Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast
For any business, one concern nowadays is when is the right time for staff to report to work and also the changes that need to happen and the communication that needs to take place so that customers feel safe and reassured. In the last week or so, people have been coaxing their staff out of their homes and getting them ready to go back into the office, factory, or shop. This raises, in a very simple way, how different companies reach out to their existing and potential customers. For obvious reasons, ringing people up is not practical, especially people in retail where they have a large number of customers or walk-in customers for which they may or may not have had any engagement or ongoing relationship.
Polls and a Likert scale
One way for companies to understand the well-being and attitude of their customers is through polling. Without knowing how people are feeling and what they’re thinking, the message could fall on deaf ears. As Wiio’s Law stipulates, whatever can be misunderstood will be misunderstood, and so a way of reducing the chance of being misunderstood is to take a temperature check and find out what people are thinking before they come into contact with you.
Polls can be placed either in-store or point-of-sale. In some places in Singapore, they are touch screens where you can give a rating for the cleanliness of the restrooms at an airport. In Beijing, the counter with the passports has a Like/Dislike button on it as well so you can rate the customs officer (you always have to be careful not to rate them Not Like until you’ve got your stamp). Polls can also be done online using platforms like Survey Monkey, PollDaddy, or Mentimeter, which enables you to embed a polling system and a word cloud into your presentation. Polls can be used on LinkedIn and Facebook, so there are many tools, both structured and unstructured, for doing polling.
These come back to the science created by the American social scientist, Rensis Likert, who invented a bipolar scale back in 1932. Though this was 90 years ago, the technology invented by someone a great deal pre-digital times still lives on today. The Likert scale displays a strength of intensity or an attitude that is linear, from liking to disliking, and somewhere along the line in between. It allows for quantitative data to be collected about an emotional issue. That could be very powerful, as it enables companies to determine how people feel about certain issues.
How employees around the world have been feeling during these COVID times
Bringing back the issue of reluctance of people to go back to work, a survey done by an American company, Vitovio, found that 25% of all workers would leave their job if the workplace didn’t make stronger investments in cleanliness. And so as business owners, implementing a social distancing policy, investing in smarter cleaning methods, and communicating and educating workers on healthy habits will be key parts of getting back to work. A UK-based video meetings company called StarLeaf did a survey as well, as people are now figuring out surveys are the best way to also create media coverage. Their survey reveals that 57% of people working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak are quite happy to wait at least a month after the lockdown before returning to their office. Undoubtedly, there’s a time lag then between when institutions are open for work, for education, and so on, and when people actually feel comfortable going back to work or school.
A survey done by JobsCentral in Singapore of nearly three and a half thousand employees found that 20% of the employees surveyed admitted to faking an illness so they could get a medical certificate (MC) which, in Singapore, gives one the entitlement to take a day off. Any member of staff can get an MC, and the company has to give them a paid day without more than the medical note. Considering this 20%, how many of them are thinking at the moment, “I’m being asked to go back to work before I’m really ready”? In 2019, the number of people who took MCs in Singapore under admission was only about two and a half days per year. It’s not egregious; it may just be tacked on an extra day for a long weekend. That still possibly represents an area where Singaporean employees and those that can use this ploy in other countries might start to turn to the MC as a policy, instead of just saying no to their employees and employers.
Turning the attention to France, a Gallup survey conducted in April found that over one-third of French workers (36%) agree that their employer has communicated a clear plan of action and that they’re informed about the state of the company, whereas two-thirds of French workers feel uninformed. Only one-third feel confident that their company’s health policies will keep them safe, and if two-thirds of the employees in France feel as though they are unsafe, then why would they go back to work? The French and the Dutch employees were the ones surveyed that felt that they had the greatest sense of employee stability, i.e. that they could say whether they did or did not want to go to work without threat of retaliation by the company. Interestingly, in France, only 39% of managers felt that their immediate superior kept them informed about what’s going on, with majority believing that their senior management kept them in the dark. Generally, employees here also feel that they don’t have to go back to work yet, because they have enough rights.
On the other hand, a survey in America showed that 60% of all shoppers are fearful of shopping inside grocery stores and, thus, they have reduced their visiting of stores from 2.5 times a week to just once a week, which is less than half. According to Forbes, consumers feel as though they’re caught between a double axis crisis between health and finances. In a survey by Deloitte of 13 countries, which included places like China, India, France, the Netherlands, the UK, America, and South Korea, it found that 42% of respondents worry about job loss, and this was led by the people in Spain, followed by India then in South Korea.
Stay home or make money?
Naturally, people who are nervous about going back to work, but are also worried about their finances. The French and the Dutch felt that they were the most secure and also the least worried about making their upcoming payments. The Japanese, who are notorious for saving, were the least worried about meeting their requirements. The average responses showed that only 35% said they felt safe going back to stores, 25% felt safe staying in a hotel, and only 22% felt safe getting back on an aeroplane. If you run a hotel or any kind of accommodation business, that is a huge fraction of people that do not trust going to your establishment. If you’re running an airline, nearly 80% of people feel that it’s unsafe to get in a tin can in the sky, let alone the holding area that you have to wait in before you get on an aeroplane.
These statistics prove that PR is more than just a short-term need to reassure customers and staff that it’s safe to go back in the store. It calls for working not just one-to-one, but through the different layers of management, as inculcating and sharing the messaging across the different tiers is going to be essential. This is why under the SPEAK|pr module, the message home has the key message you want to communicate and then the three supporting messages. Apart from that, all PR should be implemented with a COVID mindset: Compassionate, Optimistic, Values-based, Informative, and Digital, which are values both Forbes and Deloitte also touched on in their surveys.
Online shopping: the safer and more convenient way to shop
A big part of the job of PR people is to bridge the divide and draw people back out into the workforce and to reassure and coax those consumers and customers back into the marketplace, but where people are doing most of their shopping these days is online. The Deloitte report also shows that it’s really millennials leading the online shift to mostly in-store categories. All age groups are doing more shopping online, with the youth buying more products online across all categories included in the survey: groceries, alcohol, everyday household goods, and medicine. The middle-aged are now buying 25% of their medicines online, and the over 55 age group are buying 30% of all their medicines online. For those above 55, whilst they’re buying 30% of their medicines online, they’ve said that they’re only going to buy 11% of their alcohol online. So, some things are changing, but some things are going to stay the same.
As you get ready to coax your staff out of their furlough position and encourage customers to come back and feel safe in your workplace, factory, restaurant, or wherever it is, think about how you can be Compassionate, Optimistic, Values-based, Informative, and Digital. Live with the COVID mindset. Maybe you can also do a survey to find out how people are feeling during these trying times.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.