The Coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down. The huge impact on life and work as we know it goes far beyond the sudden shift to working from home. Repercussions can be felt everywhere. Having good crisis communication skills is essential in this challenging time.
“Dealing with the reality of COVID-19 has taken us all by surprise,” acknowledges Simon Cooke, managing director of full-service digital agency BozBoz. “I can’t think of a single event in recent years that has forced so much change to agencies and businesses in general, in such a short period of time. The feeling is of shock, and realization that everything you relied on and all your priorities have been shaken to the core.”
This shock has led to a flood of coronavirus emails from all kinds of businesses. Although understandable, it’s questionable whether a lot of the messaging is necessary and how effective it will be. It’s a delicate balancing act—sure, you need to keep going, but you also don’t want to be seen as overselling your services.
What Is Crisis Communication?
Crisis communication refers to a guiding set of communication principles for a company or an individual during challenging times, emergencies, or unexpected events. This might involve creating a crisis communication plan, which can include instructions such as:
- The steps to take when a crisis first occurs
- How to communicate with the public and key stakeholders
- How to prevent the issue from occurring again
When it comes to crisis communications with your clients, by having solid guidelines in place, you:
- Are less affected by the challenging emotions going on, so you can think more rationally, and make better decisions
- Can act quickly
- Can maintain consistent messaging no matter who is talking with your client—whether it be you or one of your employees (if you have any)
The Dos and Don’ts Of Talking To Your Client In A Crisis
Alex O’Byrne, co-founder and director of Shopify Plus agency We Make Websites, put together a handy list of dos and don’ts to consider for your communication strategy.
Here’s what he recommends for client communication:
- Get in touch with your clients in a timely manner and regularly enough. When there’s a crisis, it’s important for them to know they have your support.
- Make a priority list of your clients (for example, a list of the clients who are the most hard hit), so your teams can spend their time wisely and effectively.
- Be transparent and let the client know of any changes on your side that may affect them.
- Be human. Reach out to your contacts on a personal level. Offer them an ear to talk to; it doesn’t necessarily need to be about the service you provide.
- Think of creative ways to help them during times of adversity. Could you offer a payment plan? Did you see a good response from another brand that you could share? Are there any quick wins you could offer?
- Stay true to your brand voice. It’s vital that you project the right tone during a crisis, while remaining true to the personality your clients have come to know.
- Don’t use the crisis to blatantly upsell or push a deal along. You can still sell, people will need your service, but do this ethically.
- Don’t limit yourself to your service offering. If a client asks for help with something, then help, or introduce someone who can help.
- Don’t send unnecessary communications. Make the strain of their inbox a little easier. Send concise emails with clear action points.
- Don’t expect to have all the answers. Your clients won’t either. The best thing you can do is provide consistency and figure it out together.
- Don’t lose sight of your values. It’s easy with so much going on, but your values are a key part of your customer relationships.
Let’s take a look at some of these in detail.
Keep Selling, But Use Empathy
Lauren Currie, CEO and co-founder of Stride, an organization aiming to democratize leadership development, believes there is a big difference between making money from a crisis and making money during a crisis.
“No business exists in a vacuum,” she points out. “You must keep going. Keep building. Keep promoting. Keep selling. But do so with thoughtfulness, self-awareness, and gentleness. Now ain’t the time to spam people with promotions for new ideas you have—stay true to what you know, what you’re known for, and the problem your customers trust you to solve for them.”