As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, businesses need to properly manage customer expectations about new store policies and procedures.

From limited capacities and social distancing requirements to mandatory face coverings and staggered work schedules, the COVID-19 world looks very different for consumers and employees alike. With rapidly rising caseloads in North Carolina and other states, it’s more important than ever that these new health and safety protocols are communicated and followed.

Businesses that have recently reopened their doors are now faced with the responsibility of managing customer expectations and ensuring everyone respects the rules. According to an article published by the United States Chamber of Commerce, here is how business owners from a variety of industries recommend enforcing your new policies while still providing the best customer service possible.

First, remind customers the rules apply to everyone. For example, in restaurants, the regulations are not necessarily restaurant policies — they are temporary laws.

Be transparent about changes, challenges and delays.

“Your customers want to know how you’ll continue to serve them, what’s new or different...” said Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of Home Grounds in Westbury, N.Y. “They appreciate the truth. This means you need to be upfront when you anticipate a potential problem, instead of apologizing for it later.”

Train employees to be helpful and answer questions.

“While signs help in some instances, it is most effective to have employees guide customers through new shopping protocols and direct traffic,” said Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, a business consulting firm in Minneapolis. “New procedures vary from retailer to retailer, so assigning employees is helpful to reset and help manage customer expectations.”

Set reasonable expectations “which you can then strive to beat,” said Jessica Rose, CEO of Copper H2O in Blaine, Washington. “The risk of setting expectations higher is that you may well fail to meet them due to matters that are out of your control. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to inflate customer expectations [and] fall short.”

Locally, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, Downtown Sanford Inc., and Visit Sanford have joined forces to encourage local businesses to follow safety protocols. Through the #SafeSanfordNC initiative, businesses of all kinds can utilize the #SafeSanfordNC logo to put in doors or windows, showing that COVID-19 safety practices are in place.

At www.growsanfordnc.com/safesanford, businesses can review a safety checklist, which was adapted by the National Retail Federation and provided by the National Main Street Center. It includes guidance from subject matter experts and is intended to highlight key topics to consider as businesses reopen.

Your circumstances will be unique and we encourage you to work with your legal and financial advisors to adapt this guidance to your specific situation and comfort level, keeping the safety of customers and employees as a priority.

Should your business choose to participate in #SafeSanfordNC, I encourage you to share pictures and/or videos on social media of your employees in their personal protective equipment with your sign and the #SafeSanfordNC hashtag.

As always, feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have about the #SafeSanfordNC initiative by emailing mmoss@growsanfordnc.com.