Time to Press the Pause Button?

Advice for Customer Engagement in a crisis

In the space of a few weeks we have found ourselves suddenly living in the scenario of an apocalyptic disaster movie. Individuals have been struggling to come to terms with the changing circumstances and the impact on their lives; and businesses are facing challenges and strains that many would never have even considered possible. Customers are understandably apprehensive and fearful in the face of so much uncertainty:

  • will my family and I survive this from a health or financial perspective?
  • is this going to last for weeks or months?
  • what are the long-term impacts for my job or business?
  • what are the long-term impacts for society?

How brands and businesses behave during a time of crisis can have an enduring impact on their reputation and how customers perceive them. The principles of good customer engagement have not changed; but judging by the flurry of emails about Covid-19 landing in inboxes, many organisations are forgetting some of the basics in their rush to get messages out to consumers about what they are doing to adapt their business models during lockdown.

Now is a good time to stop, take a pause for breath and review what changes you may need to make to your customer engagement approach. Here’s a reminder of the principles to adopt as you review your strategy and activities.

1.Demonstrate Empathy

More than ever before, you need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. This requires ‘outside in’ thinking which many organisations struggle with at the best of times. In the midst of your business contingency planning, it might be tempting to think you need to keep communicating with your customers to remind them that you are still there. Your messages will fall on deaf ears if you do not reflect what their current concerns are likely to be.

The online clothing and footwear retailer Celtic & Co reflected this in an unusual approach:

“In these uncertain times we’ve been challenging ourselves to think about how we can support you, our customers, so we invite you for a chat. We’re here for you and we want you to know that you can call us, you can talk to us about anything you like, you don’t need to order a thing.”

It remains to be seen whether customers will actually take them up on this; but they stand out from the crowd for having made the offer.

2.Be Relevant

Whilst there is nothing more grating than a message that completely ignores what is going on in the world around us (witness this email from Microsoft), it is also extremely irritating to see the number of retailers bombarding their customers with messages about how their products are a ‘must-have’ for staying indoors! If you’re not sure, it’s better to press the pause button on outbound communications to give yourselves time to think about the timing and the messaging.

3.Manage Expectations

The service levels and availability of many businesses have been dramatically affected by the current circumstances. Proactively communicate what service levels customers can expect, and what changes you have made, and make this available on all channels.

A great example here is Ocado, which has been struggling to cope with the huge upsurge in demand and has introduced an online queuing system for its website.

4.Be Proactive

What steps can your organisation take to provide help and support for your customers at this time? Are there ways in which you can help them adapt to the current situation, or are there products or services you could offer that could help your customers maintain their wellbeing? What flexibility can you show that will help reduce anxiety? What reassurance can you provide, as BP did with this email (with a plug for their App which is relevant)?

5.Listen

Now is the time to really tune into your customers and understand their concerns so that you can adapt and tailor your messaging accordingly. You may even want to think about pausing your standard surveys at this time and find different ways of tuning into customer sentiment. What are the general themes on social media; in the contact centres; and on your web chat channels? Can you redeploy staff who are now working from home to capture this sentiment; or even proactively reach out to your customer base and check in with them?

Whilst we cannot know how long this situation will last, we do know that brands that behave with compassion and integrity are likely to strengthen their reputation with customers and earn their respect and loyalty. The basic principles of customer experience have never been more important.