Right now in New York, we are on week 2 of being snowed in, and something that’s been on the top of mind for everyone the last few days it seems is this:
If an indoor playground or play cafe business needs to close early or close for the day unexpectedly for whatever reason, whether it be weather-related or a staff call off or a personal emergency– how can we let our customers know in an effective way?
And if you’re reading this as one of my currently open indoor playground business owners- I know you can relate to this nightmare scenario, right?
Something happens, maybe your child is sick or your employee goes home early or you’re slow during an afternoon and you decide to close up early.
Then, you get the dreaded call or email or worse yet– GOOGLE REVIEW– from an angry customer demanding to know why you’re unexpectedly closed– after they just spent 2 hours getting little johnny dressed and ready to go and then drove 100+ miles JUST to check out your space.
So if you would like to AVOID that, I have some tips that I have gathered along the way from having been in that situation 1 too many times.
This is something I did an entire episode on The Profitable Play Podcast (Episode 105) so if you want to dive deeper on this go back and listen. But we paid about $15-$30 a month for a call forwarding system and to this day, it remains one of the best investments I ever made not just in my business, but in my mental health as an owner as well.
We used RingCentral, but there are other options out there like Zoom Voice as well.
There are MANY ways to use a call forwarding system- like to route all party inquires right to your cell or to have a button callers can press to hear a prerecorded message stating your hours and any upcoming events–
But in the context of today's episode, alerting people to an unexpected closure was one of the most valuable features of our call forwarding system.
I could pre-record a quick message stating we are either closed for the day or closing early– you can record MULTIPLE messages to have on hand as needed. And then, when we did decide to close– all I had to do was open the ring central app, press one button, and that message would now be played as a special announcement whenever someone would call.
And this was helpful in a few ways–
So when they call and hear that message immediately, they get some rationale behind WHY you closed so they are likely a little more understanding right away, and they can now see that you DID try to make customers aware of this hour change. SURE, some may still leave a negative review, but it will certainly work to reduce these issues AND better serve your customers.
We used SquareSpace for our indoor playground business website, and something I LOVED was being able to have a bright yellow announcement banner at the top that was easy to turn on and off, even on-the-go in the mobile app.
Sometimes we would use it for sales or special events– but again in the context of this topic, it was also very effective for when we had an unexpected closure.
If someone was looking up your place to find the hours or address– they would surely see the bright yellow banner at the top alerting them to any changes.
Again, not PERFECT, but really effective especially if many of your customers are millennial-age and younger and are less likely to call.
We had a few laminated signs our team could throw on the door as needed. One that stated we were simply closed, one that said we were closed for a private event, and one that said something along the lines of, “we are so sorry, we are temporarily closed”.
In smaller print, I would include some information about how people could make themselves aware of unexpected closings– like calling or checking the website for announcements.
Because clearly, if they are standing there, they did NOT get the memo.
This again shows you have done your best to communicate this closure in multiple ways, and will reduce the likelihood of your customer becoming angry.
If it’s a major all day closure, I will send a quick templated email announcing we will be closed and some brief reasoning for it. It’s best to cover your bases in this way.
However, if you are closing down just a little bit early, this may be overkill. What you MAY want to consider is sending a member-only alert or email, since I have found our members were much more likely to come at our slower times, even if we were close to closing.
Again, for a SLIGHT change in hours, this one may be overkill, but if you are making a major change in your schedule it's good to post on both platforms- in your feed and stories, and maybe even pin the post.
While this may draw some unnecessary backlash from people who probably were not even planning to come in ANYWAY– at least this will give you one more avenue to reach as many customers as possible and cover all possible bases.
I liked to have a branded graphic ready to go in my camera roll– in both square and vertical format– that I could quickly post on-the-go. You can throw the date along with the graphic on the story or in the caption to clarify the exact times, and you can always archive it when the time period is over.
One more that may once again be overkill, but again, If you have a database of customer phone numbers, ESPECIALLY your members phone numbers, consider sending out a text message alert about the unexpected closure.
Our email service provider, Active Campaign, does text messaging so we can use this feature if needed.
If this is going to be a full day or multi-day closure, you can update your Google My Business listing with the closure information so that it appears in Google Search and Maps when customers search for your indoor playground. You can keep your same consistent hours BUT do overrides for specific dates that you need to close outside of that normal schedule which is super helpful.
Again, doing ALL of these is really not necessary. We chose to do 1, 2, and 3 if we needed to close early or for a few hours and add on 4 and 5 if we were closed all day. If we were doing major renovations or were canceling a scheduled event, we would certainly make more of an effort to communicate this and would likely pull out all the stops on this list.
This is one of those things where you will learn what works best for YOUR business and you WILL find your groove and your comfort spot when it comes to customer communication. Personally, I could not handle negative emails or reviews or comments, they really derailed me mentally and creatively, and they put me in a place where I could not operate my business or lead my team effectively.
Once I learned that about myself, I realized that YES– it IS important for me to invest in some systems and automations to not just to avoid as much of that as possible, but also to serve our customers and community at the highest level.
I asked 7 Play Cafe Academy and Play Maker Society members what is working RIGHT NOW in their businesses to attract customers and grow sales. I want to send you their answers in my FREE newly updated 2023 "What's Working" Guide!