When the coronavirus pandemic first spread across the country, Americans took steps to protect their older citizens who were considered “high-risk” because of their age, vulnerability, and underlying health conditions. Assisted living facilities limited visitation and increased cleaning processes, while grocery stores launched senior hours designed for older shoppers.
This summer has made it clear that Americans are going to be dealing with COVID-19 through the rest of 2020—if not longer. Even as theme parks open and airlines see increased bookings, the general population will need to remain on high alert if we want to combat this virus.
Your business may want to look out for its more vulnerable customers as it reopens. Consider how you can create a safe experience for the elderly to protect them during this pandemic.
Most scientists and health experts are still learning how COVID-19 spreads—however, it’s largely believed to be spread person-to-person by moisture particles sent through the air from breathing, coughing, sneezing, or talking. The virus can spread to your customers—especially those more susceptible—if any of your employees are sick or have come into contact with someone carrying the coronavirus.
COVID-19 prevention starts with communication. Talk to your employees about the virus’s symptoms and what employees should do if they come into contact with a sick person (or someone who’s been exposed to the disease). Create a policy for either self-isolated remote work for 2 weeks or a paid leave policy to encourage team members to stay home.
Your COVID-19 policies should not be limited to customer-facing employees, either. Office or warehouse employees can come into contact with forward-facing employees and spread the virus, causing ripple effects through your company.
Wearing a protective mask over your nose and mouth (even a basic cloth mask or bandana) has proven to be an effective tool against the spread of COVID-19. Multiple states have already mandated mask-wearing when people go out, along with many local jurisdictions.
However, some cities and businesses are enforcing these rules more strictly than others. Some business owners still allow customers to shop unmasked, making other customers feel unsafe.
You can protect your elderly customers by enforcing a mandatory mask policy. Post a sign on the door letting people know that no mask means no service. Approach customers without masks and ask them to leave.
Also, know the myths surrounding mask-wearing: for example, it’s not an ADA violation to ask people to wear a mask, and there are no mask-exempt cards issued by government agencies. It’s your responsibility to keep your customers safe at all times, so requiring masks for customers and employees is a great way to improve safety during the pandemic.
Historically, good customer service has meant approaching customers at numerous points during the shopping experience to offer help and assistance. However, this can be dangerous during the coronavirus pandemic.
If one customer talks to multiple employees during the purchase process, and the average employee talks to 100 customers per day, then your staff members could potentially spread the virus to hundreds of people unknowingly—and without ever showing symptoms.
You may need to rethink how your business operates. This could mean reducing the number of sales associates on the floor or temporarily closing your dressing rooms. If you offer food service, maybe you could limit the number of people your customers interact with to receive their food.
We can all benefit from reducing the number of people we interact with daily. Not only can you care for your elderly customers by taking this step, you can also help your employees as a whole.
Grocery stores paved the way for elder-customer care with their “senior hours.” Held first thing in the morning, this time is meant to allow customers to shop in a relatively empty store that was sterilized the night before. This limits spread-by-contact and allows for social distancing.
You can offer early shopping hours in your place of business if it makes sense—if not, brainstorm alternative options for your elderly shoppers. For example, if you offer curbside pick-up, you may want to start a contactless delivery service just for elderly shoppers. This is an optimal solution if you want to retain these customers but can’t afford to deliver goods to everyone who buys from you.
The special programs that you develop can also be used as marketing tools: you can promote your brand to senior customers and let them know that you’re looking out for their needs. While you may see an increase in customers in the short run, these elderly shoppers could also become loyal to your brand for years to come if you provide a positive experience.
You can—and should—take steps to protect your employees and your elderly customers at the same time. Together, we can work to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in the country and feel safe in our communities once more.