Jonathan Ryan – June 1, 2020
Shutdowns, furloughs, store closures and supply chain stresses are some of the complex issues businesses are dealing with since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world.
As a partial lifting of lockdowns in Australia begins and governments around the world look to restart floundering economies, your business needs to start considering its next move.
First and foremost is communication. Smart businesses have been keeping in touch with customers throughout lockdown, to maintain engagement at home. It’s just as critical to keep customers informed about your reopening efforts or transition to normal services.
It will no doubt be a gradual process that can’t be rushed, but here are our tips to set yourself up for success.
It’s imperative to let people know what your ‘new normal’ will look like. There won’t be any specific template that all businesses adhere to – and based on the government’s three-phase plan it’s likely that each sector will need to communicate different re-opening requirements to their customers.
For example, restaurants, pubs, and cafes will need to communicate reduced seating capacity to comply with the 4 square metre distancing rules. Menus might have been modified thanks to supply chain issues, with some only offering set menus or a limited offering. For those businesses who will continue offering contact free delivery or pick-up, reassuring customers that it will continue is equally important.
Retail stores will have changed opening hours depending on their location. They’ll also have to conform to social distancing requirements such as limits to in-store customer numbers, face mask requirements and limits on purchases. To avoid a line of unhappy customers waiting outside, a simple text message that alerts people of new rules and even offers them a time to swing by will go help to streamline this process.
The entertainment and travel industries will likewise need sustained and up-to-date communication with customers as circumstances keep changing. Touring acts might be forced to re-arrange concerts to different venues or offer to provide refunds to people who can no longer make the gig, while travel restrictions are being lifted for now but may shut down again if cases rise.
Acknowledging the difficulty of the situation and the long road ahead is important. People have been faced with unprecedented disruptions to their life. But keeping your comms positive and informative is key.
Empathise with your customers
Communicating change is one thing. Right now, you also have to consider the different circumstances of your customers to remain empathetic.
COVID-19 has impacted people around the globe to varying degrees. It’s possible that some customers may have lost loved ones, suffered from the virus themselves or had their incomes and lives impacted.
Brands need to remain cognisant of this when communicating. Messages should be used to brighten someone’s day or provide valuable information they need to make the decision about how they start re-engaging with your brand. This means using the channels they prefer, reducing the friction in your communications and not overdoing it.
That’s the key to an empathetic interaction. By providing a personalised service and keeping them at the centre of every interaction, you’re showing that they are the important element in the conversation. For example, you could send them a text when items they’ve purchased from you in the past are back in stock. Or pre-empt their need for certain information, like Virgin Trains in the UK, which sends texts with platform details before the station even announces it.
Re-engaging with lapsed customers
For any brand emerging from this period of enforced hibernation, engaging with your customers as quickly as you can is hugely important, particularly bricks-and-mortar retailers. If a customer hasn’t stepped foot in your stores for months, they might need a reason to walk through the door again.
Use your communications to get front of mind with customers and include a hook to gain their interest immediately while providing an incentive for them to get in touch.
Offers such as 2 for 1s, discounts, and competitions are all effective at getting lapsed customers back in the fold. Consider gyms and fitness centres that have been active with offers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even when physical locations have been closed. They’ve been using SMS to engage with customers who are missing their workouts by offering heavily discounted virtual classes. As things start to re-open, the smart move would be to offer personalised, discounted class prices following lockdown to entice customers back into the gym or studio.
Once the word of mouth kicks in and people start sharing the offers with friends and family, you’ll reach even more potential customers.
Timely, personalised mobile communication with your customers is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal to ensure success in this slow transition back to a new normal state. It makes them a part of the journey, keeps them informed, and is a direct channel from you to them.