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Communicating With Our Clients In Times of Crisis

We are learning more about the COVID-19 pandemic everyday and assessing what affect it has on our lives – professionally and personally. As an agency partner for our Clients, it is our job to help them solve problems. We are especially responsible for solving problems related to the relationships they have with their customers. So as we face these unprecedented challenges together, here is how we approach discussing CRM and digital marketing with our Clients to help them weather the storm.

How are you doing? 

Before we dive into any discussion about problem-solving or new ideas with Clients, we ask the most basic and most human of questions: How are you doing? Unlike other hardships in life where we may all experience trepidation at different times, with COVID-19 we’re all in this together. Our Clients are figuring out the balance of work from home, child care and staying healthy just like our team. If you’re as fortunate as we are, you have a great professional and personal relationship with your Clients. Now is a great time to engage that personal side, listen, and be empathetic. From there we have a good sense if our Client is ready to talk business or if they still need time to assess their own next steps.

Lean in or hunker down

Every crisis is different. In some situations a business can lean in to a problem because they have the solution. For example, during COVID-19 if you’re a grocery store, a delivery service, or an online video conferencing software company, you may be having a boom like never before. Other times they must hunker down and ride out the storm like event-related businesses, small “main street” shops or salons, or driving services. And for a third type of business, depending on their infrastructure, appetite for change, and a little imagination, they could pivot and find new ways to generate revenue during the crisis. A great example of this are restaurants, particularly ones in the full-service space that relied heavily on customers dining in. While some had take-out or delivery, they have now created a full business model revolving entirely around this type of service to customers.

Once we know our Client’s headspace and how their business is doing after the initial jolt of the crisis, we go through the pros and cons of leaning in or hunkering down.

Addressing the elephant in the room

Regardless of whether a Client’s business is operating as normal, pivoting or just hoping to survive during a crisis, one of the most important actions they must take is communicating clearly with their customers. The business can take one of two approaches when doing so: they can address the crisis head-on and what they are doing during it; or they can not address the issue at all and proceed as normal with their marketing (which according to research is not what consumers want). Like deciding whether to lean-in or hunker down, we go through the good and the bad of addressing a problem head on, bringing it into the conversation or leaving it out. We also go through how to deliver the message – letter from a senior exec or a local manager to demonstrate authority; special offers to ease a burden on the customer; donations to relevant charities; updates on how the company is managing through the crisis; proper imagery showing gloves or masks when handling food or holding items. These are some examples, but there is also an important caveat to the messaging a well. There is a thin line between being a solution for customers and empathizing with them, and being too opportunistic or too jovial. During this current COVID-19 pandemic we asked customers what resonated most with them to order take-out or pick-up from a particular business. The top two answers were directly related to how the restaurant was coping and how well they were reacting to the new standards of cleanliness. We discuss ways to toe that line in a means that works best for the industry and business. Overall the most important thing to do is keep talking to your customers. Keep them engaged and keep your business or brand at the top of their mind. The crisis will end and business will pick back up again.

Post-crisis planning

With the crisis marketing plan set, the last topic we discuss with our Clients is how to prepare for when the current crisis is over. With the COVID-19 pandemic there does appear to be an end in sight – it’s just a matter of when. And with this end there is likely to be an economic boom, particularly to the service businesses most affected currently. If they can survive they should be ready for an influx of people suffering a severe case of cabin fever. So the way we approach this with our Clients is by asking the question, “what can you do now to prepare?” Since business is slow there are some activities a business can do with the extra time. Examples include: professional development and training; onboarding of a new technology; a refinement of internal processes and standard operating procedures; or, a refresh of current marketing creative, messaging and tactics. Unless business is busier during the crisis than before, there is downtime and with that downtime comes opportunities for businesses to get out in front of their competition. Identifying and supporting those opportunities for our Clients is an important part of the service we provide as an agency partner.

Just Keep Talking

Above all else we keep the lines of communication open with our Clients at all times. Just as we recommend they keep their customers engaged and communicate clearly with them, we do the same with ours. We are here for them as much, if not more, than during normal times.

Andy Locke

Digital marketer, focused on CRM and Loyalty marketing, helping brands and businesses create more meaningful relationships with their customers. VP, Managing Director at Response Labs.

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