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7 tips to getting your tone right in communications during a community crisis

During a crisis impacting your community, 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 when you’re navigating a situation that is impacting your customers' lives and may change how your business operates. Below are some tips to help you take a balanced approach.

1. Deciding what to write

If there is a crisis in your community, look out for official statements from the authorities so you align with that. Before drafting anything, make sure you’re fully aware of the latest situation.

Stick to short factual statements relating to the impacts on your business operations and expressions of condolence if appropriate.

Avoid making any speculative statements, blaming any individual or organisation, or naming or posting images of those involved.

2. When to write

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 rushed in a crisis, 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 it isn't happening

If the crisis means you are not able to trade or behave as you did before, add a statement to your website and social pages which also explains whether you're open or not. Without one, customers may 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 refer to the crisis, but all should be sensitive and relevant to the situation. If you're running any events, check it's still appropriate and consider postponing if necessary.

Depending on the situation, humour may be welcome, but take great care to ensure it is appropriate and not flippant - particularly when promoting your goods and services.

A local pub sending a reminder for the weekly quiz including a flippant line like below, might not be appreciated by those who are particularly affected"
“See you all tonight - booze is the best way through!”

Something more sensitive along the lines of:
“Tonight we'll come together as a community and take the chance to think of those who’re currently affected by the crisis.”

5. Don't share behind the scenes panic

If the crisis impacts you personally or your business and you’re adapting quickly, it will be stressful and take time to get right.

It’s important you keep customers updated with the steps you’re taking, and what they can expect. However, don’t spread your panic by telling customers all the complexities and issues you’re overcoming. Instead, take a measured approach, share what you do know, and how customers should get in touch.

There’s often examples of Facebook posts like this:
“Since we’ve had to close and we don't know when we'll open again, we’re looking at doing something online. We’re just working out how to do this as we will need to overhaul our entire system and 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 looking 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, it’s easy to pass that pressure on, and unintentionally alienate customers.

Businesses need all the support they can get from their customers and many people will go out of their way to buy from SMEs especially during a crisis.

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 the impact of any crisis on their finances, health or family. 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 high-emotion situations, running through the tips at the top of this article will be especially useful.

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