Crisis communication header image of girl speaking through megaphone

Crisis Communication – How to Communicate To Your Customers During COVID-19

Audio Version — 6:51

The Covid-19 pandemic caught many businesses, specifically B2B firms, unprepared to manage a crisis of its magnitude. Addressing supply chain challenges, customer support, and customer communication proved toilsome, especially for businesses without a crisis communication plan.

Due to COVID-19 and lack of preparedness, many B2B firms found that customers were switching to other suppliers for various reasons. Having a communication plan does not guarantee that B2B customers would stay with their primary supplier. However, it does help reduce the firm’s churn rate if customers receive sufficient and timely communication about how the business manages its operations, employees, and supply chain during a crisis. In other words, communication is crucial in letting your customers know your operational plans to make informed business decisions that reduce the impact of their operations. 

When silence ensues, trust issues develop, and eventually, the customer looks for other suppliers that can help fill the void. Thus, B2B firms need a communication strategy in play when a crisis occurs, regardless if it’s a small crisis or one on a macro scale like the current pandemic.

Crisis Communication

A time of intense difficulty or danger defines a crisis. The Covid-19 Pandemic has proven to be both dangerous and challenging for people, families, and businesses. 

crisis communication illustration of man talking on computer screen.Each firm experiences its crisis and must communicate to its customers differently, based on their current circumstances. For example, a manufacturer’s raw material supply chain may be disrupted and may not produce products for distribution to retail customers. Another B2B firm may experience employees working remotely for the first time and experience technical and organizational logistic challenges. In either scenario, the company’s process is disrupted and may impact customers. Regardless, to maintain trust, keep customer confidence, and continue operating under a crisis effectively, the company must communicate its challenges and plan to manage the situation while still serving the customers’ needs.

There are three steps to take in identifying the crisis before a firm can create a communication strategy. They must understand their unique situation by:

 

  1. Identifying the crisis and controlling the narrative:
    A company must first acknowledge that they have a dilemma. Ignoring or denying a problem may worsen the situation. Additionally, to keep customers, vendors, or possibly the media (for more substantial firms) from creating rumors, the company experiencing the crisis needs to control the narrative of what is occurring so that outside entities do not spread misinformation.
  2. Isolate your crisis:
    1. If your organization is experiencing challenges in one part of the business, isolate the crisis to just that area.
    2. Get ahead of the situation by communicating quickly to employees to keep them from spreading untruths about the company to customers and competitors.
    3. Explain what the company is doing about the challenges and how and when the company plans to solve them.
  3. Manage the crisis:
    Regardless of how small or large your crisis is, if you identified the situation, isolated it, then managing the crisis should be simple. Suppose your organization does not have a Communications Director, as many small to mid-sized B2B firms do not. In that case, you will need to assign the role to someone who can manage the situation, answer questions, and direct communication to outbound channels for customers.

What Should You Communicate to Customers During COVID-19?

Now that you have identified the crisis your firm faces, isolated it to the relevant department or process, and are managing the situation; It’s a good idea to know what customers want to know about how the business is handling COVID-19 or any other crisis. Below are some popular questions customers have about how businesses are managing their operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Popular Questions Customers Have About Businesses Handling COVID-19:

  • Explain how the leadership team plans to keep customers and employees safe from contamination if customers are required to visit the workplace or employees must be present at the worksite and are not working remotely.
  • If your organization produces products, specifically food or medication, or vitamins, explain the process of how the organization is keeping the products safe.
  • Identify any potential delays in products or services and how management plans to manage the uncertainties.
  • How is the organization managing any potential outbreaks and staff shortages?
  • What communication channels customers can use to receive updates and contact customer service.

Download five FREE customer crisis communication letter templates!

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Channels Used to Communicate with Your Customers

crisis communication illustration - communication channelsTo create the most impact with your crisis communication, you need to determine where and how your customers are receiving your company communication. Do your customers receive a company newsletter? Are they active on social media sites, or do they visit your company website to get their information? You will want to deploy your message over several communication channels, such as your company website and a social media page such as Facebook. If you send out a company newsletter, that would be an excellent place to share your crisis communication.

Here are a few communication channels to consider when deploying your message:

  • Email
  • Social media
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • LinkedIn
    • YouTube
  • Company website
  • Newsletter
  • Regular mail
  • Press Releases

Conclusion

When faced with a crisis that impacts your operations, like COVID-19, you would benefit from having a crisis communication strategy. You first want to identify the crisis, then develop a plan to control the narrative so that misinformation does not paralyze your organization. Next, isolate the crisis, meaning localize it to just the impacted area of your business and get ahead by quickly communicating the crisis to employees and how you are handling it to stop any potential rumors. Finally, manage the crisis. If you identify and isolate the crisis, then managing it should be easy.

Once you have accomplished the central parts of crisis management, you will need to select the high-value channels to communicate your message to customers. Communication channels may include but are not limited to email, your website, social media sites, and even regular mail.

Acting quickly, communicating honestly and effectively with a plan may reduce brand damage and keep customers from abandoning your business.

