How to Communicate With Customers During Times of Crisis

This post was originally published on the Salesforce blog by Heidi Robbins as part of our Leading Through Change series.

Whether it’s a global issue like COVID-19 or a local emergency, businesses must have a crisis communication plan in place for their customers. This goes beyond minor adjustments to marketing messages. The plan must extend to customer service teams, your website, social channels, customer-facing staff, and more.

While we often can’t control the societal crisis at hand, we can control our response to it.

Here are five tips to help you formulate a plan that communicates the impact of a situation and next-steps to your customers.

1. Show that you care.

People seek connection during times of uncertainty. Companies in our communities play a role in this. Consider a message to customers to show you’re aware of the issue and offer helpful resources. Social media, email, or your online community are particularly accessible mediums for a brief and immediate message.

2. Be proactive in your communications.

Your customers count on you even more than usual during a crisis. Proactively announce changes or impacts to your business. Do not make customers hunt for the information they need – instead, bring it to them. Proactive communication will free up staff to focus on tasks other than answering the same customer questions over and over again.

Create communication that is appropriate within a variety of channels, including email, SMS, push notifications, social, IVR systems, chatbot introductions, homepage modals, and headers, and dedicated web landing pages. Establish a parallel approach designed to inform customers and employees in equal measure as appropriate.

3. Offer a shoulder to lean on.

Show your humanity with an authentic, sensitive response. For example, Walgreens and CVS are waiving prescription medicine delivery fees during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Small businesses are also stepping up. I received an email from my local deli offering free delivery for customers over the age of 70 within a five-mile radius of the business. Their message also directs recipients to share the email with “friends and family who may like having food delivered to avoid going out.”

4. Inspire your audience.

In times of need, those who are not affected are often in a position to assist others. You can be a catalyst by allowing corporate citizenship to shine. Do all you can to help. Share a donor portal; communicate your philanthropic position; assist with collection coordination; donate products, services, money, or time; and communicate how your brand’s community can get involved.

5. Audit your content queue.

Review your entire messaging stream, including social media, promotional and transactional emails, push notifications, and SMS, to identify communications that need to pause or shift as a result of the situation. Otherwise, there is a risk of damaging your brand if a message comes off as insensitive, incorrect, or seeking to capitalize on a tragedy.

These communications must be a company-wide effort. Develop a cross-functional “Go Team” with experts from public relations, social, email, mobile, website, design, data/IT, philanthropy, stores/field, logistics, supply chain, and customer service to coordinate teams and efforts.

Then, create a plan that documents responsibilities throughout the organization as they relate to customer-facing communications. Establish a crisis strategy and craft templates for communications. And if there’s time, do a practice run to make sure your plans and strategies are sound.

The US Department of Homeland Security shares key resources for preparedness, response, and recovery. Take these resources and extend them into your communications as well to your design. This will allow you to be agile while supporting your customers during a time of need.

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6 thoughts on “How to Communicate With Customers During Times of Crisis

  • This pandemic isn’t going to be around forever. And one day, we all will go back to our normal lives. Businesses and brands need to make sure to create an impact and leave a powerful impression e.g. Bvlgari making hand sanitizers, Armani making medical aprons, Ferrari making respirators, etc. There’s no ideal time than now to help others in need and make a remarkable impression instantly.

  • Yes, we can overcome this pandemic situation only by the collaboration of all. We all are affected by it. Many corporations that didn’t manufacture sanitizers and masks are now not only making them but also distributing them free of cost to the public. Together we will surely defeat this virus.

  • One important aspect is to integrate pandemic preparedness into national emergency preparedness frameworks.

  • Surely this is a difficult time for everyone, but we are facing it only for a short period. Till now we know many NGO’s, Corporate companies and many other people are coming forward to overcome through this. With that, more products related to health like sanitizers, masks, PPE Kits are manufactured by most of the companies. They are coming forward with their primary medical help for the people and most of the companies distributing it free for the needy and poor people. So surely we will defiantly overcome through this pandemic.

  • This pandemic is affecting everyone’s lives. We don’t know how much time it will take to get back to our normal lives. Till then we have to very patient & calm. This is a difficult time but with the support of our loved ones, we will surely defeat this virus soon.

    Thanks for sharing these amazing tips. This will definitely enhance the communication with customers.

  • The best thing companies can do is to communicate with all stakeholders by using clear, compassionate and timely messages,” Magas told business.com. “The first step is to create a coronavirus crisis team, which should meet and give regular updates to key constituencies, such as customers. Make sure that you utilize the proper channels to address these audiences, and speak in words and terms that each specific audience understands.

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