“Post Covid-19.” Those words send shivers throughout the retail and service industries of our country. Shivers? Tremors? Business owners and employees wonder, will brick and mortar survive? Will our business be profitable again? Will patrons return and allow us to serve them as we have?

My answer is of course brick and mortar businesses, from restaurants to gyms, from movie theaters to clothing stores, and more, will return, will survive, and some will thrive. Much depends on my formula, B+M+C.

That stands for brick and mortar and compassion. Compassion? What’s compassion have to do with businesses surviving? Simply stated, compassion is defined as “the emotional response to another’s pain or suffering, involving an authentic desire to help.” The field of “Compassionomics” developed in 2019 by Drs. Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli of Cooper Medical College at Rowan University is anchored in scientific evidence that caring, on the part of physicians, for example, makes a difference in healthcare outcomes. With all of the emotional pain that the American public is struggling with today, brick and mortar that relies on compassion will survive. Without it, brick and mortar will crumble.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 75 percent of respondents in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut said that they thought more testing would be needed in order for it to become safe for their state to begin lifting stay-at-home orders. 71 percent of those respondents said they wanted their state government to focus on controlling the virus, not on reopening. And a CBS News poll found that “63% of those surveyed are more worried about restrictions lifting too fast and worsening the outbreak than worrying about lifting restrictions too slowly and worsening the economy.”

The public wants assurance, reassurance and to feel protected. No surprise. 

When an establishment opens for your business again, to “serve you,” marketing all of the steps they’ve taken to “protect you,” they are saying, “This is the best we can do to eliminate disease spreading risk.”
Look around. Could they’ve done better? ???

The 2006 concept of “Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards” by Michael Levine comes to mind. I believe that in many ways, relying on and applying this theory of Broken Windows, is one strong way to demonstrate business protecting compassion, “the emotional response to another’s pain or suffering, involving an authentic desire to help.” 

Broken Windows was the 1982 brainchild of criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. Later in the 1990s, New York City police commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, adopted this concept as part of their policing policies, with excellent results. The decade saw a significant decline of crime in the city.

The theory suggests that if, for example, a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares, and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, crime will spread, sending a signal that anything goes. In other words, visible signs of crime encourage more crime and disorder. Targeting minor crimes helps create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness.

What’s this have to do with B+M+C? Perception is everything when it comes to business, and apparently crime as well. What customers, members, patrons perceive in your business determines the success or failure of that business. It’s a form of demonstrating compassion to the underlying worries and concerns of patrons.

I watched an employee the other day, outside of a major supermarket, “cleaning” shopping carts. No eyes on, looking at her cellphone, a quick half-swipe or two and pushed the cart in line with the others. Right under the sign management proudly displayed saying how proud they were about adhering to health and safety guidelines. Yep, great protection and health practice?? But, “we’re following the health and safety guidelines…” ???

Broken windows theory teaches that no matter what a business advertises or tells a customer about meticulous cleaning techniques, painstaking and rigorous efforts to keep every piece of equipment fastidiously hygienic, customers don’t share all of their concerns. They just walk away. Unsatisfied. Untrusting. Feeling uncared for. And share that observation with millions in social media. 

That front desk person who rubbed her nose and then handed a pen to a customer, the stain on the table, the hand sanitizer that’s almost all out…”Broken Windows” aren’t always obvious. The smallest slip, the smallest crack, the smallest stain, is a death knell to a business. It was in the 1980’s long before COVID-19 and it is far more impactful now. Vigilance, obsessive attention to detail, will be there. If not on the part of the business owner, then for certain on the part of the customer, member or patron. 

In today’s pandemic, where so many are hyper-anxious about returning to business without more assurances of health and safety, the slightest fissure in a facility’s protective measures, the smallest detail that’s not attended to is the most observable to the public. One is too many. And the member? Feeling cared for? Not an ounce of compassion is demonstrated for her/his worries with a Broken Window. 

These are the “old new” rules of engagement for business owners. Not new. But “old new.” With online services from shopping to working out so easy for so many, why would anyone even risk one’s health when they discern sloppiness perceived as not caring, a business being less than truthful, and a  lack of compassion for their plight?

And keep in mind that the worst broken windows are people. Someone sees an employee not fully wiping down a shopping cart at a supermarket or observes a gym employee simply ignoring someone who just finished working out and, without showering, jumps into the gym’s swimming pool rendering the chlorine ineffective (if it ever was) in reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading infection. Customers who experience these broken windows feel poorly treated. And feel a lack of compassion, understanding, for their unstated but strongly felt, fears.

It’s the little things that will mean a great deal. A torn carpet will lead to a customer wondering if anything else is “torn” or not properly attended to. This is essentially a lack of compassion for what we know are the major pain points in the public at this time. 

The best time to replace a broken window is before it breaks! It’s the cover-up that gets businesses in trouble. Sloppy counter? Poorly located item a customer or client may want? Faded or flaky paint? There is no such thing as insignificant in this post-pandemic time of life. If it’s wrong and you can make it right, it must be made right. 

In business there isn’t any such thing as OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.  There is a lack of compassion disorder. A well-advertised and promises adherence to health and safety standards in the mind of an already suspicious, hesitant and worried public means a wise business goes beyond vaguely defined such standards. It means not relying on the easy way out. Betray the trust of your clients at your own peril.

Levine suggests:

* It is your customer’s perception of your business that will dictate his or her level of loyalty to your business. Make one mistake, and you can damage that perception. 

* Little things mean a lot. If you notice that the carpet on the floor at your dentist’s office is a little worn, you might find yourself wondering whether the dental instruments have been replaced recently. 

* Broken windows are best repaired before they break. 

* It’s the cover-up that gets you. Don’t make excuses for broken windows or deny that they’re broken. Take your hit, own up to the problem, and fix it. 

* Obsession to detail is essential. There is no substitute.

I’d add that when healthcare has become so concerned about lack of perceived compassion on the part of the physician playing a key role in healing and outcome, it’s time for all businesses to pay scrupulous attention to the details of what they are, and are not, delivering as well. Especially to a wary, concerned, public. Dependability, trustworthiness, reliability are more important than ever. 

B+M without +C = a death knell for any business.