7 tips to getting your tone right in business communications during the coronavirus

During the pandemic, customer communication through your digital channels is essential. Whether this is to update customers of changes to your business, or letting them know of new services you can provide, the words that you use and the tone that you take are incredibly important to your ongoing customer relationships.

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5 min read

It’s not always easy - tone can be tricky to manage, especially when you’re navigating huge business changes. Below are some top tips and common pitfalls to help you take a balanced approach.

1. Deciding what to write

Before drafting anything, make sure you’re fully aware of the latest official guidance.

Then, look for examples of tone that you have seen from other companies - like the emails in your inbox, or social posts that have received positive customer comments.

2. When to write

A bit of pressure can often help you think on your feet, but try not to write when you’re at the peak of feeling stressed or that will come across to your customers.

3. Before you send, post or publish

Once you’ve finished your draft, take a break or, for big communications, even sleep on it.

Then, take the ‘in your shoes’ test - imagine you’ve just had bad news - how would this content make you feel?

Now proofread - although everything is more rushed at the moment, poor spelling and grammar often unsettle customers, or even cause confusion around meaning.

Finally, if you can, it’s always worth running tone by someone else - family, friends or anyone who will help!

4. Don't pretend this isn't happening

None of us are able to trade or behave as we did before.

As a minimum, all businesses need a coronavirus statement on their website and social pages which also explains whether they’re open or not. Without one, customers will make their own judgements and assumptions, which is not what you want!

After that’s been done, obviously not every email or social post needs to use the word ‘Coronavirus’, but all should be sensitive and relevant to the situation.

Humour can be welcome at a time like this, but take great care to ensure it is appropriate and not flippant - particularly when promoting your goods and services.

A local pub sending an invite out for the weekly quiz including a flippant line like below, might not realise some of their audience may have loved-ones in hospital:
“See you all tonight - isn’t booze supposed to cure this anyway?”

Something more sensitive along the lines of:
“See you all tonight and let’s also take the chance to raise a glass to those who’re currently affected by the crisis.”

Many companies normally take a bold tone that could jar right now. So, it’s worth reassessing your usual messaging to be relevant.

A homeware retailer might usually say:
“Spring has sprung! Grab our new season’s must haves now!”

A more appropriate approach could be:
“Need a place of calm? Let us help you transform your space."

5. Don't share behind the scenes panic

If you’re still trading you will likely be adapting at speed, which is stressful and will take time to get right. It’s important you keep customers updated with your situation, the steps you’re taking, and what they can expect.

However, don’t spread your panic by telling customers all the complexities you’re facing or the issues you’re overcoming. Instead, take a measured approach, share what you do know, and how customers should get in touch.

There’s many examples of Facebook posts like this:
“Since we’ve had to close, we’re looking at selling online. We’re just working out how to do this as we will need to overhaul our entire system and build a website, organise delivery, etc. We’re not sure how long this will take but please bear with us. Most of our staff are off, so we’re struggling to respond to calls.”

Much better would be:
“As the shop is now closed, we are going to move to an online service. We’ll be back up and running as soon as we can, but in the meantime, for specific queries/orders please email us (insert address). We’ve fewer staff right now but we’ll get back to you within (insert realistic time). We’ll keep you all updated (on our Facebook page/website etc.) and once the online service is live, we’ll post with full details. Thanks!”

6. Don't put the pressure on

When under extreme stress like we’re facing now, it’s easy to pass that pressure on, and unintentionally alienate customers.

More than ever, businesses need all the support they can get from their customers. And from the other side, customers do want their much-loved businesses to still be there when this is over. Many people will go out of their way to buy from SMEs provided they do their best to adapt to what their customers need right now.

It’s easy to focus on your own fears, saying something negative like:
“If we don’t get local support, I suspect we will not survive”.

Instead consider it from your customers’ perspective:
● Thank them
● Inform them what you’re doing to help them
● Remind them how to stay in touch

This will help you write something more positive:
“We’re so grateful for all the local support we’ve had so far, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to provide what our customers need (give tangible examples). Please keep checking our Facebook page to stay up to date on all we’re doing and share our page with others.”

7. Take a breath

There’s so many customers who are incredibly flexible and supportive, however there will always be those who seem unreasonable.

Before responding in the heat of the moment, take a breath and step back. Consider that they may have just received bad news, or be scared about their finances and their own health. This will allow you to step back and respond in an appropriate tone and minimise any escalation - the last thing you need with everything else to deal with.

In these high-emotion situations, running through the top tips at the top of this article will be especially useful.

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