5 Communications Tips to Stay Afloat in a Coronavirus Business World
Novel coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19. No matter what you call it, it is rocking our world on all fronts. It’s a global health crisis that has come on like a tsunami, bringing waves of political, business, societal and personal challenges everywhere you turn. While many companies are scrambling to figure out what this means to them and do what’s right for their employees, their customers and their business, communicating what they’re doing has to be at the top of that priority list, too.
For some, “communications” typically means sending out an email. But you can’t just send out one email — or send an email that is focused solely on your company or product — and call it a day. Communicating this way makes you look insensitive and out of touch. That can cause a hit to your reputation that could be harder to recover from than not communicating at all (which we do not advise, by the way). But communicate information that matters to your audience in a timely fashion, and you’ll quickly earn valuable trust. So how do you do it the right way? Here are five tips.
- Identify ALL of your audiences and prioritize them
When considering your audiences in these tenuous times, you aren’t just talking to your customer or end user. You have a lot of audiences you now need to speak to — and through — on a daily basis. Employees are the lifeblood of your organization as well as your front line, so prioritize communications with them. Then decide who else is on your list. Do you have shareholders or board members you need to talk to? How about your supply chain, including suppliers, distributors and dealers? And of course, you have your direct customer or end user/consumer. Be sure to list every audience you have and prioritize how you will communicate with them.
- Put yourself in their shoes
Once you identify all of your audiences, you need to put yourself in their shoes. What is most important to them specifically? What do they value the most at this time? What are their fears and concerns? You have to understand where they’re coming from and what they expect from you, so you can communicate with them effectively.
Employees trust you with everything that’s important to them — their physical health and well-being when they’re on the job (and that of their families) as well as their financial health. So what measures are you taking to protect and safeguard them on the job? Are you cutting their hours? Will there be layoffs at a time when they also see their 401K plan take a nosedive with the stock market?
For customers purchasing actual products, they want to know they will have an ample supply (especially if it’s food) so their basic human needs are met and so their business can survive this weird time. Or they at least want to know the steps companies are taking to help make that supply available.
You don’t need all of these answers and you won’t have them unless you have a crystal ball, but you HAVE to understand what is a priority in their minds.
- Be human, relevant and transparent
When you do reach out to your audiences, acknowledge their feelings or concerns. In short, lead with basic human compassion and understanding. Be direct and to the point. Be transparent about what you know and about what you don’t know. This is an ever-changing situation, and we’re all trying to feel our way through this new normal. There’s a good chance you won’t know a lot of the answers — and that’s OK. Honestly, it would be weird if you did know them. But let your audiences know you understand, demonstrate how you are working on their behalf, and be genuine. People will appreciate it, and you’ll earn their trust.
On the flip side, if your communications are solely centered on your company and your products, you’ll lose your audience. How many emails have you received from companies in the last few weeks about what they are doing in response to coronavirus? Our inboxes are overflowing with them. Unfortunately, many of those emails have had a “me, me, me” tone, which was off-putting at best. The most effective emails were the short and sweet ones that acknowledged the challenges their audience was facing and how the company was helping THEM.
- Communicate often
When there’s uncertainty — and there’s a lot of that right now — people need to hear from you regularly. For example, is your supply chain still intact? Manufacturing keeping pace? Additional inventory getting pushed through the pipeline to meet customer needs? Let them know. If you don’t have updates or new information, remind your audiences of the information you do know and the processes you’ve employed to keep things moving. It shows that you are still there and working for them. If they have to ask you what’s going on, their trust in you is already starting to erode, so you need to right that ship right away.
- Be engaging
Being engaging doesn’t mean you have to be charming. It means your communication efforts should never just be top-down. Yes, you have things you want to communicate to your audiences, but you have to listen to them and engage in a dialogue. Nothing builds someone’s trust with you faster than when they realize you listened to their concerns and responded accordingly. It shows you care and want to help. And although you may not get an immediate sale from it, people reward you for earning their trust.
A crisis at any other time is an earthquake for the companies and their audiences alike, but the COVID-19 tsunami sees that earthquake and raises it with mountainous waves in every direction. It has devastated so much in such a short time as it crashes over everyone across the globe. It can get overwhelming to try and wrap your head around it, so your instincts may be to either hunker down and close off or promote the heck out of your company in effort to survive it. But now more than ever, effective and regular communications are critical so we can work together to get through these crazy times. If you need help navigating these uncharted waters, give us a call. We’ll get through this together and be stronger for it.