Small businesses across America are already feeling the financial repercussions from coronavirus restrictions. Millions of people are taking refuge from the virus outbreak by staying at home and avoiding unnecessary shopping trips.
Unprecedented times call for changes in how we operate and communicate. So, we wanted to share some best practices and strategies that we’ve learned over the years and the last few weeks. We hope these ideas will help small businesses better navigate communication to their customers during these uncertain times.
Communicating business updates to customers
Right now, many people are scared; and that is one thing you should be mindful of in all your communications. It’s also important to think about the method you’ll use to communicate with your customers. Physical mail can get lost in the mess of all the “junk mail” and could even spread germs. Email is a great communication tool, especially when everyone is on digital. With that in mind, here are four strategies of how to use email to communicate changes in your business.
Let’s dive in.
1. Share the updates that affect your customers
It’s important that you keep your customers in the loop and share the steps you are taking to alter business practices. When you are developing your messaging, be clear and concise about what your business is doing to address healthy and safe practices during COVID-19. Always reassure them that you are taking precautions and following regulations set up by the WHO, CDC, and local/federal governments.
We recommend sending out an email to your customers to ensure them that you are doing what is best for your business as well as what is best for your employees and customers. With people turning to digital communication, they are more inclined to read through company updates.
Treat this email as an announcement, not a newsletter or sales tool. This means that your email should not include a lot of imagery or creativity. By keeping it plain and straightforward, you show empathy and sensitivity. For example, Jetty sent out a COVID-19 Action Steps email to their customers. The email below is how they shared the precautions they are taking with their audience. To make it clear and concise, they put their main changes into bullet form for easy reading. They also speak to their audience with a gentle and caring tone.
By following these guidelines – clear, concise, simple – your customers will understand the changes that affect them and appreciate your communication.
2. Target your message
Is your inbox crowded with emails upon emails from businesses that you didn’t even know had your email?
Everyone is experiencing an overcrowded email box from every single business or website they have ever visited. For me, I didn’t even know how half of these places have my email.
Now, more than ever, it is crucial to be relevant and to target your messages.
When you are communicating with your audience, be mindful and aware that people are receiving the same communication from every company. So, you’ll want to separate yourself. Create a personalized, targeted email. Don’t send the same message to everyone. We recommend creating groups of people with similar traits.
For example, Verizon emailed all of their customers that their company will be there for their customers and are ready to work. They also confronted the issue that everyone may be receiving the same type of email from other businesses. Still, they point out that as a valued customer that uses their services every day, that they will stay connected through these challenging times. Their focus is what it always has been – ensuring you have the most reliable network experience possible.
As a small business, you may want to send a more specific message to your valued customers to show your relationship with them. Start by segmenting your contacts and go from there. The more groups you create, the more personalized the message can be to those contacts.
3. Show empathy
Now is a time to connect with your customers through empathy.
It's an uncertain time, and many people are scared for their life, their love ones, their jobs, and more. Every message that you send needs to be mindful of this. It's not the time to be hard selling; it's a time to show you care and that you are there for your customers.
When you do sell, sell in an empathetic way. We recommend highlighting how you are helping during this time. I have heard that many retail stores are offering free shipping on purchases to help encourage customers to buy as well as save on that shipping cost. Be sure to share with your customers what you are doing to help out each other.
For example, Panera used an empathetic tone in their email. While they are still asking you to buy their product, instead of the headline of their first paragraph saying, “Order Delivery Now,” they said, “We’re available for you.” And they continue, "With food, you can feel good about serving your family." This tone doesn't make you feel like they are selling you, yet it makes you think that they are willing to be there for your family, no matter what. They share how the food is prepared and delivered safely while eating at a reasonable price and still obtaining healthy foods.
To create a strategy around empathy, it takes a little extra time and out of the box thinking. If you understand your customers and their struggles during this time, you can create the right message. A message that will make your customers want to continue purchasing from you even when times are uncertain.
4. Offer your support
Lastly, offering your support can help benefit your customers at this time. This builds off of showing empathy.
As I mentioned before, many people are scared of the uncertainty this crisis brings. However, knowing your customers and what support they need during this time is crucial. Be aware that your business focus may need to shift. For instance, if you are a company that donates to charities, change it up a bit and find a charity that could especially benefit from a donation now. You can also shift to supporting your customers with delivery or online services.
An email that we thought was an ideal example was from Stasher. Stasher makes reusable silicone bags that replace single-use plastic bags. They sent out an email talking about how their mission is shifting their business focus due to the current times. Their rallying cry to Save What Matters is about collective power to do good. Because of this mission, they changed their business focus. Now, they are focusing on three critical areas due to these uncertain times – feeding kids, staying safe and home, and creating space.
They know that their customers are value-driven consumers. So, by communicating this shift, their donation to No Kid Hungry, and their plan going forward, their customers will become more loyal to their business because they believe in and share their values.
Come up with a strategy on how you can shift your message and mission to focus on what matters right now. You can still be putting out content but add a little twist on it.
Marketing in the time of COVID-19
As a business, you probably had your 2020 marketing strategy ready to break ground in Q1. Since COVID-19, that may have all changed. You may have realized that it’s not the best time to announce your campaign. But don't give up! It's not a time to stop, but a time to pivot.
We all need to continue to drive revenue, so you can’t stop selling. However, you may need to re-evaluate your message. Add in some relevant content about the current environment and change up your offering.
Whether it be a social media campaign or an email campaign, include your customers in the strategy. Ask your customers what they need from you right now and how they think your business should take part in this pandemic. It never hurts to ask them what they are struggling with right now and what’s keeping them up at night. Once you know their answers, then you can figure out the best way to help them and the community around you.
To learn more about how to navigate communication during COVID-19, watch this video.
Be sure to keep your customers first in a time like this.
In uncertain times like now, everyone wants to know everything is going to be okay. Hearing it from the people you do business with provides you with more comfort that we will make it out of this together. As a small business, do your part and be there for your customers as they are there for you. By working together, will make it out of this pandemic.