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The Importance of Staying Connected with Customers During a Crisis

  
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With COVID-19 present in most countries and territories globally, industries of all kinds are facing a strange new world when it comes to talking to their customers.

Maintaining business continuity while demonstrating awareness of the current crisis situation is a delicate balancing act. It may not be "business as usual," but your customers still rely on your goods and services — in some cases, more now than ever — so it's important to stay connected with them.

This is a time when your brand's content and the customer experience (CX) you provide overall is especially vital. People are anxious, confused and even in some cases desperate for services — so it's critical for companies to be proactive in creating and communicating a pandemic-ready plan in order to best manage customer questions and expectations, such as how physical distancing is affecting your business, and whether you're impacted by store closures, stay-home orders and travel restrictions.

To contend with these types of challenges that have essentially eliminated in-person interactions, there is no doubt that this is a moment in time when brands will have to rely heavily on social channels, websites and blogs to connect with consumers. Here are some factors to consider when designing your approach.

Maintain open lines of communication

Social and digital media are already part of your customer experience strategy, but these unprecedented times require a modified approach today and likely into the future.

Your goal shouldn't be to overtly 'push' your products and services, which under the circumstances could resonate poorly. Instead, communicate need-to-know information about both your company and the latest news reports, says the recently released Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 Special Report on Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic.

According to the report, a whopping 89% of consumers in a dozen countries around the world say they expect brands to keep the public informed on how they're "supporting and protecting their employees and customers". Meanwhile, 88% want to know how brands are operating in the face of the pandemic. The kind of information you should be sharing includes:

  • Your strategy for keeping customers and staff safe
  • Any changes to your standard policies
  • Tips for how to stay healthy
  • Best practices recommended by infectious disease specialists
  • The latest state guidelines, and reasons for why everyone should abide by them

Consider social channels like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to disseminate valuable messages to the public. For example, on Twitter, Electronic Arts (EA) is using the hashtag #stayandplay to promote governmental stay-home directives. Knowing many customers come to the account to ask questions and seek help, this is a great place to promote responsible behavior.

However, the development of a crisis communications strategy shouldn't be limited solely to address customers' needs. The Edelman report also found that 63% of employees would like to receive daily updates from their employer.

Internal emails, Slack or your organization's intranet are the best ways for companies to communicate with employees on a broad scale. These channels ensure the messages you craft will reach their intended recipients as they are already part of your day-to-day operations. Regardless of what channel(s) you choose, the most important facet of internal communications during a crisis is to have a consistent and proactive approach.

Post frequent updates

In a report on coronavirus email do's and don'ts, Econsultancy warns brands not to use the outbreak as an excuse to re-engage past or lapsed customers. It does, however, encourage companies to provide specific information about how your business has been impacted and what measures you're taking to minimize the disruption.

With physical distancing guidelines and state requirements for sheltering-in-place constantly evolving, your goal in this regard should be to ensure your customers have the absolute latest and most accurate data. This will entail frequent updates and regular contact with your customers as the situation surrounding coronavirus is fluid, and details, facts and figures can change on a dime.

A good example of this can be found in the travel industry, which has faced major disruption in recent months. To address their customers' concerns, airlines like Delta, WestJet and Air France keep coronavirus-related travel updates front and center on their websites' home pages. They update information about flight modifications, cancellations and refunds nearly hourly in some cases, but certainly on a daily basis.

Understandably, airlines and the travel industry as a whole, are experiencing significant volume in their contact centers, with customers reaching out in droves requesting refunds and postponing or cancelling their travel plans altogether. By providing current and relevant customer service options through next-gen technology like Conversational Bots, airlines can reduce some of the strain on their contact centers employees.

Self-serve options should also be flagged up-front to customers who call in, directing them to frequently asked questions online, enabling them to help themselves with simple requests, thus further diminishing wait times and reducing frustration for both callers and agents.

Adopt an appropriate tone

If there's one other aspect of CX that companies should focus on during this challenging time, it's brand voice. The president of major U.S. PR firm, DKC, recently told Vox that in moments of crisis, he recommends "complete transparency, compassion for your customers" and articulating "tough decisions concisely and accurately".

Edelman's study validates this claim by reporting that consumers want companies to communicate "with emotion, compassion and facts" during the pandemic. What you say now, and how you say it, can have a big influence on how consumers perceive your business, and the loyalty they feel towards your brand.

For instance, a majority of respondents (57%) said now is not the time for humor in brand messaging. Consider adjusting your messaging to maintain the strong emotional connection your most loyal customers have with your brand. When all this is over, you want to make sure they still have a positive opinion of your brand.

If, for example, your supply chain is experiencing difficulty, or you're facing shipping delays, conveying those messages up front can go a long way toward maintaining a positive customer relationship. Make sure customers know what challenges exist and why, whether it's because you're prioritizing essential products or you're dealing with warehouse closures due to reduced staff in your effort to keep employees safe.

Emphasize that you'll be keeping consumers up to date on new developments, and apologize for any inconveniences they're currently experiencing. Assure them that you're committed to doing your part to flatten the curve while maintaining business continuity as much as possible. And above all, avoid alarmist and fatalist language, which could upset consumers and negatively impact your brand. Remain serious, but optimistic.

A crisis like this one is difficult for all involved, and it's up to your organization and brand to set an example for how best to deal with it. Communication has always been a significant piece of the overall customer experience, but when consumers have questions and concerns about your brand's ability to serve them in times of crisis, staying connected with them is especially critical.


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