Employment and Jobs

How can I help my employees communicate and implement safety measures with customers?

November 18, 2020  • Vivian Vázquez, Ranita Jain & Jenny Weissbourd

Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses

#3. How can I help my employees communicate and implement safety measures with customers?

This question is an excerpt from our downloadable brief, “Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses.”

Employees who routinely interact with customers are now tasked with a new set of responsibilities, including communicating new safety measures and reassuring customers that the business values customer safety. Some employees may encounter upset customers who do not understand or wish to follow business’ safety protocols. Here, we capture steps that some small business owners have taken, and tools that small business owners can use, to support their employees’ safe interactions with customers.

Provide clear guidance to customers about safety protocols

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with applicable federal, state, and local requirements (such as mask mandates and building capacity limits), communicate safety information to customers. You may want to do this on your business voicemail, website, and social media channels. If customers enter your business, alert them to new procedures as they enter and find ways to support their compliance. Some businesses hang up signs throughout the store and assign an employee at the front door to alert customers about safety procedures. For example, employees can greet customers at the door and offer hand sanitizer or check if customers are properly wearing masks. Listen to the community response to these new procedures. Customers can be a great source of ideas, and two-way communication can help you continue to improve health and safety policies over time.

Change on-site operations to reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure

The small business owners we spoke with have all changed their operations to reduce customer interactions, such as restaurants shifting from indoor dining to curbside pickup and delivery. If feasible and allowed for your business, you can take steps to limit the number of customers inside. For example, offer customers set appointment times, or offer options for contactless pickup and delivery. Analyze your business process for opportunities to reduce physical interaction between customers and employees.

Train and support employees to manage hostile customers

Recent media coverage of customers who refuse to comply with safety guidelines has many workers worried. It’s important for business owners to support their employees if customer conflicts arise, and to provide training on prevention strategies and ways to de-escalate threatening situations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published guidelines for limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19, intended for use by employers and employees in retail, food service, and other customer service oriented businesses. It offers specific guidance on actions employers can take to prevent workplace violence and includes printable infographics in nine different languages.

Small Business Perspectives

“We’ve found it very important as owners to role model enforcing [safety] policies confidently and explain that those against safety may be the loudest voices but the rest of the customers may be silently approving and appreciating the enforcement. We keep saying that our systems need to be able to protect us and our team, regardless of customer behavior. I think it’s also been important that we have not asked our team to do anything that we are not comfortable doing ourselves and we have regularly been working customer-facing shifts alongside our team.” –Laura Wagner, co-owner, Well Crafted Kitchen


IMPORTANT: Please note that this resource is not legal guidance about workplace safety. This guide does not provide technical information about regulations that businesses must comply with for reopening. Individual business owners are responsible for complying with their local jurisdiction’s evolving guidance related to COVID-19. The National Safety Council provides a range of resources that you may find helpful, including federal guidelines and state-specific resources regarding COVID-19 and the workplace.


Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19

  1. How can I reassure my workers that we are following appropriate safety guidelines?
  2. How can I create an equitable and inclusive environment for my employees and customers?
  3. How can I help my employees communicate and implement safety measures with customers? (you are here)
  4. How can I help my employees manage increased stress?
  5. How can I help my employees get to work safely?
  6. How can I recognize and respond to my employees’ caregiving responsibilities?
  7. How can I support my employees’ financial stability?

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The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.