We are being bombarded with constant news updates, misinformation, and drastic changes to our daily lives. Just as individuals are facing enormous amounts of stress during this time, businesses of all shapes and sizes are tackling vast issues, and no industry is immune—food and beverage, beauty services, hotels and casinos, grocery and retail, and the list goes on. No matter what type of business you’re in, communication is key. How you communicate with both internal and external stakeholders will determine how you come out of this crisis. Don’t know where to begin? Read on for your guide to communicating in a crisis, like the one we are currently facing.
During a time of crisis, it’s important to communicate exactly what you are doing, every step of the way. Being open and transparent will make customers and employees feel protected and more comfortable. If processes have changed, let them know how they can access your products or services. For example:
- What precautions are you taking to keep your place of business safe? Have you stepped up your cleaning and sanitizing procedures? Are you encouraging customers to stand six feet apart from each other? Are you asking customers to order and pay in advance for less touchpoints? Are employees wearing gloves or other personal protective equipment (PPE)?
- Have you implemented new operations? Are you offering a new contactless delivery service or curbside pickup? Do you have modified hours of operation? Are you limiting the number of customers in the store?
- What are you doing for your employees? Is your team able to work remotely? If you are forced to pause operations, are you still able to compensate your employees? What is your employee sick leave policy?
- If you had any events scheduled, are they cancelled, postponed or rescheduled? Will you hold the event online? How can people receive refunds?
These are all questions that your customers will have, so try to be as detailed and transparent as you can and address their concerns right off the bat.
Stick to the facts and concisely state what you/your business is doing. In a public health crisis like the one we are in, follow the guidelines of the public health experts and when it comes to information about the virus itself, defer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). Don’t draw your own conclusions or speculate to add to the already overwhelming amount of misinformation.
Don’t wait until you have all the data about the crisis to communicate—focus on what you do know. Your employees and customers want to hear from you sooner rather than later. Keep it simple, easy to digest, and address your stakeholders early on in the crisis to reassure them that you are being proactive. As new information comes to light continue to communicate in a timely manner.
Your messaging should be coordinated across all platforms which includes website, email, social media, on-site signage, and anywhere else you communicate about your business. As you are implementing new operations, you don’t want to confuse your customers with different messages. What you say externally to the public should align with what you say internally to your employees.
Things are changing day-by-day and hour-by-hour. Closely monitor the landscape as it changes. Stay on top of what public health experts are saying, what government officials are mandating, and how it affects your business. As the situation evolves and your operations shift, make sure to continue to communicate any adjustments to your business so everyone is on the same page. Keep the lines of communication open so your customers get updates often.
Your top priority should be the health and safety of your staff and customers, and that should come across in your communications. Additionally, you should recognize what others are going through in this tough time, and that should be reflected in your tone. Think about what your business could do to help others in your community. Can you donate food to healthcare workers? Can you make supplies like hand sanitizer or masks?
Be thoughtful and sensitive to the current climate and adjust planned marketing messages. The social media posts, emails, or ads you had scheduled prior to the pandemic might not make sense or be appropriate anymore. Act fast to change your messaging or imagery so it doesn’t come off as tone-deaf. For example, images that show in-person interaction aren’t appropriate since social distancing has been implemented. Additionally, if you run a restaurant and had social media posts scheduled about dining in, but you’ve since transitioned to delivery only, you’ll want to make sure those posts indicate that. Revise what you can to ensure your messaging is accurate and in line with the current climate.
How are you overcoming challenges and adapting to keep your business going during this time? A restaurant, for example, may consider making family-style meals or offering pantry staples like flour and eggs which are hard to get at the stores. If you are a hairstylist, consider providing DIY hair color kits. Bars should consider selling DIY cocktail kits. If your business is forced to temporarily close, it’s important that you still communicate with your customer base. Utilize social media platforms to post videos about how to make a favorite cocktail recipe at home, share a workout that your gym members can do in their living room, or simply share content that will brighten the day of those who are stressed. Since you can’t see them in person, stay in regular contact with your customers so that they won’t forget about you when this is all over.
When communicating with your customers and employees, continue to be the brand you’ve always been and communicate in the same tone of voice. Authenticity goes a long way. All business owners and executives are being forced to make hard decisions right now, be open about why you are making these decisions and don’t try to cover anything up. Being vulnerable about the uncertainty you’re facing makes you and your business more human. We are all going through this together and it is a chance for you to connect with your employees, customers, and community.
Customers and employees alike will have questions during this time. Be available to answer their questions, assure them of what you are doing, and continue to update them on what the future holds! Responsiveness indicates that you hear them and have genuine concern.
Navigating a crisis of this magnitude is overwhelming for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Hopefully these guidelines will help you craft your communications during this trying time to keep your employees and customers in the loop and supportive of you. Just remember to keep communicating—we’ll get through this!