How to communicate with your customers during a crisis
Updated: Jun 5
Practical communication tips for small businesses during the pandemic
Our lives as we knew them have changed, invariably forever, and we as businesses owners have had to adapt. It can feel overwhelming to know how to communicate as a business and ensure you get the message right.
Businesses have responded in different ways – those that have had to shut down and shut off all their social media. Those that have carried on regardless, ignoring the current state of the world. And then those that have chosen to embrace it. They have adapted their communication, tone and offering to reflect the mood, suit the climate and are harnessing the opportunity to reassure and support their customers.
And the way we're writing has changed since the pandemic. Based on Grammarly’s daily user base of over 20 million people worldwide, the tone of people’s written communication has shifted dramatically. It has seen a 70% drop in people writing optimistically and a 53% rise in people writing informatively.
Sharp Thinking has consulted with PR Consultant Jessica Morgan, Founder of PR agency Carnsight Communications on how business owners should communicate during the current pandemic.
Should I stop or carry on?
Communication is more important than ever right now. Your customers will appreciate the familiarity, inspiration, guidance or even distraction of hearing from a trusted business. But getting the tone right is absolutely key. More than ever, businesses need to be careful with what and how they communicate.
Jessica Morgan advises that businesses shouldn’t default to silence by stopping all communications. Some campaigns may need to be paused because they aren’t relevant or appropriate currently, but you’ll lose all of the momentum you’ve been gaining if you cease altogether. This will leave others to fill in the gaps and it will be a lot harder to pick up once we’re out of the other side.
Develop a crisis communication plan
It is worth creating a simple 'crisis communication plan'. A simple 1 or 2-page document will suffice for small businesses. Do this by jotting down your message, tone of voice and communication channels considering your social media and customer newsletters. Once this is complete ensure you share with this your staff and key partners so everyone is informed and on the same page.
Jessica Morgan supports the use of a crisis communication plan. She has worked with clients quickly to map out what the focus will be at this time, how the business will respond and what to and who will be the key spokespeople. Of course, things will change, but having some guidelines in place is really helpful. If you don't have in place already, draft some FAQs (frequently asked questions) or update your existing questions, to keep your customers informed and avoid a large influx of queries to customer services.
Get the message right
It is vital you are consistent with your message across all your customer touchpoints. And if there is a change in direction with the business, which inevitably there will be as time goes on, you should communicate this and explain to your customers.
Now more than ever people need reassurance – from your staff and customers to your stakeholders, suppliers and partners. Businesses have a huge part to play in creating the our new routines and shaping how we all adapt to changes in supply chains and availability of goods and services. Be confident in your communications to reassure people of your ability to deliver on your newly adapted way of working (if this is the case) and the future desire and intentions of your business. It may be you can’t confirm the details of this at the current time, but a holding statement can be used.
Be as transparent as possible in all your communications. And it is ok to say you don’t have all the answers at the moment. This will build trust and create deeper relationships. Honesty will be seen in a positive light. If you're struggling and uncertain of the future, customers will wish to support you through the crisis.
Jessica Morgan comments “Be honest if you feel you can. You don’t have to be candid and go into detail about pay cuts and staff furloughs, but acknowledging it’s a tough time for all of us, that you’ve had to make changes to the business etc. is ok. Remember, your peers and clients will probably be experiencing the same thing.”
Many of your customers will have livelihoods of their own which are under threat. Make sure you’re displaying an authentic level of empathy and of course you're putting your staff and customers welfare first.
Jessica Morgan advocates this. She reminds us to consider all of our audiences in our messages and ensure it resonates with existing clients and potential prospects, whilst remembering that we're representing our company and staff, who also may be experiencing difficult times. We must ensure we are sensitive and mindful but celebrate positivity if we can.
These are hard times for sure, yet there is always space for levity. Aim to get a good balance of being inspirational and optimistic. Avoid being too preachy or too boastful.
Jessica Morgan adds “Review the current media landscape. While there are some furloughs and titles pausing, much of it is business as usual and many outlets are welcoming good news - so if you're doing something positive such as helping out in the crisis don't be afraid to communicate it and hopefully inspire others.” She continues “Don’t be afraid to PR new hires, either - the economy also needs good news through the media. Also, be aware of the Covid-19 coverage such as news hubs and blogs in your target media. Can you write a piece about what’s changed in your sector or industry and how people are adapting during the crisis to be a relevant voice in the conversation?”
Let customers know you're still here and will continue to be going forward, and you will support support and help them with their needs at this difficult time. Good news stories create such a buzz and are so important in creating a community around your brand. Strengthen loyalty by celebrating your positive impact on society and get behind important causes.
Are there things to avoid saying?
There are definitely some no go areas for businesses. Never overpromise. There is so much out of our control at the moment. You can’t confirm when normal business will resume and it is ok to be vague and not specific at the moment with time frames.
You should also avoid stating your personal opinions and be cautious around joining in political debates. And be careful about sharing information from unreliable sources.
Keep calm and carry on
No one has all the answers at the moment. But we can try and adapt and open the communication dialogue to ensure everyone is aware of what is happening in your business. Honesty is key. Open up to your customers and use this time to build loyalty, trust and strengthen relationships. This way you can be sure you're giving your business the best chance of protecting your reputation and hopefully, this will translate to greater security for your future as well.
Read some inspirational examples of how businesses have adapted during the coronavirus and discover free marketing tips to help during the pandemic from 5 ways to boost your online presence and 5 tips to fresh your website.
Good luck for the forthcoming months ahead and stay safe.