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How to engage with customers during challenging times: Part One

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Posted By Pinar Dost ⋅ May 19, 2020

Like so much of the world at large, the commercial world feels like it’s on pause right now. For the foreseeable future there can be no plans for growth. The priority right now, particularly for consumer-facing businesses, is survival.

And yet while the current measures to control the global spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) are unprecedented, this isn’t the first time our businesses have faced a crisis – and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Rather than be disheartened about the current situation, we must fight to retain control of the things that are within our control. While we cannot know when and how things will return to normal and we can’t wave a magic wand to make all our customers’ wishes come true, we can control how we communicate and engage with them.

And it’s important that we do, and do it in the right way, if we’re to retain our customer base once we emerge from lockdown.

According to the CEO of the Institute of Customer Service, Jo Causon, “How organisations respond over the coming months will be remembered by customers and employees for years to come. As we have seen time and time again, in difficult times, these are the real moments of truth – and when we emerge from this, the organisations that have connected with customers in an authentic way will be rewarded with ongoing loyalty.”

Here, in the first of a two part blog series on engaging with your customers during COVID-19 and other challenging times, we ask the questions you should be considering to ensure you add value to your customer experience.

Who should speak on behalf of your company?

The Global Web Index (GWI) has released some intriguing research, which suggests that in many countries (including the UK, France, Germany, Spain and the US), consumers are looking to businesses to lead the response ahead of their own governments.

That’s a huge position of power, which is probably why we’ve seen a rise in the number of communications coming from CEOs in recent weeks. You can read the statement from Ikano Insight’s own CEO, Karen Pflug, here.

Consumers are looking for reassurance that they’re going to be able to access the goods and services they need, and that requires the authority from someone who has ultimate power within the business and influence over its supply chain.

Why are you reaching out?

There’s no point talking to your customers if you have nothing to say. You need to determine the purpose of your communications to ensure it always adds value.

In another report from GWI, it found that the three main actions that consumers want to see from brands at the moment are:

  1. Providing practical information/tips to help people deal with the situation (83 per cent).
  2. Pledging money/aid/supplies (83 per cent).
  3. Running promotions (81 per cent).

Of course, every business needs to make money, but it’s important that any activity you undertake at the moment isn’t perceived as profiteering. While we must keep one eye on the current situation, we must also plan for future success, and that requires you to give all that you can to your community now, so that you’re in a position to reap the rewards later.

To start with, think about your current customers who may need additional or different support. For example, we’ve seen this recently in the supermarkets who are reserving home delivery slots for vulnerable customers, and ringfencing certain shopping hours for older people and NHS workers. Within your business, it could involve enhancing your online support for shoppers, offering an extended returns policy, or different delivery options.

What should you talk about?

During the 2008 recession, Hyundai Motors increased its market share by 40 per cent simply by talking to its customers. By discovering that their customers felt scared, they were able to communicate in a way that spoke to their rational and emotional needs, which gave people the confidence to buy.

A recent survey of US consumers by McKinsey shows that 64 per cent of consumers have felt depressed, anxious, or both over the past several weeks. It may seem a subtle tweak to your messaging – changing “we’re still open” to “we are here for you” – but being sensitive to your customers’ emotions and consciously demonstrating empathy is what will set you apart, earning their trust and long-term loyalty because you can make them feel safe.

In addition, the UK Government has pushed the idea that “we’re all in this together” – another idea to centre your message on. According to a survey by Marketing Week, 80 per cent of consumers believe that employee health should be a key priority for companies.

While it’s comforting to hear from the CEO and be provided with that reassurance, in times of crisis it’s also inspiring to see the faces of those on the front lines, helping customers in any way they can. On any other day they may ‘just’ be a member of your call centre team or ‘just’ a delivery driver, but in a crisis they become Amy who was able to offer a payment holiday so your customer didn’t need to worry about being furloughed, or they become Andrew who got the weekly essentials to your customer’s mother so she didn’t need to come out of isolation. In times of crisis these unsung heroes become the face of your organisation and make that personal connection.

Watch this space for more on this subject, we’ll be publishing part two of this guide soon. In the meantime though, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if we can help your business learn the best ways to engage with your own consumers.

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