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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.

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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.