The addition of COVID-19 safety precautions, such as face masks, social distancing and plexiglass partitions, can run counter to the warm, welcoming feeling truckstop and travel center operators have worked hard to cultivate.
Recently, Darren Schulte, NATSO’s vice president of membership, and I sat down to discuss what operators and their staff can do to welcome their customers in and make them feel comfortable right now.
Here are a handful of tips we discussed:
Say Hello: Schulte recommended staff share a wave and make sure they greet every person who comes in.
Focus on Signage: Signage has always been critical, but it may be even more important now that social distancing is in place. Unfortunately, a lot of directional signage can be negative. “I know locations are attempting to share proper directional information, but look at your signage and eliminate all negative signage.”
Block Off Areas with Style: Locations have had to close some areas of their operations, such as self-serve food offerings, due to local and state requirements. How they’ve gone about it can shape customers’ perceptions of the location. “Do you have things blocked off with tape, or could you use screens or curtains? You could do some different things to rope areas off, so it isn't so negative, and it doesn't look like a crime scene,” Schulte said. (As mentioned in the video, The Inn at Little Washington planned to put cleverly arranged manaquins at every other table at their Washignton, Virginia restaurant.)
Offer Help: Customer service can go a long way, especially now. “If you see someone is struggling to fuel, help them. If someone looks like they don’t know where to look for an item, help them,” Schulte said.
Have Some Fun: Locations could use this time to create a little fun with staff by having themed days, such as fun hat day or wear your favorite jersey day. (For example, Kenly 95 Petro had favorite band day.) “It is fun to focus on something else,” Schulte said. “I think more than ever, people are craving the ability to talk to each other, people want to be appreciated, and they want to be humored and laugh because it is dire times.”
Focus on Little Touches: Several little things can create a warm environment, such as welcome mats, fun lights or flowers, Schulte said.
See the Location with Fresh Eyes: Bring someone through who hasn’t been there before or isn’t there a lot and listen to their feedback. They may notice little things that those who are in the location day in and day out overlook.
Revamp the Back of the House: Schulte said the backside of a location often generates more revenue than the front of the house, but it can look uninviting. “Look at the message on the back of the house that welcomes drivers and do an honest analysis to see if you’re as welcoming on the back as you are on the front,” he explained, adding that focusing on the back of the house generally will improve conversion rates.
Create Community Events: This could be a great time to host a flea market, local produce stand or a farmers’ market, which can attract new customers to the location. “If the parking lot is empty on the weekend, this is our time to take advantage of that,” Schulte said.
Open Up with Staff: COVID-19 has created an uncertain time for many of the nation's workers, and Schulte recommended operators communicate with their staff. When employers meet their employees' needs, their employees are better able to care for the customers. "It is really important to ask your staff what is troubling them and what their concerns are. Then you try to eliminate as many of those as possible," he said, adding that he is a firm believer in people and urges operators to be honest with their employees. "If your location is struggling, tell your staff and rally them. I think Americans, in particular, have a huge ability to accept stressful situations and rise to the top."
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