It isn’t easy to know what to say during a crisis, whether it’s the COVID-19 pandemic, a wildfire, hurricane, or any other life-altering event. Saying nothing can seem uninformed or callous, and saying the wrong thing can come off as tone-deaf or (even worse) taking advantage of the situation. Saying the right thing or reaching out with sincere help will strengthen your relationship with your customers.
Here are some recommendations for communicating with your customers during a crisis.
General Guidelines for Communicating
- Be honest and genuine.
- Be there for your customers. They’ll remember the positive, thoughtful interactions they had when they needed it most.
- Support or provide links to valid sources of information.
- Don’t make jokes. While we do need levity to help us through hard times, it can very easily come off as making light of the situation.
- Don’t share opinions, beliefs, or any information not backed by experts.
Crafting Your Message
Before you start communicating with your customers it’s important to have a clear and accurate message that shows your concern and empathy for the situation at hand. Here are a few questions you can use to write your message.
- Do you know how your customers are feeling?
- Do you know what your customers care about right now—what they might be trying to accomplish?
- Does what your business is saying (and doing) support your customer’s feelings and goals?
What about promotions?
It can be tricky to know how to handle promotions during a crisis. While it’s ok to run them, you want to make sure it doesn’t feel like you’re using the crisis as a marketing ploy.
- Consider discounting your products or making some services free, especially if you sell a product/service people really need right now.
- Think about offering supporting content for free, like videos and how-to’s.
- Handle interactions with care. People will be more stressed than usual, and you can be the one place they find calm and support.
- Sleep on it, if you need to. If you still aren’t sure whether your promo is ok or might be insensitive, that might be a sign that it’s pushing the line. Is it worth the risk?
- Raise prices.
- Run a promo just because it’s your usual sale. “Business as usual” can come off as insensitive, especially if the crisis is on a global scale. Adjust your messaging.
- Use the crisis as the campaign theme.
You might only need to send out one or two emails during a crisis or you might need to send out several updates as the situation changes. However, when you do communicate through email, it’s important that you are honest and clear with your customers as it pertains to your business.
Communicating Through Email:
- Make it clear you understand the impact of the crisis.
- Share any changes in business hours, shipping times, and any orders customers have made. If there is no change to your current schedule, make that messaging clear.
- How you are adapting to keep yourself, any employees, and your community safe.
- Be empathetic, let know you’re thinking of them and if you are unable to continue providing services due to the current crisis.
- Share social media channels you’re using for communication.
- Give an email or directed page where they can reach out to you with questions.
- Communicate you’re here for them and if you can continue providing services.
- Provide links to helpful resources on your website or reliable information about the crisis.
Run any pre-scheduled emails through the tone test as mentioned earlier. When in doubt, delay the email until a better time. It’s vital that you don’t confuse or misinform your customers as it could impact your business.
For example, throughout our time in quarantine, Chewy.com has been sending out regular email updates to help their customers who are dependent on their services for pet supplies and medications. Their emails have detailed their efforts to keep up with an increased amount of orders at the start of quarantine and how customers can get important orders a few weeks ahead of schedule. These emails let their customers know they were thinking about them in every possible way, right from the start. Along with regular updates to their customers, they sent out a bigger message about the pandemic as shown below.
Social Media Tips
Consider creating a primary post with your most important business information. Facebook and Twitter have a “pin to my feed” option so your customers can quickly see your most important post. Strike a balance—let customers know you’re there, but don’t inundate them with excess information.
What You Can Communicate Through Social:
- Thoughts and support for your customers.
- Changes in your business operations: hours, shipping times, etc.
- Changes in your products or services.
- Safety updates, community updates. Make sure any information shared comes from valid sources.
- Promotions, sales, or offers that help your customers.
If you are using any social media scheduling tools it’s important to review any scheduled posts before they go live. You don’t want to seem tone-deaf or that you are pushing any type of agenda during a crisis. Rewrite or hold off on any promotions or posts that might come off as insensitive.
Social Media Example
Our Bluehost customer, DogFit Dallas, had to adapt their business model since they were unable to train animals or take on new clients due to the shelter-in-place order. DogFit Dallas used their Instagram to let customers know that their business is staying safe, following guidelines, and providing virtual services so customers can continue to get support while they are at home:
Your website might be the first place customers look for information. Think about adding a banner or headline to your home page. This can redirect them to a new page with dedicated messaging or simply let them know of any business updates you may have.
Short homepage banner
This messaging is short, inside a banner across your homepage. Include a business-related statement and a personal statement. For example: “Our physical store is closed, but our online store is still open. Please stay safe!”
Your banner can link to a longer, more personal message on another page of your website.
Longer Homepage Message
Use a longer message on your homepage if you need to share detailed information or instruction related to the crisis and its impact. You can leave this up for a week or so, and then pull the message into a page and link to it from a homepage banner. This longer message can include your personal statement, your business-related statement, and helpful links for customers. If you included any crisis-related information like government resources, DIY content, or stress-relieving tips, make sure you are linked to credible sources.
Things to Communicate on Your Website
- Changes in hours of operation, production, shipping, etc.
- Changes to product and services.
- Support and empathy for and with your customers.
- Updated contact information.
- Links to your social media.
- Links to helpful, validated sources of information about the crisis.
A great example of how to use a banner on your website was done by our customer, Kings Avenue Tattoo, who posted a link on their homepage during the COVID-19 pandemic. The link drives to a page on their website with a message that shares changes to their business operations, ways to communicate with them, and hope that all mandates being enforced will help slow the spread. Their messaging is kind, empathetic, and informative.
While these tips work during a crisis, they also lay the foundation of how you can talk to your customers about any big business changes you might have at any time. It’s important to remain empathetic, supportive, and acknowledge that you are aware of how the crisis is impacting your customers.