The stark reality of life under COVID-19 is finally dawning on most of us. The disease is here to stay until a vaccine is found. Continuing its relentless surge around the planet, it has sent billions of people into lockdown.
There have been some positive experiences, of course. Some households have benefitted from eating healthier, spending quality time with family, fewer expenses and less pollution as we all drive less. For the global economy, there’s no way to sugar coat it -the damage this year will be less than previously expected, but still unprecedented.
Governments across the globe are trying to strike a balance between saving lives and protecting the economy. No sooner does a country ease restrictions than another imposes more. And yet, as health services, businesses and families continue to adapt, people continue to spend.
During lockdown, money that might have been spent on commuting to work or meals out was saved or spent elsewhere. While not the experience of every household, from March until June 2020, online sales soared. In the United States, in August, they increased 42% year over year. In Europe, re-opened shops and businesses benefitted from a summer surge.
Unsurprisingly, price and affordability were the prime concern for consumers before making a purchase. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer Report reveals that brand trust, however, is the second most important factor (53% of 22,000 respondents in 11 markets), trumping company reputation, performance and how the brand treats customers.
The survey also revealed that people with high brand trust (75%) will:
- only buy products of that brand, even when cheaper products are available
- immediately look into buying new products from that brand
- feel more comfortable sharing personal information
- pay attention to a brand’s communications
- share or repost brand content
- recommend and defend the brand
Remove doubt to reassure consumers and employees
As COVID-19 threatens economic recovery and we learn more about the disease, governments worldwide are reluctant to impose further restrictions. Some countries that had initial success in suppressing outbreaks are seeing infections rise again.
In Europe, a second wave is well under way, with further lockdowns, so-called ‘circuit-breakers’ and curfews hoping to stop the spread. Businesses remain open in some parts of Europe, while only essential retail is open in other parts.
The US has lost the largest number of lives to the virus, so it’s not surprising that at least half of the American labour force is still working from home. With cases rising again in the UK, the government has re-entered lockdown for a month and reversed its message on working from home, with those who are able to being told to do so. For those who can’t, reassurance is needed.
According to a new survey published by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 44% of employees agreed they felt anxious about returning to their workplace because of COVID-19. The CIPD surveyed 1,000 employees and emphasised the need for businesses to take their people into consideration and ensure their concerns are addressed before they return.
The pandemic has made people more aware of hygiene, at a personal level, at home, at work, and especially when they’re out spending, to reduce the chances of infection. A recent article in Forbes suggests that hygiene, not just cleanliness, is our new definition of safety. If it’s not hygienic, it’s not safe.
A clean environment has always been a sign of quality. These days, however, it’s expected. If you’re a hotel, restaurant or shop open for business or hoping to re-open again soon, cleanliness will no longer allow you to stand out from the crowd. If we’re eating in a restaurant or staying in a hotel, we can see if something isn’t clean. We cannot, however, see whether something has been made hygienically safe.
Have something to shout about
To gain trust and reassure consumers and employees that their premises are risk-free, brands in all sectors are involved in shouting matches, screaming from the rooftops about how safe they are. But are they making the right noises?
Premier Inn has introduced CleanProtect, their enhanced hotel cleaning promise. A video on the Wetherspoon website states that contact points will be sanitised regularly by employees dedicated to cleaning while the pub chain is open. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Audi and Volkswagen have tweaked their logos and taglines to spread the message of the importance of social distancing.
COVID-19 awareness campaigns are being launched by brands of all sizes every day. But Fernando Machado, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Burger King, suggests that it’s time to do things, not just talk about things. He argues, “it’s time for concrete actions which will have a positive impact on the life of others.”
The time for talking is certainly not over. Businesses should be verbally reassuring their customers what they’re doing to protect them before they visit their premises. Only those who already trust a particular brand will be satisfied with a few lines of copy or a video on a webpage. But even if we are told verbally, or via digital technology, should we simply take a brand’s word for it? After all, telling isn’t selling.
What the consumer and employee need is demonstrable, visible reassurance. As Forbes point out, safety is now “more than the plastic-encased map on the door showing the exits and stairwells in case of fire”.
Demonstrable hygiene and visible reassurance – what brands can do
Not every brand has focused on building trust. These brands may find their first few steps in the new normal sluggish. But by showing rather than telling, with visible evidence proving that what is being claimed – high standards of hygiene, and therefore, safety – can be trusted, consumers and employees will be reassured and begin to place confidence in that brand.
Brand trust is so important that the Automobile Association (AA) launched an assessment scheme that supports the UK hospitality industry in re-establishing and rebuilding consumer confidence. With hotels, hostels and other accommodation only open for those who have to travel for work purposes and for a limited number of other exemptions during the UK’s second lockdown, the importance of this scheme is undeniable.
The scheme is open to all hospitality establishments and those that pass the AA’s criteria will be awarded an AA COVID CONFIDENT mark and listed on the AA’s RatedTrips.com website. The site allows customers to see which businesses have been marked as safe and will reassure them that the place they intend to visit is hygienically clean.
Similarly, Abu Dhabi (DCT) recently launched its ‘Go Safe’ certification programme for hotels across the UAE capital that includes guided self-assessments through to site-inspections by dedicated teams.
