as possible. Essentially, they’ve stepped up to become key workers, helping to fight against the spread of the virus and giving Costco customers peace of mind.

Doing the right thing

I’m incredibly proud of all of our brand ambassadors: the current situation in which we find ourselves is unprecedented, and they’re doing an incredible job of stepping up to the challenges that it brings. I want to say a big thank you to each and every one of them for being so flexible and understanding. 

Ultimately, now is a time to focus not on sales, but on helping clients, customers and employees to navigate the situation. It’s about solidifying client relationships and focusing on our key goal: great customer experience. While doing the right thing might not bring in as much revenue as you’d like, it’s vital to do what you can to help your customers, their customers and your industry as a whole to weather this storm – making it easier for business as usual to return once COVID-19 has been beaten.