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How to Crisis Communicate Your Business Updates During COVID-19


Cast your mind all the way back to January 2020 and how business-as-usual things were. How utterly strange is the situation we are living in. Over a matter of days and weeks, we find ourselves working from home, heavily restricted in who we can see (unlimited numbers at Friday night Zoom drinks with colleagues though), limited in our movements, and as for business - well, it’s been turned on its head.


What our customers and audience need (and want) at this time is different, what we as businesses can offer has changed, and people’s financial situation has been put under the spotlight. When things are turned on their head, life goes on, but with a certain ‘crisis comms’ filter.


To help you communicate with customers during this time, we’ve scoped down seven suggestions that will point you in the right direction.


Communication is key, always, but particularly now.

It’s not a time to leave customers in the dark - whether your business has been completely upheaved or not. It’s important your customers are well informed and relevantly updated throughout this process.


What are you offering them?


What are the changes to your business and how will it affect your customers?


That is first and foremost what’s important to relay. Maybe there’s limited changes, but you need to advise your audience on things to keep in mind (e.g. delays in delivery, change of in-store protocol, updated ways to connect). Perhaps it’s something more - a huge upheaval even (more on this below). Whatever the changes are, don’t keep customers in the dark, communicate immediately and keep language clear and concise.


Many businesses are using this time to offer an extension to trial deadlines, provide a free subscription or special gift. Again, be clear about both what you’re offering and how your audience can take up the offer. It’s no time for complications or convoluted messaging.


Not with the intention to contradict our first point, but it’s important to avoid information overload.


Make people feel good.

Is there something unexpected you can surprise and delight your audience with? Maybe it’s something super in line with what your business offers, but perhaps it’s a little more abstract - something to keep their brain and body active while they’re social distancing or isolated. Think about what you can offer and go forth and communicate it with your audience.


Sharing bad news.

Be open about your own challenges during this time. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing - but remain professional, stick with your brand voice and values, and communicate what’s needed with transparency. There’s a lot of unknowns so it’s best to underpromise and overdeliver to manage your customer’s expectations and maintain their respect and business.


If cancellations are involved, be as clear as crystal as you can in sharing this unfortunate news. It’s a time for honesty, and perplexing communications around cancellations simply won’t be tolerated by your audience.


What positivity can you share?

Share the love - if your business is having a particular set of challenges that precludes you from offering a service or product, your customers would appreciate knowing what other options are out there to satisfy what they need.


If you’re a physiotherapist but don’t have the ability to convert your appointments online/over the phone, refer your clients to a physiotherapist that can. If you’re a pasta restaurant but have needed to shut your doors, share your favourite recipe with customers and run a photo competition on social media encouraging them to follow your recipe and share it with others.


People will want to remember the joyful and positive experiences that come out of this - and they’ll come back to you when it’s over.


Review what's in the pipeline.

If you have a schedule of automated emails, it’s vital that you pause and review these now before any more go out. The information in them may now be irrelevant, unnecessary or cause more confusion than it aims to solve.


Similarly with any scheduled social media posts or upcoming advertising. Do an audit of everything you have in the pipeline and do a COVID-19 sanity check - is this information still useful and applicable for my customers? Amend accordingly, and review regularly as things are changing very quickly.


What not to do - Don’t speak out of line.

Early on during Australia’s response to COVID-19, a Sydney real estate agent sent an email to his database titled ‘Coronavirus health information’, with an attachment from an apparent health professional. Not only did it provide factually incorrect information about symptoms and responses in people based on their age, but it went on to provide a witch doctor’s worth of health advice including “Over the next 2 to 10 days, get extra sleep, keep extra intermittent fasting, get acupuncture…”. Other advice includes self-acupuncture, saline gut flush and taking less than 10ml of brandy as a medicine every three to four hours during the day.


It’s not a real estate agent’s place to message his database with unsolicited advice, and it only puts people’s noses out of joint. This was clear when the agent in question sent a ‘Retraction and Apology’ email a mere three hours later confirming his information “contradicts mainstream medical advice”, and promising to remove all those who requested removal from his database to do so.


What can we learn about this unfortunate communication exchange?


Avoid including information on irrelevant COVID-19 updates. You’re not the Health Minister (unless you are, then ignore this point), you’re not the media (unless you are, then ditto - ignore this point). There’s only a need to communicate points that are relevant to helping your customers solve their problems. That’s what you’re good at - so keep at it.


In conclusion

Stay positive. Acknowledge the situation, but keep your eyes up and look forward for the sake of your customers. People are craving (relative) normalcy. They also demand respectful and meaningful communication.

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