As the COVID -19 CoronaVirus grips the World and sends local and national economies into free-fall, now is not the time to quit communicating with your most important and valuable customers and stakeholders.
Arguably, communications from upon high have been mixed and unclear at best, lacking clarity and a commitment to public health goals above other factors. The messaging, the media and social media-chatterati has spawned numerous half truths, inaccuracies and downright lies. With politicians and business leaders contradicting each other, no wonder people are struggling to plan for the coming months.
Here are 4 basic steps to follow to right-set your communications with customers and key partners:
1. Pick an 'easy to access' voice and platform to communicate through.
Make it easy for people to hear what you have to say. Speak in a way which connects with your customers. Largely, the Government and Public Health bodies have failed to connect and communicate with citizens in clear and unambiguous language - talk of 'epidemiology' and 'preventative policy proposals' doesn't help Mom and Dad know what actions they should be taking. Nor does linking to a scientific report. Digital and Social Media offers us numerous platform choices which we can embrace. We advise clients to send an email or text to all your customers, suppliers, staff and partners with your first update, post it to your website and direct them to your Facebook or Twitter account for updates and announcements. Be consistent in the frequency and style of communications you are making to all audiences, remember people will share this across groups and you don't want to create more confusion with mixed messages.
2, Stay Factual and Contest Inaccuracies
The web and social media are alive with all kinds of conspiracy theories and falsehoods. Only share facts and links verified by official channels - in this case CDC or local Public Health bodies.
You also need to focus on the important and relevant information your customers, partners and suppliers need to know about your business - opening times, cancellation policies, contact details, etc. Create an FAQ post for the most pertinent information and updates. If inaccuracies about your business are made, challenge them immediately with facts and corrections, directling audeinces to your page or posts.
3. Have a Plan
While there is still a lot of uncertainty, put a plan in place even if you have to make changes to it as the situation evolves. Tell your customers what they can expect going forward - 'we are closed until April 30th', 'we will only be providing 'to-go' service', 'we are not taking any new bookings for the month of May until further notice'. If these are circumstances you have planned for it is important you let staff, partners and suppliers know so they can make appropriate plans too.
4. Be Honest and Open
This is a difficult time for businesses and organisations everywhere. Trying to sugar-coat or pretend the risks aren't there is not only wrong it will damage your reputation in the long run. Businesses which try to capitalise on the situation, whether by price gouging, hoarding or storing, or simply putting profit before the safety and wellbeing of staff and customers will be called out quickly.
There is no doubt this is a live crisis situation for all. If you have prepared ahead and have a crisis plan ready and are looking to activate it, 98Republic can help. If you haven't put these steps in place yet, it isn't too late and we can work with you to set up a suitable crisis response solution now.
Martin Liptrot runs 98RepublicPR.com, a communications, public relations and marketing agency. He has lead global Crisis Communications, Reputation Management and Stakeholder Engagement programs for some of the World's biggest corporations and can bring these skills to scale for your business. Contact Martin@98republicpr.com