Customer communication and COVID-19
Updated: Nov 10
It's fair to say none of us knows what the hell is going to happen over the next few weeks and months; like most everyone else, I thought this was going to be another Bird Flu or SARS, 'It'll blow over', I thought. It's been quite obvious recently that this is not the case. However instead of worrying about a situation which we can't change (but definitely can affect with our actions), let's talk about something we can control - how to communicate with your customers during periods such as this.
You might be wondering if you should say something, and what would be relevant? I'm sure like me you look at the stacks of emails coming through from a bookshop you visited once telling you what's going on and think 'another one?' That sort of mass messaging loses impact the more companies that do it, unless it is necessary and impacts you as a customer. We're talking here if you are a small well established business that uses your website, social media and maybe a small email list. I would say it's something to think about doing, as your customers will know you more personally than they do the big firms. Take the Post Office, who sent me an email about my Broadband service during Coronavirus - presumably being the internet it's immune to real viruses!
Crisis Communications are essential for any business
In a bigger business, you'd have a complete crisis communications plan in place, and, while there is no reason for small businesses to have this on the go, it's likely something that's not top of the list. We can talk about having a small yet complete plan in place another time, today I want to talk about making sure your customers know what's going on, and how you can ride the wave. Over the last week, I've written three very different statements for clients to inform their customers about current operations, and want to share some quick and easy tips for telling your customers what's going on with your business during the Coronavirus crisis.
First off - don't call it Coronavirus!
It's officially called COVID-19. A little distinction, but it's important to stick to the facts and be as open as you can. Similarly if you are putting a statement out and your are shutting up shop for the foreseeable - stick to that and don't make any vague claims about when you are open again. In the same vein, if you can't fulfil work or customer orders, contact them and let them know before you tell the general public. What you really don't want if you are putting out a statement is the conversation tilting away from your message by someone you forgot to give the nod to, which will only serve to get the keyboard warriors piling in. Having a simple 'all affected customers have been contacted, and for any further queries contact XXXX' is a great way to show you are being open, honest, and have support mechanisms in place before anyone can claim you missed them off.
Open and shut case
If you are a retail, alcohol, food, entertainment or otherwise customer facing business, the likelihood is that you have had to either close or modify what you are offering customers. I've already talked about what to do if you are shut, above, but if you are staying open and modifying your business model (offering delivery, take out or even switching to communicating via the internet) then shout about it. Whether you are selling beer, buttons or baby formula, as long as you are keeping within government guidelines, then you are offering a vital service which is going to keep someone supplied and/or sane during the times ahead. Make sure your altered offer is clear on your website and social media, and share the good news.
If you are a service based business - say a plumber, tree surgeon or electrician, then you are still going to be vitally needed. It's important to highlight how you are adapting your business to the crisis (increased deep cleaning of kit, outdoor work can be undertaken with no customer contact, for example), and how customers and staff are your number one priority (asking any customers who are self isolating for specific reasons to contact you to rebook, that you have told any staff feeling ill to not attend work as soon as they do). You are already a valued part of the community you work in, and no one is going to begrudge you carrying on work as long as it is safe. It's also vital that customers who have booked, or rely on you know they can still count on you as long as possible. The last thing people need at the minute is to not be able to get hold of a tree surgeon if a branch half crashes off.
One thing to include in whatever you say (especially in this blog) is that things can change. I'm writing this at 11am, and by 5pm the Government could have ordered the whole country to shut (although I hope not).
Make sure you say that (and also follow through on) you are continually reviewing your working practice, and will be following any advice given by HM Government. As long as your statement is to the point, honest, and clear for customers, you'll have no issues revising it later.
I hope you get some pointers from reading this, and I also hope that your business weathers this storm. If you have any questions on crisis communications during this or any period, please do contact me.