person holding up cutout of conversation bubble
From being completely authentic to showing customers how much you value them, there are several ways to ensure your communications are effective and appropriate during a crisis. — Getty Images/LaylaBird

After an initial flood of "here's what we're doing for COVID-19" messages, business owners and consumers settled into a strange new normal. Now, the challenge has become maintaining a steady flow of consistent, relevant communications that address customers' current concerns about the pandemic — especially if your business is planning to reopen its doors in the coming weeks.

We spoke with nine business leaders and communications experts about how to approach your customer messaging right now. Follow these tips to help you craft your strategy for the weeks and months ahead.

Think about what your customers need right now

Your customers' immediate needs should be front and center in all your communications, said Caroline Leach, a social media consultant and executive coach.

"Consider what your customers could most use right now, whether it's relevant and timely information or a discount on essential products or services, and communicate that," Leach added.

Listen to their problems

To get a better handle on your customers' needs, Gary Romano, president and CEO of Civitas Strategies, recommends actively listening to their problems when you speak with them, since sales is ultimately about solving problems.

"The challenges your clients had four weeks ago are likely very different than today," said Romano. "Even helping them connect with a business that can [meet those challenges] will generate value for your client and a partner."

[Read: 15 Examples of How Companies Are Communicating with Customers About Coronavirus]

Take a holistic approach to revamping your communications strategy

Once you understand where your customers are and what they need from you, you need to examine every piece of your current communications plan and adjust accordingly, both for right now and for post-COVID.

"New strategies are essential and need to be put in place so they can benefit you now, as well as after the panic dissipates and we re-emerge from sheltering in place," said Nicholas Adams, president and CEO of NINICO Communications.

Adams advised businesses to look at the following areas:

  • Get a crisis communications plan in place, if you don't already have one.
  • Ensure all press releases are important, timely or provide a public benefit.
  • Reassess your advertising strategy.
  • Connect with your audience in real time.
  • Update your website.
  • Stay engaged through social media channels.
  • Write thought leadership pieces.
  • Do something to support your community.
Want to learn more about how to re-connect with customers post-pandemic? Watch this episode of our CO— Blueprint series on re-engaging with your customers.

Customers can see through canned empathy, so focus on being real with your customers.

Ray Green, CEO, RJG Consulting

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Be authentic

According to Ray Green, CEO of RJG Consulting, the key to standing out in your communications right now is raw authenticity.

"Customers can see through canned empathy, so focus on being real with your customers," Green said. "[Invest] time into understanding how their behaviors, preferences or habits may have changed, and adjusting accordingly."

Check in on your customers' well-being

A little bit of humanity goes a long way, especially in times like this. Let your customers know that you care by checking in on their general well-being, said John Brice, managing partner of Antelope.

"Businesses need to reach out and proactively acknowledge the changing environment their customers are all experiencing," Brice told CO—. "[Let] customers know that you are evolving your solutions and services to meet their needs."

[Read more: Staying Connected With Customers Through the Coronavirus Outbreak]

Provide routine updates

Some businesses fear that sending customer updates is just "adding to the noise," but relevant updates about your business will help maintain the community of buyers your company relies on for revenue.

"Keep the communication lines open and consistent," said Rebecca Takada, vice president of marketing at Empire Selling. "Social media updates about the people behind the business, products, operating hours, etc. should be routine."

Use appropriate humor

During a crisis, humor may seem like the last thing on anyone's mind. However, when used tactfully and appropriately, a bit of lightheartedness (like Hotel.com's "social distancing" commercial featuring Captain Obvious) can bring some much-needed joy to an otherwise dark time.

"Something our customers have appreciated [is] a bit of appropriate humor in communications," said Kate Thunnissen, head of marketing and customer support at Trint. "Yes, we're dealing with a scary, uncertain event, but we're all human in the end."

Show your customers you value them

Your customers may not be able to interact with you as they normally do during this time, but it's important to show gratitude for their support of your business. Meg Charles, founder and CEO of Frame Advisory, said your communication should show customers that their patronage of the business is valued.

"Where possible, the business should take action that demonstrates empathy and community spirit," Charles added.

[Read more: 5 Ways to Retain Your Customers During the Coronavirus Outbreak]

Acknowledge the uncertainty, but be a reliable resource

It's difficult to predict when things will get "back to normal," which means businesses can't always make guarantees about their own timelines for reopening and/or ramping up services. To this end, Tim O'Brien, principal at O'Brien Communications, suggests communicating how you plan to continue serving customers, while being transparent about any areas of uncertainty.

"People are very understanding at this time, but the most important role any company can play is to be a reliable resource for customers," said O'Brien.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 01, 2020