A global consumer sentiment survey across 42 countries from McKinsey – the trusted adviser and counsellor for many of the world’s most influential businesses and institutions – recently revealed a serious need for hygiene transparency.
Their research showed that consumers want convenience, availability and value, but factors such as trust and safety are becoming increasingly important. The survey also revealed that consumers are concerned about how companies treat their employees. If they treat their staff well and put safety concerns first, it indicates that the company is making sensible decisions about safety.
Brands that provide visual reassurance, such as the AA COVID CONFIDENT mark, are ahead of their competitors. And there are many ways to show consumers and employees that your brand is prepared to put your people first.
Don’t skim the surface
For any business, reassurance that measures have been taken to minimise the risk of cross-contamination is vital. Regular surface cleaning can help prevent recontamination and the spread of germs, but just telling consumers that you mop, wipe and scrub isn’t enough.
Frequently touched surfaces – such as door handles, toilet flush handles, light switches, hand rails, payment terminal key pads and shopping trolleys – accumulate germs from people’s hands and are a major cause of cross-contamination.
Surfaces can act as reservoirs for infectious microorganisms, which can survive there for days or weeks. Sprays and surface wipes can kill pathogens effectively. Disinfection eliminates germs by sanitising touchpoints, surfaces, equipment and floors with solutions that can kill bacteria and viruses.
Disinfection experts, Rentokil, provide post-treatment reports and certificates confirming that a service has been provided. By introducing these solutions and displaying such certificates in your business, consumers and employees will have tangible evidence that hygiene safety is being taken seriously.
Door handles are another problem. It doesn’t matter how many times you wash your hands singing Happy Birthday, if somebody hasn’t bothered to wash theirs and they touch a door handle, chances are you needn’t have bothered.
Fortunately, hygienic door handles exist, and they kill bacteria deposited on the surface of the handle by people’s hands. Floor mats that remove foot-borne dirt and water, capturing up to 80% of microorganisms before they’re spread through your business, are also available.
A safe pair of hands
Positioning no-touch hand sanitising dispensers at contamination hotspots throughout your premises – particularly in high-traffic areas such as receptions, kitchen areas, personal work stations or in gyms – will not only reduce cross-contamination risks and help prevent hands from becoming re-contaminated, but they’ll provide visible reassurance to consumers and employees.
Cleaning stations where staff can easily access hand sanitiser or cleaning supplies should be a priority and will be aided further with signage. Visual signs and floor markings will show staff and consumers that you’re following government guidelines and taking the health and wellbeing of your people seriously.
The presence of hygiene experts on your premises to regularly maintain your facilities will establish trust too. Hygiene experts will be fully trained to work in this new normal, ensuring the highest level of protection so they can provide hygiene services safely to customers.
Be at the cutting-edge
Did you know that soap dispensers, taps, toilets, urinals and cubicles can all feature digital technology to improve customer experience and operational efficiency? Adopting a digital approach to hygiene will allow you to put your customers first and create a positive impression of your company’s brand while enabling your business to gain valuable insights into how your washrooms are being used for improved efficiency and safety.
Digital products provide real-time information that gives your business access to data and insight to monitor equipment usage 24/7 and compare one area, room or dispenser with another. Combined with no-touch technology, they’ll help you become more efficient, more sustainable and allow you to provide the best possible user experience.
Something in the air
COVID-19 can linger in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. With the average person taking 20,000 breaths a day and spending 90 per cent of their time indoors, air hygiene is a crucial factor in indoor environments and should be an essential measure to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
Harmful particulates in the air include:
- allergens that aggravate the symptoms of asthma
- allergenic particles from animals
- mould spores
- bacteria and some viruses
Air filtration units improve comfort levels, concentration levels and reduce sickness and absenteeism. Better-quality air also means there’s less risk of long-term health problems in later life.
Any one of these reasons should be enough to buy-in to safer air during a pandemic, but the visual reassurance of these filtration units will clearly reaffirm to customers and employees that you’re providing high standards of air hygiene.
The potential social impact of hygiene and brand trust
When was the last time you spoke to a stranger? When was the last time you spoke to a colleague from your office face to face? The decline of social interactions has the potential to lead to a social recession and could be leaving a negative impact on mental health.
Combined with the economic recession, social recession has the potential to harm the efficiency, productivity and agility of us all. What the world doesn’t need right now is a “double pandemic”.
Now more than ever, brands need to partner with expert providers that invest in teams of microbiologists, product developers and service professionals to deliver effective, proven and science-led hygiene solutions which also help to offer visible evidence that their premises are hygienically safe.
This will not only build trust, but it will instill confidence and reassurance for people to begin rebuilding their social connections and quality of life when the easing of restrictions allows them to do so.
Partner with the global experts in hygiene to deliver holistic, proven and demonstrable hygiene measures for your business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Get in touch today.
Our business is to get you back to business
At Initial, we understand the importance of protecting your people from the risks of poor hygiene in difficult times. Our award-winning integrated solutions will help to take care of your people and safeguard your business, find out more about keeping your staff and customers safe in the ‘new normal’.