(EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog is an adapted excerpt of our ebook, How Effective Customer Communication Can Help Brands Through Extraordinary Times.)
In an environment of rapid change and business volatility, customer communication becomes mission critical. Every industry — lodging, F&B, healthcare, retail, fitness, shipping, automotive to name just a few — has been impacted in some way by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. Many have had to close their doors because of government mandates or a sudden halt in demand, while others have quickly transformed their business to meet new needs, reduce staff or to create new safety protocols. Others, like those in healthcare and shipping, may now be responding to unprecedented surges in business.
Consumers, rightfully so, have plenty of questions, ranging from the basic, such as whether you’re still open and what precautions you’re taking to potentially more complicated questions about whether any of your employees may have been sick, or how they can delay or cancel orders or memberships. Here are five keys for crisis communications:
1. Be clear, consistent and strike the right tone
Everyone has been impacted in some way by today’s pandemic. In every crisis situation, it is crucial that you quickly convey what’s important. When the situation is serious, err on the side of caution with lighthearted material or anything too promotional. Review and pause or update any marketing that no longer is relevant or could come across as tone deaf.
Make sure your customers know you care and that you understand they are also facing new challenges. They may be worried and pressed for time, so any communication that misses the mark has the potential to cause long-term damage to the relationship with your brand. Provide the information they need and have empathy.
All customer-facing employees directly interacting with or responding to customers — online, in person, by phone, email or text message — should be provided as much training and messaging as possible to ensure clear, consistent and compassionate communication across all channels. Providing employees with talk tracks and editable messaging templates can be helpful in two ways: They provide clear direction to respond in a consistent manner across your brand and employees can respond to more customers quicker.
2. Be proactive
No matter the question, you have to be ready to respond. But the ultimate goal should be to anticipate your customers’ needs before they ask and alleviate their concerns with proactive communication. Make sure you’ve updated messaging on your website and all recorded or automated phone, email and text messaging communications with how your business has adapted so customers can easily and consistently find the information they need. Proactively send them the most important information that may affect them — your new hours, policies, safety protocols — on the channel you know they are most likely to see and respond to with questions or concerns.
3. Inform, don’t overwhelm
Provide customers with the information they need, but don’t over do it. If 50 words will do, don’t send 500. Update the crucial information on your website and all your external channels and make sure you reach urgently affected customers.
Email is best used for broader announcements to a wide audience. This channel is ideal for information that isn’t urgent and a great place to provide a link to an FAQ page and a text number encouraging opt-in for those with questions.
Social media channels are also good places to post wider announcements and notifications on where to read in-depth information and FAQs, but be aware that algorithms may limit which messages are seen by customers.
Texting is the best channel for timely outreach and the most effective way to reach the right customer with the right information at the right time. Using a text messaging platform can help open an efficient channel for two-way conversation and personalized service in a way that’s more sustainable than managing an influx of phone calls.
Help your customers know how to text you with questions, orders or service issues by posting your text number on your website’s FAQ page, social media bios and in emails.
4. Manage expectations and be honest
Consumers understand things are rapidly changing and they don’t expect every business to have every answer. Be as honest as you can with your customers and they will be more likely to understand. If you’re unsure of when — or even if — business will return to normal, don’t say otherwise. If you know your response, delivery or services may take longer than normal, be up front about that and let your customers know rather than mislead them and miss the mark later.
5. Respond quickly and be available
Despite staffing challenges and limited resources, it is crucial that brands are available to hear from and respond to customers. Modern technology options help even skeleton crews manage customer conversations and expedite response. Employ an easy to use technology that keeps conversations on record so issues don’t fall through the cracks. The last thing anyone wants in times of crisis is to navigate a voice-automated phone tree or off-the-mark responses from a chat bot.
The more comfort and clarity you can provide customers, the better for your business today — and into the future.