Coronavirus (COVID-19) has created unprecedented levels of disruption across the UK, and SMEs are on the front line when it comes to feeling its impact. However, there’s lots individual companies can be doing to protect customer relationships and revenue streams, even in cases where operations have had to be halted.
It’s a natural reaction to worry about losing customers quickly as the outbreak develops. In some sectors, this will be inevitable and there is plenty of government support available to help in these situations.
For businesses still trading in whatever form, keeping customers happy just became even more important.
We’ve rounded up the latest advice and best guides on customer relationship management during crisis situations for you below.
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5 things you can do (right now) to protect your customer relationships
(1) Communicate, and be open with your customers
Customers want to know how your business is handling the situation and how it will impact the orders or services they are relying on.
Let them know what steps you are taking to keep everyone safe and well. And let them know how you’re planning to navigate the situation and fulfil their orders in a safe, measured way. If you are a retail business still trading, think about how to communicate with customers in store and how to make them feel safe.
Think through the frequency of when you get in contact too. Regular check-ins are a good way to make customers feel important and show them they’re your priority.
(2) Consider the right channel to communicate on
It is likely customers will be looking to you for information and reassurance. The channel you choose to communicate through can have a big impact on how your message lands.
Email works well for generic messages. However, if there’s a specific situation, a one-to-one conversation over the phone may well be the best route.
And just because in-person meetings aren’t an option, it doesn’t mean you can’t arrange a virtual meeting. There’s a variety of technology platforms available that you can use to host video meetings, for example Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom.
(3) Have essential information readily available
In a crisis situation, businesses often see a surge in customer enquiries – on the phones, on social media, via email and website enquiries. It can be overwhelming. However, there’s some simple steps you can put in place to help ease the pressure.
Publish basic information on the homepage of your website or create a dedicated website landing page which is easy to find.
You can then direct social media enquiries there, you can include details of this page on your telephone welcome message, and you can email the link out to your customer base.
(4) Prepare for late payments and be proactive about fulfilling orders
Many people are facing cash flow issues. While the government is working to help minimise the impact, there’s lots you can do to understand your situation and prepare accordingly.
Ask your customers how coronavirus is affecting them. An honest conversation about their financial reality can give you a better sense of what income you can expect to see, and when. This is also a good forum for you to discuss any issues you’re having fulfilling orders.
You might find that a frank conversation helps both parties find a solution that eases the pressure. For example, you might agree to cancel an order or delay it. Or you may agree to go ahead, but stagger payments so it remains manageable.
(5) Share ways that customers can support your business
Some customers will want to know how they can continue to support your business, even if you’re not currently trading. So, it may well be worth explaining how they can help keep your business afloat.
Could they purchase a gift card? Or could they place an order with you now, in the knowledge that it might be a number of weeks or months until you can fulfil it? If you run a subscription service, you could ask that customers consider keeping their monthly payments, and in return you’ll offer them some free months in the future when you’re back up and running again.
You may be surprised at the response you get.
Our coronavirus business FAQs are constantly updated to provide you with the latest information you need to make important decisions. Visit the FAQs here.
Where to get the detail on protecting customer relationships
Lots of websites are posting useful information about how to maintain good relationships with customers during crisis situations. To save you time, we’ve collated our pick of the best advice out there.
Want some help with your customer communications during a crisis?
There’s lots of advice on customer relationships around at present and Salesforce has provided five easy tips to put together a communications plan of action. The Institute of Chartered Accountants has also published a guide on communicating with clients during this period, while Edelman offers some examples of best practice that they’ve found. There are also plenty of pieces of advice available on dealing with customers during crisis situations, including from Pardot and also Zendesk.
Wondering what the right channel might be to communicate on?
Naturally, this depends somewhat on your business and its relationship with customers, but resources from Gartner give a thorough overview of the different communication channel options available and how to use them effectively. There’s another good guide on health.org.uk available as well.
Looking for how to build a good information landing page on your website during a crisis?
You need something quick to build, but also sufficiently helpful and easy to use that customers won’t get frustrated or feel the need to contact you in lots of other ways as well. Wordstream has a helpful guide to getting set up.
Looking for advice on handling late payments and other difficult conversations with customers?
The Federation of Small Businesses website has lots of helpful information. There’s a specific section which looks at how to handle late payments. Scroll down to “Further actions to take” and select “Talk to your customers about payment” for some helpful information.
Business in the Community has also created a factsheet which gives a good overview of how small business networks can prepare for the impact of coronavirus, and understand what help is available.
Looking ways that customers might be able to support your business in the short term?
An article from CBS News outlines some of the ways that customers can support their favourite businesses during challenging circumstances. It’s a good, inspiring read.
Need help with customer engagement and marketing?
Pay Simple’s guide clearly lays out in seven steps how to go about creating a marketing plan for your business. It’s worth reading and tailoring to the current situation. Elsewhere, a blog from Hubspot is full of resources and ideas on marketing in a wide variety of ways. It won’t all be relevant right now, but some of it definitely will be.