COVID-19 has created a lot of anxiety for customers and businesses alike. Customers are scared and frustrated by the uncertainty of the pandemic, while businesses are concerned about employee health and wellbeing, customer optimism and the future of their operations.
Keeping your customers loyal is fundamental to business continuity in times of crisis. The best way to make sure you retain your customers is by putting their needs first. While a short-term hit to your bottom line is almost inevitable, finding ways to be helpful will benefit your business in the long term.
Here are some suggestions on how to maintain trust and retain your customers during a crisis and set your business up for success post-COVID.
Communicate clearly and often
Being transparent and sharing accurate information in a clear and empathetic way are non-negotiable during a crisis.
Let your customers and employees know what’s happening in your business and what you’re doing about it. Share your plans to help customers. And make sure you do this with clarity and empathy.
Don’t: speculate or spread unverified news and don’t be ambiguous.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her effective communications during the pandemic. Her direction to “stay home to save lives” is clear, to the point and speaks with empathy. Ardern’s regular communications through TV and social media have also provided the people of New Zealand with up-to-date information about the pandemic, the decisions being and the reason for those decisions.
Consider engagement and purpose in every decision
Engaged customers and those that align with your brand’s purpose will spend more and stay with you longer. This is even more important during a crisis. In difficult times, people pay more attention to how you respond.
So factor engagement and purpose into your every decision. According to Gallup, for B2Bs that means getting clear on what only you can do to help your customers and doing it well. For B2Cs it becomes about delivering your brand promise in a way your customers can be proud of.
Don’t: get preachy or arrogant about what you do. Keep it humble and real.
Nike’s message during COVID-19 clearly factors in the emotional engagement of its customers – and plays to its purpose “to unite the world through sport to create a healthy planet, active communities and an equal playing field for all.”
Focus on social media
With social distancing measures in place, people are flocking to messaging apps and community-focused social platforms. And although they’re not searching for products and services, most industries are seeing an increase in 1:1 social customer interactions, according to Hootsuite.
Now is the time to be available and meet your customers where they are – and during a lockdown, that’s on social media. While it might seem counterintuitive to continue advertising, 52% of consumers believe that hearing or seeing ads gives them a sense of normalcy – as long as it’s done in a sensitive and thoughtful way.
Don’t: bombard your audience with irrelevant or insensitive sales messages. Be helpful and useful instead.
Anthropologie has been quick to shift its Instagram strategy. Its content now focuses heavily on interior design, exercise inspo and lounge wear, while providing tips for iso date nights and sharing recipes.
Take care of your loyal customers
While all customers are important, now it’s time to show your most loyal ones how much you value them.
Consider what special resources or services you can offer them to make their lives easier right now. Share your expertise through a free webinar or offer a six-month waiver of their subscription fees. When you show your customers you care about them, they’ll reward you with their loyalty.
Don’t: try to push your products or services through free resources. Keep it about being helpful.
Foxtel’s lack of empathy during COVID-19 has resulted in a lot of angry customers. The pay TV giant has made it impossible to cancel sports subscriptions online and long waits on the phone often ended with call dropouts. Given sports seasons around the world have been postponed or cancelled, Foxtel could have automatically dropped this subscription for all customers and offered a movie package instead. They could have kept customers on the same billing amount – adding value and being helpful at a time of crisis.
Review your automated communications and website content
You most likely have some automated communication set up. Whether it’s for online customer enquiries or an email nurture flow, they might not be appropriate right now.
Now is the time to audit your website content and all automated messages and adjust them to be sensitive to the current situation. If certain products or services aren’t available at this time, remove them or let your customers know when you expect them back. You may also need to change your messages regularly, as we move into different phases of the pandemic.
Don’t: assume your current messages are fine. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and read them with fresh eyes.
Princess Cruises’ ship Ruby Princess was the source of over 10% of Australia’s early coronavirus cases and 18 deaths. Diamond Princess (another ship operating under the brand) housed the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside mainland China in February 2020.
Many customers are likely to visit the company’s website, in search of current health and safety information or cancellation options. Instead, they are greeted with the below offer.
Is this tone-deaf, out-dated message likely to keep existing customers coming back?
Serve your customers in new ways
COVID-19 has given new meaning to the word disruption. Many businesses now have to reinvent themselves rapidly to stay in operation and keep customers coming back.
Consider what makes your business unique to your customers and how you could use your assets to be helpful. Think about potential new partnerships and how you can use digital to overcome current social distancing measures.
Don’t: try to reinvent the wheel. Stay close to your purpose and expertise, and focus on being helpful.
There are many examples of businesses succeeding with a new approach. Australian gin distillery Archie Rose is now producing hand sanitisers. Restaurants around the country are delivering their most popular dishes and cocktails – you just have to cook it yourself. In the US, GE, Ford and 3M are working together to produce respirators and medical devices while manufacturing has slowed.
There’s never been a better time to master the art of customer loyalty and retention.