As we work to adapt our businesses to the Covid-19 crisis, fear of economic uncertainty is looming. The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI), a national poll measuring people’s perception of business conditions, employment, and individual finances, continues to fall to historic lows (The Conference Board, 2020). Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, a measure of American’s feelings on the overall economy, also continues to fall. Those still higher than during the 2008 recession, public faith in the economy has taken a big hit due to Covid-19 (Jones, 2020).
As concerns about further recession compete with personal fears about getting sick, the question remains: when will Americans feel safe enough to return to normal life? When will people be comfortable going out and participating in all the usual activities that drive our economy, like shopping, eating out, and attending special events? Former Secretary of Health and Human Services and founder of Leavitt Partners, Mike Leavitt, encourages business leaders to be mindful of two key principles as they work to rebuild economic confidence: give people adequate information, and be mindful of the use of symbols (Leavitt, 2020).
Delivering Key Information
Both employees and customers will feel confidence in your organization if they are given information needed to make informed decisions. In the face of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, Liberian entrepreneur Chid Liberty knew he needed to communicate quickly and effectively in order to keep his business afloat. With the imminent threat of the deadly Ebola virus, Liberty acted swiftly to educate and protect his workers. He shut down his clothing factories weeks before the Liberian government declared a state of emergency. He also taught his employees how to prevent the spread of the virus. For example, in Liberia it is customary to touch a dead body as part of the grieving process, but Liberty taught employees to keep their distance from those who passed away, to avoid contracting Ebola. As a result of these proactive practices, not a single one of Liberty’s 300 employees or their families became sick (Leavitt, 2020). Liberty’s company weathered the Ebola storm and remains large and profitable today.
As you think about restoring confidence in your organization, be mindful of what people need to know to safely engage with you. What sanitation precautions are you using to clean your facilities and make customers feel safe being there? Do you have new procedures such as digital ordering, deliveries, or telephone consults that decrease the need for person-to-person contact, and if so how are you educating customers on these new processes? Information will empower people to make safe decisions, and they will feel more comfortable doing business with you.
Using Symbols to Communicate Confidence
While direct communications are essential—such as signs, emails, and advertisements—be mindful of the importance of symbols in communicating your company’s readiness to do business safely and effectively. After the tragedy of 9/11, David Neeleman and his brand-new airline JetBlue faced the tremendous challenge of restoring customers’ faith in air travel (Leavitt, 2020). In collaboration with security technology experts, JetBlue became the first airline to install armored cockpit doors on every plane; thanks in part to their example, today all commercial planes have cockpit doors strong enough to withstand a grenade blast (de Castella, 2015). By advertising this change to customers, as well as the visual of a flight attendant arming the door with a secret code, JetBlue communicated symbolically that their planes were secure, that their company had taken every precaution to ensure passengers’ safety.
Today, face coverings, gloves, and bottles of hand sanitizer have become important symbols of safety. Once again demonstrating their proactive approach, JetBlue was the first major airline to require all passengers to wear face masks (Fieldstadt, 2020). When customers see these items in a business, they know they are in a place which prioritizes their safety. These precautions also demonstrate that a company prioritizes the safety of its employees, a practice which fosters respect and loyalty among customers. The road to economic recovery is uncertain and how your business responds will play a huge role in restoring consumer confidence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wisdom indeed holds true: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
The Conference Board. 28 April, 2020. The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index Weakened Significantly in April. Available at https://www.conference-board.org/data/consumerconfidence.cfm.
De Castella, Tom. 26 March, 2015. Who, what, why: How are cockpit doors locked? BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-32070528
Fieldstadt, Elisha. 28 April, 2020. Face masks for passengers now required on all JetBlue flights. NBC News. Available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/jetblue-becomes-first-airline-require-passengers-wear-masks-n1194091
Jones, Jeffrey. 17 April, 2020. US Economic Confidence Shows Record Drop. Gallup. Available at https://news.gallup.com/poll/308828/economic-confidence-shows-record-drop.aspx.
Leavitt, Mike. 8 May, 2020. Navigating Covid-19: How to Rebuild Your Business and Reactivate Our Community. Address delivered at live virtual event hosted by the David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah. Recording available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C58Y3VzEhZs&feature=youtu.be.