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Masks & Re-entry: How to protect staff, without having them police your customers


One of the most common debates we’ve heard from small businesses is, even if they can re-open, will they want to? Especially, if re-opening means that their staff need to move into the front-lines, not just in service, but in enforcing mask policies or other safety measures.

There are examples across the city and country of staff being verbally or even physically threatened by customers unwilling to comply. Moreover, when customers don’t comply, it raises the risk of exposure for your team.

In what ways can you protect your staff and business?:

1. Talk as a team: Do not go this alone – pull your team together to talk: what are they most concerned about and what ideas do they have to address them? And then, talk frequently, as a team to identify what’s working and what could be working better, week after week.


2. Embed a culture of safety: Once you’ve identified your pain points, opportunities, and policies, map out how you will implement them across the business. Start with the street in front of your business and map the full customer/employee experience. If you rely on only signage or incomplete processes, it creates a gap in understanding and experience for customers and staff. Safety, cleanliness, and collaboration should become fully embedded into your business’ culture. It should be part of how you talk, prepare, interact, sell, and close.


3. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Remember: your communications do not need to be all doom and gloom. What pieces of your mission and vision can be leveraged to communicate your commitments and expectations? Then, post signage on the approach to the business and across the full space; share expectations via social media; and, if possible, place a greeter at the front door to ensure customers comply before even entering. Most problems will arise once the customer comes into the space and needs to interact with your team, other customers, and your product. You cannot communicate enough.


4. Be clear on your non-negotiables: Once you’ve identified how you will proceed, make sure you are clear on what happens if folks do not comply: in what way will they be asked to comply or leave?


5. Feedback and improvement processes: Again, keep talking with your team. Remember, these changes all for the long-haul, so find ways to continually embed, adjust, and improve them together.


6. Know your limits: Each team and business will have different limits. Some have plenty of outdoor space while others have none. Some cannot easily make the investments needed to feel safe. Some have staff who feel more cautious. And all may need to re-evaluate if the winter weather brings another wave. So, do what feels within reason and capacity for you, now and over the long term.


Checklist for ensuring your safety measures are implemented across your full business:

1. Welcome and entry: how your commitments explained and experienced as soon as a customer approaches your business? I recently approached a business with a cleaning station set up outside, where I was instructed to wash, disinfect and mask-up. Their commitments took up the space they needed, front and center, before I even walked in the front door.


1. Masks and protective gear: for staff and customers. Even well-meaning customers may simply forget a mask. Make it easy for them to correct the oversight.


2. Cleaning tools and processes: for use between customers/shifts/processes


3. Social distancing: map out and identify where customers can safely stand, walk and sit, beginning outside your business and moving through to the exit.


4. ID new capacity numbers and create a process for managing to that number.


5. Space redesign: what can be moved to accommodate your new needs? Are there products or pieces of your business that can go away (for a bit or forever) to make this possible?


6. Payment processing and technology updates


7. Customer service: how do you need to adjust schedules and processes to enable staff to continue serving customers in a COVID world? What parts of your culture and mission can still carry through?


8. Business hours and schedules


About Big Lil Seattle

Big Lil Seattle launched to share the stories on how Seattle’s small businesses and small non-profits are REALLY fairing in this COVID era: how they’re impacted, pivoting, and planning for next steps. Perhaps, most importantly, we also identify clear steps on how we can all help. 

Big Lil Seattle is a project of The Big Lil, which offers big solutions to help grow your small business or non-profit.

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