Communicating with customers during the Covid-19 crisis | Page 2 | Sunday Observer

Communicating with customers during the Covid-19 crisis

12 June, 2021

Covid-19 has made a gruesome and lasting impact on business activities throughout the world. Unlike the previous similar disasters, this time around, the effect of the virus is spread to virtually every country and territory, letting out ghastly effects. The economies of almost every country in the world experienced negative growth due to the disturbance to global trade activities. 

In Sri Lanka, although the first wave was contained successfully, the total closure of the country affected tremendously dreadfully all types of businesses, from a roadside boutique to a large-scale exporter. Several months after the opening of the country following the first wave and when the business community started heaving a sigh of relief came the second wave out of the blues. The slowly recovering trade was suppressed again. 

The second wave also was controlled successfully and business activities became near normal when the horrifying third wave emerged out of public negligence during the New Year.  Hence, the entrepreneurs will be compelled to readjust their strategies again to face the current challenge. The threat of the virus is likely to continue for a considerable period and companies have to find ways and means to communicate with their respective customers and prospects to stay ahead. 

Clear and precise

Business entities should communicate with their customers using clear and precise messages that are compassionate and informational. If the customer feels that the contents of the message are purely business, they may become hostile due to the prevailing crisis. Also, communicating information relevant to the specific customer segment is imperative. Identifying the mode of communication also must be done carefully to avoid misunderstandings.  

I have reached out and discussed with several business owners who run different types of product and service lines about the current methods they adopt and their future intentions on communication strategies.  

Connecting with customers during a national crisis is a delicate process that must be managed carefully. On one hand, the virus has disrupted the day-to-day lives of customers leading to many hardships on one hand and the fear psychosis on safety on the other. Hence, whatever the message is created, it must be balanced, open, honest, and timely.  The general public that includes your customers is still trying to understand the extent of the problem and cope with the crisis. 

Understanding the frequency of messages and the space between each of them is an important criterion.  If you overdo it, you may get over-exposed. Overexposure can lead to a feeling that you are attempting to mislead. Effective communication involves the understanding of the preferred frequency and type of message your customers expect. Unless you have major announcements on changes or adjustments to the existing setup, your communication frequency can be regular. However, at this juncture, regularly checking in with customers can be effective without being over-exposed. 

Some contents should be avoided when communicating with the customers at this time of distress. First and foremost, the message should not be overly exaggerated. The excessive promotional information can lead to a sense of mistrust. Also, the message definitely must not contain politically biased information.  

The information delivered to the customers through awareness campaigns must be thoroughly verified for authenticity. Your message must be devoid of any information from doubtful and unreliable sources. More importantly, you must not speak too much about the negative impacts of the pandemic unless your business or product is directly related to the disease.

For example, if the message is about an antivirus product, naturally you are compelled to discuss negative impacts. If not, the communication should always be positive.    

It is useful to gather as much as possible information from the health authorities on protecting your customers before moving forward with customer communication. The pertinent information can be used as guidance for the customers, employees, and the community. Messages created based on authentic and genuine information are trustworthy and the customers will accept them appreciatively.  Even when the prevailing peak is passed, the dependability of the communication will remain intact in such messages. If this continues, you will appear credible, honorable, and trustworthy to the customers. 

Fierce

The competition in the market is fierce with or without the pandemic. However, it is more so with the existing market limitations, reduced disposable income, and lesser spending power. Therefore, getting in front of every situation is important at this time. Informing customers about the services you provide, products or services available, safety precautions your team is implementing, etc. is extremely useful. 

Notably, at this point, every customer is more concerned about personal safety than many other criteria.  Hence, your messages to the customers must assure that your services follow health guidelines and the products on offer are totally hygienic. 

At this stage, you should keep away from messages in terms of up-selling or cross-selling. The messages should be direct, clear, positive, and are aligned with the topic. Indicating the health guidelines you are following with your services and the reasons why these precautions will keep them safe can be constructive. 

Most likely, your customers are experiencing a deafening noise through social media and obviously suffering from message fatigue. The surge of various types of communications they are constantly receiving has filled up all spaces. More than ever, at present, it is critical to send out the right information to the right person at the right time. Therefore, segmenting your clientele is exceedingly important during this period. Listing out customers and send separate messages to each of the segments is the best method. 

Once the groups are in place, the messages should be created targeting specific segments to deliver the precise information needed. With a planned action, you can release timely and relevant information based on each segment. The personalisation of communication is extremely effective rather than sending faceless common messages.

Both sides

The prevailing situation is equally stressful to your employees as well. Hence, it is important to understand both sides of the business.   By communicating openly with the employees, you can eliminate their own concerns and also motivate them immensely at this troubled time. Workers themselves are understandably under peer pressure where they have to concentrate on the safety of their own families. Therefore, being in constant touch with them and sharing positive feedback can make them more optimistic. 

An important factor to keep in mind is that although people are spending more time online, using more content is not a successful communication strategy. Online advertising has many advantages in cost and effectiveness. However, your crisis communication plan must be well-balanced on choosing the correct path. Therefore, it is prudent to encourage those who create content for your company to focus on empathy more than ever before. 

Breaking down messages to shorter, simpler, and more palatable contents will be appreciated and admired by customers. Also, with more time available, either by lockdowns or voluntary travel restrictions, people tend to focus more on entertainment. Therefore, carefully executed meaningful messages in between entertainment will have more impact.  

Entrepreneurs and organizations must realize that both they and their customers collectively are experiencing an uncharted territory. No one has specific or precise answers as yet. Therefore, keeping communications authentic and delivering transparent messages is the key to benefit customers until the health crisis is completely subdued. By keeping customers aligned through the crisis with the company’s vision can assist in easing the transition to a new normal. The new normal social behaviour is expected to be the model in the years to come.  

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