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7 tips on how to communicate with customers during the coronavirus crisis
Businesses small and large are grappling to get to terms with how they should behave during the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting to grips with the operational side of your business is the number one priority. A clear communications strategy – for your workforce, customers, investors and other stakeholders – is vital to help businesses to keep functioning at an operational level during the crisis and to ensure that they are able to quickly bounce back when the pandemic passes.
With vast numbers of people working from home, others self-isolating or off sick, thousands of companies are struggling with cash flow problems, supply chain issues, changes in demand, interruptions to day-to-day operations and office and factory closures to name just a few.
During this time there are many questions that employers need answering: should they keep marketing as normal? Should they address the situation head-on and post statements to their websites? Should they communicate directly with customers? How can marketing and communications help them emerge from this crisis in a strong position to carry on?
At OlsenMetrix we’ve been talking about the various actions businesses could take to help navigate their way through this situation. And we’ve compiled a list of our recommendations which we hope you’ll find useful.
- What to communicate. Every business in the UK is being or will be affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. It is inevitable that each one of these firms will face questions about their processes and procedures, their operational viability and any disruption to business. There may be policy changes such as video conferencing to replace face to face meetings, webinars to replace physical workshops, new ways of communicating online or via social media – and all these need to be communicated with staff, existing and potential customers and all other stakeholders.
- When to communicate. We are living through unprecedented times, but there is a constant when it comes to communication and messaging. The general rule is to confront issues which are affecting or may affect your business as soon as possible. It is no different with the coronavirus pandemic. Your customers and staff will want to know about the measures you are taking to ensure their safety, what contingency plans you have in place to ride out a storm, if there are going to be any delays or disruption to the production of the products and services you sell. This may be due to staff shortages, the supply of raw materials slowing or halting altogether, a drop in orders and lost contracts.
- How do I ensure effective messaging in a time of crisis? While it is important to communicate swiftly, it is crucial not to rush out any statements. Effective messaging needs to be informative, measured, express empathy – more on that later – avoid hubris and be positive without being flippant. If you are a customer facing business, it’s really important to inform people about the health and safety measures you are taking to protect people when they visit. Your messaging should also be in line with government sentiment and guidance and be consistent across all platforms and audiences. It should also be updated regularly to remain in line with external advice and policy changes.
- The importance of empathy. Businesses are not known for being empathetic. In response to the rapid spread or coronavirus many are changing their approach – and rightly so. You can be pretty sure that, even if your own business is relatively unscathed for now, many of those you interact with will have been affected either directly or indirectly by the disease. And it is almost inevitable that your own business will suffer, in some way, at some point. Expressing empathy will give you the opportunity to give your business a personality, to make you more approachable and to show that you can be relied upon as a caring, trustworthy and ethical business even in a time of crisis. You may view these as ‘soft’ attributes, but they will be greatly appreciated by everyone you interact with. Now is not the time to take a ‘hard sales’ approach as this would likely damage your reputation.
- How to protect your reputation. Companies thrive or fail according to their reputation. How they behave during a crisis is key to how they are viewed by the public, their customers, suppliers, employees and all other stakeholders. Ask what you are doing that could be seen as ‘not doing enough’ to mitigate or prevent the spread of the virus, or if you are doing something that might be actively detrimental to the health and safety of the public or our staff or customers. Considering how fast news around the coronavirus is evolving, understanding shifts in public perception about the virus is critically important. Brands and businesses seeking to protect public health, the interests of their employees, and the viability of their businesses would be well advised to stay informed of changes in public perception as the situation continues to unfold. You can be certain that your staff and customers will expect you to take all available measures to prevent the further spread of the virus, even if it impacts profits. If you are not taking such measures you risk being named and shamed in the media by disgruntled staff, customers and suppliers. And this would be a disaster.
- Be open and transparent. Transparency is crucial in the current environment. Not only is the spread of misinformation potentially injurious to public health, but it can also be damaging to consumer trust. Smart brands will understand that it is best to proactively communicate with all stakeholders, both internally and externally.
- What to consider going forward. If you do not have one now, prepare a detailed communications plan. Ensure that you communicate timely and relevant statements from company leaders about the crisis to internal and external stakeholders. Develop a deep understanding of what customer and employee expectations are: it is vital to stay informed as the situation continues to evolve, and with it, public perception.