 

Young men and women gathering around looking at a cell phone - customer engagement marketing

Customer Engagement Marketing to Grow Your Brand

Audio Version — 6:45

To improve your customer engagement strategies, “Ask not how you can sell, but how you can help.”
-Kellogg School of Management

 

Mass Marketing: Marketing from the Past

Customer Engagement Article Hand Sketch of mass media marketingIf you do not have a customer engagement marketing strategy, you may miss out on opportunities to build your brand and grow your business. 

Businesses engaging their customers are actively involved in customer relationship management. In other words, they are improving their brands effectively and quicker by managing their relationships with customers. Companies that operate under the “old way” of marketing are not effective at managing customer relationships and thus miss the mark in gaining valuable custom insights through customer engagement.

The way companies market in the past was a one size fits all strategy. The old way included mass marketing brands to broad segments of consumers. It’s sort of like casting a wide net into the ocean, hoping to catch a few fish, and as we have all heard by now, “hope is not a strategy.” At least I “hope” you have heard that quote.

The mass marketing approach created challenges for brands. Marketers had limited channels for customer involvement if any, and brands had little interest in customer involvement. Direct customer communication was practically non-existent, and marketers missed opportunities to profoundly and intimately engage with their customers’ needs and wants. Also, non-existent with the old marketing method was collecting any customer data or sentiment toward a brand and its products. Firms could not capture those insights that could improve customer service or new product ideas, like Cake pops and Pumpkin Spice latte products that consumers created on Starbucks customer engagement platforms

Customer Engagement Marketing

The internet and mobile devices gave rise to a new marketing paradigm known as customer engagement marketing. Customer engagement marketing nurtures direct and continuous customer involvement in shaping brand conversations, experiences, and community. Customer engagement marketing leads to brands creating meaningful brand stories to make the brand a significant part of consumers’ conversation and life. A great example of customer engagement marketing is the Dove brand.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign targets women of all ethnicities and allows them to directly engage via Dove’s social media pages.

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign, a video depicting how women view themselves and how others see them, launched in 2013 and has received almost 69-million views on their YouTube channel. The campaign video has generated conversations from thousands of consumers that range from positive to negative responses. By allowing consumers a platform to voice their opinions through their social media channels, Dove can gain valuable insights about their consumers and provide a medium for consumers to engage with the brand. Dove’s customer engaged marketing makes the brand a meaningful part of the consumers’ conversation and lives.

What Drives Customer Engagement Marketing?

Ever since Tim Burns Lee created the first graphical web browser in 1991, businesses began populating the internet with their web pages. As consumers started to shop online and social media took root, consumers became better informed about brands. They were more connected and empowered as consumers because they had a platform to voice their likes, dislikes, and opinions about brand products. Social media took away the power of marketing from brands and handed it to consumers. In turn, brands are engaging customers in ways that help forge and share their brand experiences.

Because consumers are more empowered than before, brands need to create market offerings and messages that engage consumers and not interrupt them as they once did with the mass marketing approach. Brands need to listen to customer sentiment and provide feedback as needed. Companies can do so through various customer engagement platforms, such as:

  • Social media sites: LinkedIn and Facebook
  • Microblogs: Twitter and Instagram
  • Video: Youtube
  • Blogs: Your company blog
  • Mobile apps: Most social brands have apps that allow customer engagement
  • Consumer-generated review systems: Yelp

All of the above platforms help brands entice customer engagement on a personal, interactive level.

 

The Key to Customer Engagement Marketing

There is no magic formula for customer engagement marketing. The key is to find ways to enter target consumers’ conversations with engaging and relevant brand messages. Merely posting a random, funny video, creating a social media page, and not staying consistent with posts, or hosting a blog isn’t enough. Marketing managers need to understand their customers and the high target value social sites where their customers congregate.

Offer Real Value

An excellent place to start is to offer customers real value. Rather than providing only product information, create meaningful content that adds value to your customer’s life. For content to be valuable, the brand needs to connect to that content legitimately. Looking back at the Dove Real Life Sketches example, the brand can legitimately connect with the content. Dove produces beauty products, and women buy those products, and the campaign speaks to women about their perception of beauty.

Inspire People

Customers want accurate information and education about brands, but they also wish to be inspired. Airbnb’s Cheers to Ten Years of Hosting video inspires its customers while providing informational content. 

Provide Entertainment Value

A brand can inform and inspire, but it also needs to entertain. The “stickiness” of a brand’s engagement message comes from its entertainment value. The stronger the entertainment value, the more your customer will remember and get engaged. Take a look at Always’ inspiring yet entertainment video for their #likeagirl campaign. They deliver a powerful message that informs, educates, inspires, and entertains.

Be Consistent

You can have the best intentions as a brand, but if you are not consistent in delivering your message, your customers will not engage with your brand. Develop a brand engagement calendar that includes content posting days and times and your company’s communication channels to engage customers.

 

Remember, not everyone wants to engage deeply or regularly with every brand. Successful customer engagement marketing means making relevant and genuine contributions to target consumers’ lives and interactions. For customers that want to engage, you will gain valuable insights. Your content will reinforce your brand story and message for customers who do not wish to engage with your brand.