Over the last week we’ve seen how quickly Covid-19 advice, rules and regulations can change.
When those changes impact your business, your communication and engagement with your customers needs to be just as swift.
In the midst of change it can be hard to know what to say, and how to say it. And in the moment, when your inbox and DMs start to fill up, it is almost impossible to find the space and time you need to figure it all out.
It is possible to communicate bad or disappointing news to your customers while also strengthening their brand loyalty to you.
Allow us to extend a (thoroughly washed and sanitised) virtual hand and walk through the process with you, step-by-step.
Buy yourself some time
If changes to Covid-19 guidance will have an impact on your business and customers – be that delays to orders or cancellations – then the first step is to buy yourself a little bit of time.
A statement on your website and social media channels to say that you are aware of the changes, are assessing the impact and will share more details very shortly has many benefits beyond giving you some much needed breathing space.
Here’s an example – feel free to use a starting point for your own statement/post.
Following the updated guidance on (insert detail) I/we am/are working hard to understand what, if any, impact the change will have on your order/booking/appointment. Please bear with me/us while I/we complete that work and investigate all options available to complete your order as soon as possible. I/we will provide a further update here/via email in the next 24 hours.
It shows that you are informed, in control, and taking action. And, while the two things are obviously related, it also shows your customer that what you are focused on is them and their order, rather than you and your profits.
Get into the right mindset
Now we want you to take a breath.
As always, we want you to think about how you are communicating with yourself before you start to think about how you will communicate with others. Because that voice in your head will influence the tone and language of everything you write next. So let’s make sure it is saying the right things.
If the changes in guidance are going to negatively impact your business of course you will be disappointed, angry and upset. So get that out of your system first. Scream, cry, rage against those making the changes. Whatever it takes. But do it offline and in the privacy of your own space.
Don’t take this anger onto your website, or emails, or business social media.
Face the facts
Grab a pen or open up your computer and start with the facts. What is the impact of the change?
Will you have to delay deliveries, cancel orders, or appointments?
Look at each of these facts in turn. Are there any that you could find a workaround for? A different supplier, a different courier, an alternative way to deliver your services, for example.
Of the things left on your list that are inevitable, what options do you have? What is your refund policy? What discount could you offer (on future purchases) to compensate for the delay that could persuade customers not to cancel their order/appointment?
Add value by keeping it brief
For a long time people have been information rich and time poor. The pandemic has amplified that. Yes your customer will want to know about their order/booking/appointment with you, but (unless you are their wedding or other major life event venue) it is likely that they will also be preoccupied by the impact of the Covid-19 changes elsewhere in their lives.
So add maximum value by only communicating what is relevant.
For example, if you have to delay shipping their order because one of your suppliers has to temporarily close, the reality might read something like this:
As a result of the change in Covid-19 guidance relating to X, our main supplier, who is based in TOWN, has had to temporarily close its operations. As a result they won’t be able to deliver our supplies of X, Y or Z. And because we won’t have those supplies it means that we won’t be able to start making your order. We don’t know when they are going to reopen which means that we don’t know when we’ll be able to sort your order. When you placed your order you agreed to our terms and conditions which includes our refund policy. So you could apply for a refund if you like. Or we can proceed with your order as soon as our current supplier reopens or when we have found an alternative supplier.
When all your customer needs to know is:
The recently announced change in X guidance has disrupted our supply of Y, which means that your current order of Z will be delayed. We are working hard to identify an alternative supplier and thank you for your patience. We’ll send you an update on day/date but please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time via email/telephone. If you would prefer to apply for a refund please click here.
Mind your language
It is always useful to remember that your customers are real people. And to put yourself in their shoes when drafting any communication. And write your communication (whether it is a statement on your website or a short social media post) from a position of wanting to help them.
If you believe that they will be worried, use reassuring language.
If you believe the they will be confused about what to do, use clear and instructional language.
If you believe that they will be frustrated or angry, use empathy.
Reflecting what your audience is feeling helps to build rapport and trust.
Read your planned communication out loud and change anything that isn’t easy to read (if you can’t easily read it then chances are your customer won’t be able to easily understand it), and change anything that just feels wrong or ‘off’.
Go to them
Now that you know what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it, take your message to your customer (via your website, social media or email, whichever is most appropriate for your business). Don’t wait for them to come to you.
We hope that if you are in the midst of responding to the changing Covid-19 guidance that this has been useful. And that if you aren’t currently impacted that this helps you to prepare now, ahead of time, so that if a future change does impact your business, you are ready to respond quickly.
Until next week,
Lucy and Emma