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Using digital channels to communicate during a business crisis

Find out how businesses can use digital tools and channels to respond quickly and support communications with customers, staff and suppliers during a business crisis.

Guide

6 min read

Unexpected crises can have a devastating impact on your business, as we all saw during the COVID pandemic. All of a sudden, you may not be able to carry out your day to day business, and transact with your customers, staff and suppliers as normal.

However - as we also saw - digital tools and channels can help you reach your customers, staff and suppliers quickly during an emergency and help to maintain customer confidence in your brand.

Here, we look at the immediate actions you can take in a crisis to communicate with key stakeholders and customers, and why you should include this as part of your business continuity plan.

Using Revieiwng Digital

1. Make a communication plan

As part of your business continuity planning, you should create a communication plan, which will make it easier for you to keep all relevant stakeholders up to date during a crisis.

Some businesses will enlist the help of a professional crisis communications agency to prepare this plan and also use their services in the event of an incident to manage the communications and any media enquiries.

Consider all of the audiences you will need to update, including:

  • staff
  • suppliers
  • stakeholders
  • recent customers whose order or service may be impacted
  • potential customers who may not be able to transact with you

This will help you plan how and when you will talk to each group and what you will need to say. You should consider this for the range of different potential crises in your continuity plan, with an outline of key platform to use and message to say for each.

2. Create a statement

Once you’ve updated staff on your plan and considered any suggestions and feedback, quickly prepare a short statement for your customers covering answers to the main questions customers will have.

Are you open?

It seems obvious but say upfront whether you’re open or not:

  • If so, are there any changes to hours or contacts?
  • If you’re closed, how can customers get in touch if there’s outstanding orders, bookings, queries etc.?

How are you keeping everyone safe?

Assuming you’re open, you must demonstrate you’re taking official guidance seriously and the steps you’re putting in place to keep staff and customers safe. Don’t just pay lip service to these, actually implement them or you will lose customer trust.

Examples to share with customers might include:

Self-isolation

How you’re ensuring all staff comply with official advice on self-isolation and respectfully requesting that all customers support this too

Handwashing

Approach and facilities for customer and staff hand washing

Cleaning

Disinfection routine for card readers, counters, door handles, tables, chairs, doorbells, delivery and trade vans and any other communal touchpoints

Social distancing

Changing space layout by ensuring space between customers and staff in waiting areas, queues etc.; limiting number of customers in your premises at once; and removing unnecessary shared touchpoints e.g. magazines in waiting areas

Are there any changes to your service?

You may need to be more flexible with your cancellation and returns policies (if you possibly can). It puts your staff at risk if people who should be self-isolating feel forced to honour a booking. And you don’t want to put people off buying something for an event, if they don’t know it’s going ahead – e.g. wedding shoes for a wedding in two months’ time. Consider the questions customers will ask, e.g. Will I get a refund if my order is cancelled? How can we reschedule?

Is there anything more you can do to help?

Invite questions, feedback and suggestions. Listening to your customers now will help you work out how to communicate with them better, and they may have fresh ideas for how you continue trading and maybe even identify opportunities.

Thank them for their understanding and support

We’re all in this together and good relationships will help everyone bounce back.

3. Use the appropriate digital channels

To effectively communicate with all stakeholders, use all digital channels available to you, to reach as many people as possible, while ensuring that you deliver a consistent message.

Text and Instant Messaging

Text or instant messaging platforms, such as What's App, help you quickly communicate with staff and key contacts - such as customers, clients or suppliers - who will be immediately impacted by the crisis. (Ensure you have permission to communicate this way.)

Email

Email is a good channel to provide a full statement with all of the critical information to each of the groups you have permission to email. The messaging may need to be different for each group. Be sure to send update emails as the situation changes.

Website

If you have access to your website, add your statement to a prominent panel on all pages of your site (rather than just the homepage as users often land directly on deeper pages). You can link this to a dedicated page with more information if the situation is expected to last for a longer length of time. Update any other pages which may have contradictory information.

Halt shop functionality if you cannot fulfil orders.

Social platforms

Across each of your social platforms, add a pinned post to the top of your feeds with the key messages from your statement, with a link to more detail if appropriate. Keep this updated as things change.

Also, monitor your social feeds and messengers for queries from your customers, responding as needed, or managing expectation by saying when you will next respond or provide an update.

If you have a Facebook auto response (for Messenger), make sure that the content is appropriate to your new level of service.

Google Business Profile

Update your Google Business Profile if you are closed or with any changes to your opening times.

4. Review any scheduled content and ads

Many companies will have content and ads running or scheduled to go out in future - e.g. email campaigns, social posts and ads, PPC ads, display advertising, etc.

Content to stop

At your earliest opportunity, review scheduled content and ads and pause these if necessary to avoid wasting budget and sending mixed messages.

Channels to check

When under pressure it’s easy to forget about automated content on all your existing channels. Review each of your channels, such as:

● Email

● Social platforms and ad managers, (including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn)

● Social media management platforms (such as Hootsuite)

● Automatic replies on your Facebook messenger or emails, etc.

● Chat bots

● Google Ads

● Influencer campaigns

● Affiliate marketing campaigns

If you work with any agencies, including media buyers, ask for their help.

For more information about business continuity planning see our guide to creating a business continuity plan.

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