Building authentic customer relationships for COVID-19 recovery

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Jon B. Broome, College of Business, Colorado Springs Business Journal

Problem: Unprecedented disruption to small business has created the need for more authentic customer relationship building to ensure fast, meaningful growth. So, where do you start?

A recent U.S. Census Bureau Small Business Pulse Survey of more than 22,000 business owners reported that the majority expect it to take more than six months for them to get back to normal as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.

This, along with the recent protests concerning Black Lives Matter and police brutality, means that businesses, and individuals, are dealing with immense pressures to stabilize and move forward. Therefore now, more than ever, this is a time to focus on your business’s existing relationships and to create meaningful new ones that are built on honesty, transparency, and real value.

However, there are some not-so-obvious considerations for accomplishing these ends. Here are three considerations to guide your marketing strategy for building, maintaining and strengthening your post-COVID customer relationships.

Recalibrate for a market orientation. Sometimes it is easy to forget that you’re not just selling a product or a service — rather, you are creating value that impacts people’s lives. Key to a customer-centric or market orientation is the recognition that customers have a choice where they do business, and you have to ask, “Why do people come to us rather than another business?” Having a discussion based on this question with your employees will provide the opportunity to talk about the core value you offer. What is it that you do better or different than others right now? How can you improve the value you are creating in the marketplace, given the unusual circumstances we are all experiencing?

Consider our unusual condition. We are all facing unprecedented circumstances. It’s worth having deep conversations about how it has affected your customers. During normal times I work with businesses to design and implement customized qualitative market research to discover unique customer insights that will help create unique value for their customers. However, in our present condition, I think there is a much simpler approach for the near term. Your customers are experiencing the same things you are: uncertainty, personal and professional disruption, confusion, and — to a greater or lesser degree — cabin fever. How do you use this common experience to create significant, timely value for your customers?

Create authentic marketing. The COVID-19 pandemic has given businesses the unique opportunity to forgo the normal platitudes of marketing communication and generate honest, simple and meaningful content. This means that based on the conversations you have with your employees about the unique value you create in the marketplace, combined with how your customers’ lives have been changed by COVID-19, you can create impact. Create online and offline content that merges your unique value with the disruption and uncertainty we are all experiencing. Think through the details of how you can let customers know you see them as individuals going through a difficult and uncertain time first, and customers second. Align your marketing efforts with the goal of making your customers’ lives a little less hectic, more certain, safe and reliable, through the products and services you provide. When your customers see that you view them as fellow human beings going through a common difficult time, trust and preference will follow.

In an effort to continue to support local and regional businesses recovering from the disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 shutdown, the UCCS College of Business has created a resource page on its website. It provides links to original research, curated video content and popular articles from industry experts, as well as information about how to connect with other local agencies helping small business. It also features opportunities to set an appointment and connect directly with college faculty for one-on-one guidance. It is our hope that we can help speed up and facilitate recovery in Southern Colorado. We, like you, are ready to get back to business as usual. Please visit us at

Thomas “Martin” Key, associate professor of digital strategy and marketing at UCCS, originally trained as a cultural anthropologist before founding his own business in 2003. After nearly a decade, he went back to earn a Ph.D. in business administration with emphases in marketing and strategy. His research primarily deals with digital and strategic marketing issues at the executive level.

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