Woman paying with credit card at a cafeteria.
Transparency and helpfulness can help your brand overcome potentially sticky situations when communicating touchy subjects to your customers. — Getty Images/filadendron

Many people don’t like change. And the last few years have been full of change. When something happens at your business that will impact customers, it can seem like one change too many. Employee turnover, price increases, and even cybersecurity issues are normal throughout an organization’s life cycle. It’s important to effectively communicate these changes because doing so can help you maintain customer loyalty while strengthening brand trust. Here’s how to address five touchy subjects with your customers authentically and thoughtfully.

[Read more: New Normal? The Most Effective Ways to Communicate Change To Your Employees]

When an employee is fired

A good rule of thumb is to protect the former employee’s privacy as much as possible. If your employee worked 1:1 with the client in a role such as an account manager or project manager, reach out to the client using their preferred method of communication (phone or email). Let the client know as soon as possible about the change and provide a new point of contact.

Avoid any legal issues by being as mild as possible. “Keep all of your reasons for terminating the employee vague and brief. In the instance that the firing was volatile or there are serious concerns for safety, you still shouldn’t say so to a client,” wrote Bizfluent.

When an employee quits

When a trusted employee leaves, customers may be tempted to follow them, either out of loyalty or because customers get lost in the transition. In this scenario, clear, proactive communication is key. Start by creating a transition team or a new point of contact begins working on the account to handle a customer’s concerns, problems or issues that may come up. Make sure there’s overlap between the new point of contact and the employee who is exiting, and let the client know as far in advance as possible about the change.

Throughout the transition process, use a high-touch communication style. Personally introduce the client to their new point of contact. Avoid any negativity about the outgoing employee. Check in frequently and engage throughout the process to make sure the customer is still happy.

Establish a way for customers to reach you directly with questions or concerns. It’s important for customers to know they are valued by your business.

When you need to increase prices

Many customers know that price increases are part of life; however, if you’re raising prices and your competitors aren’t, this process can be tricky. “You must handle a price increase quickly and authentically to ensure that your customers understand the situation and are willing to stick through it,” wrote Hubspot.

Here are some helpful tips for communicating a price increase to your customers.

  • Let your customers know well in advance. Give your audience time to budget for the increase or find an alternative solution. Surprising your customers with a sudden price hike will damage your brand and cause more people to bail.
  • Explain the reasoning for the price increase. Make it clear that your higher prices are necessary for maintaining product quality. If a specific raw material is more expensive at the moment, include that in your message. Being transparent makes your communication more trustworthy and authentic and makes it easier for a customer to justify paying the higher price.
  • Contact customers directly. Don’t let your customers find out about the price increase when they get their bill. Send a direct mail or email to let them know of the change straight from you (and not the internet).
  • Provide an opportunity for communication. Establish a way for customers to reach you directly with questions or concerns. It’s important for customers to know they are valued by your business.

When there’s been a data breach

Unfortunately, small businesses are regularly targeted by hackers. Some states require business owners to alert customers in the event of a cyberattack. The first thing to do, however, is to assess the scope of the breach. Try to figure out what information the hackers were able to access.

Generally speaking, it’s best to let customers know what happened. “If you quickly notify people that their personal information has been compromised, they can take steps to reduce the chance that their information will be misused,” wrote the FTC.

You may also need to inform law enforcement, credit bureaus, and other businesses that your business has been targeted. Check out the extensive guide from the FTC to learn more about what to communicate in this scenario.

When you discontinue a product

Perhaps a raw material has become too expensive, or maybe you’re taking business in a new direction. No matter the reason, discontinuing a beloved product can make many customers angry. How can you convince your loyal fans to still support your business?

When this happens, Forrester recommends including three key pieces of information in your communication: “the reason(s) why you are discontinuing the product; a list of products being discontinued; the date of last order; last-buy purchase conditions and expected service life; and replacement products.”

Again, transparency and helpfulness are at the center of this messaging. Brands that are authentic can build trust with their customers and overcome these potentially sticky situations.

[Read more: 6 Ways to Protect Your Business From a Supply Chain Disruption]

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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CO— is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Published November 30, 2021