How to speak to your customers during a crisis

By Claire Reynolds, Head of PR at Tank on

The last three months have turned our world upside down. At the time of writing, lockdown is starting to gradually ease, but the pandemic is still very much a global health crisis and it has changed how we live, shop, socialise and do business for the foreseeable future. 

But how do you speak to your audience during this time of crisis? And what happens if you have a crisis, in a crisis?

Florist with face mask taking payment

As we are spending far more time away from colleagues and loved ones, the way we connect with people online has intensified, and social media channels are reporting increases in engagement and users across the board. We want to be connected to the outside world, maybe now more than ever.

If you’re a business which is grappling with how to speak to your audience right now, there are certainly some occasions when communication is necessary. Obviously this differs according to sector but there are potentially lots of reasons:

  • Change of operating hours – It could be that your organisation will be changing its opening hours in line with lockdown easing – it’s important you let your customers know that. 
  • Sensitivity issues – You might have some customers who are more susceptible to change, for example a therapist providing support to clients. 
  • Covid impact – It could be that you’re still open but how you are working has changed – are you selling online? Are you offering your services remotely?
  • Business as usual – Maybe you’re an ecommerce brand which is operating business as usual. Luckily for you, Covid hasn’t made too much of an impact. 
  • One-on-one – As well as general announcements and information, it’s likely you’ll need to respond to queries (or complaints) on a one-to-one basis too. 

What not to say

It’s important too to know when to STOP talking; if you are only speaking up because you feel like you should or because everyone else is, think again. If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it. 

Equally, there is enough doom and gloom out there without unrelated brands trying to weigh in on a topic which they know nothing about. I share a couple of examples of how brands are doing this in the webinar. 

So, now you’ll have an idea of why you might NEED to speak to your audience during this crisis, but what else can you say to them, and how else could you help them?

This is an exercise in thinking laterally.

For example – yes a leisure centre might not be open right now, but could it provide online classes for its membership? Or, as people might not be spending so much money in boutique designer clothing stores, could you offer online mending workshops for people to fix items of clothing? 

If you’re still stumped – ask your audience. If they are already supportive of your business, they might have some great ideas. 

How do you want to be seen, and remembered?

When considering tone of voice and how to speak to your customers, it pays to think about how you want to be perceived both now and after the Covid-19 pandemic has eased. We all can think of companies which haven’t behaved fairly during this time or have seemingly ignored the fact that this is a health crisis as well as an economic one – imagine this kind of boycott en masse. 

Yes, organisations may have bad news to deliver, and they will not be the first to announce refunds or  redundancies, but there are certainly better ways of communicating with your audience throughout the bad times as well as the good. 

Honesty, clarity and humanity should be the tone you aim for. 

A crisis in a crisis

Just because there is a global pandemic, doesn’t mean your customer service goes out of the window. 

Perhaps a customer has complained as a delivery hasn’t turned up, maybe someone has been overcharged or a product or service is faulty. 

In these instances, you’ve got a crisis in a crisis.

In the webinar, I talk through how to deal with a communications crisis, and some pointers to consider before you respond. 

If you’ve liked what you’ve read and would like to hear more, watch the CMA webinar again here and find out:

  • How we are staying in touch during Covid-19
  • Why talk to your customers (and why not)?
  • What should you say (and what not to say)?
  • Working out your tone of voice
  • Think about perception
  • Which channels to use
  • A crisis in a crisis – and how to handle it 

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