Managing your business reputation during the coronavirus

This guide summarises some of the most important considerations for businesses and some tips on how to stay visible, on message and on brand during these unusual and uncertain times. We hope these help you to prioritise and develop an action plan for your business.

Guide

5 min read

Businesses across the country are responding to new, unprecedented circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 epidemic. For some, there may be a question over whether or not it’s possible to continue trading. If you can adapt your business model while adhering to social distancing guidelines, it is possible to continue operating.

While there is a lot to consider - cash flow, HR, health and safety, contingency planning – don’t let communications fall by the wayside. In these circumstances, effective communication, internally and externally, is crucial in retaining confidence and loyalty of employees, suppliers and customers. How you respond now in the short term, can have an impact on reputation and rebound from the crisis in the medium to longer term.

1. Protect your employees & offer transparency

Your employees are your greatest asset, and they are at the frontline of your brand’s reputation. Consider the following in communicating with your team internally:

  • Outline the steps your business is taking to keep employees safe and healthy, communicating authoritative resources on how the infection is spread and how to avoid infection in line with WHO and Government guidelines.
  • Be transparent on the potential impact of the outbreak and ensure they are fully up to speed on changes to your business model as operations change. How does this affect their role and day to day job? Do they have the tools and knowledge to deliver what’s required? If your business is classed as ‘essential’ and your staff are ‘key workers’, what guidance can you provide to ensure they can continue to do their job safely?
  • Review and share company policies with all staff; travel, payroll, attendance at meetings, holidays. Consider whether new policies are required such as safe working or working from home policies.
  • Take steps to keep your team together. This might be moving morning catch ups to zoom or Skype or simply scheduling Friday drinks online.
  • As things change, make sure your employees are the first to know, good or bad news. Take them on the journey with you.

Business Gateway resources:

Business contingency planning: tutorial

Managing a team remotely: guide

Working from home: tips to help you settle in: guide

2. Communicate regularly and clearly with your customers

Clear, prompt and transparent communications are even more essential in crisis scenarios when uncertainty may arise about provision of services. The worst thing you can do as a business is to disappear or keep people guessing, as tempting as it might be to bury your head in the sand. Consider your company policies and messaging on the following and act accordingly using the channels at your disposal:

  • Health and safety - how are you ensuring the safety of operations to keep your staff and customers safe while you continue to operate?
  • Tell your customers how you are adapting your business to continue offering customers your product or service at this time. This manages their expectations and keeps business flowing. If you are moving trading online, ensure the customer journey to access these services is as smooth as possible to minimise drop off, and make sure the service level agreement can be met. If it can’t ie. the volume of calls or orders is greater than expected or you are short of staff due to sickness, tell your customers that, and ask for their understanding. We’re all in this together.
  • Ensure messaging is updated at every communication touch point. Is your website updated with the above information? Make this as visible and prominent as possible on your homepage. Update your social channels, consider updating automated order confirmation or sign-up emails with any relevant messaging and get a newsletter out to your customer base on your new ways of working. Don’t forget about your business listings on Google and other external platforms.
  • Keep communication lines open. At a time when you are adapting quickly, your customer’s feedback is even more important as you may not have had time to align your new business model clearly with their requirements. Ask them for feedback? What can you help them with? How best can you serve them at this time?

Useful resources:

Using & reviewing digital channels during the Coronavirus outbreak: guide

Using digital to reach your customers - advice for SMEs: guide

A five point plan for keeping in touch with customers when your business is closed: guide

Marketing, PR & Digital Marketing online tutorials

3. Monitor the ‘tone’ of the external environment and adapt your comms messaging accordingly

The ‘mood’ and ‘tone’ amongst the public is changing daily. Monitor messaging and talking points via the media at your disposal; social media, news and feedback from your customers. With updated guidelines from the Government or a widespread public concern about a particular subject may warrant an updated response from your business to your customer base. Similarly, you may need to adapt any planned communications to fit public mood and sentiment. Take care with pre-planned ads or scheduled social posts where the tone and messaging may no longer be appropriate. We’re operating in new circumstances.

4. Look for and provide solutions to problems

As well as being transparent in your communication, think about how you can adapt or tailor your product or service to help people in these unprecedented times as they try to adapt to new circumstances. As well as taking trading online, consider how best you can serve the public. How can you play a role in maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing? Can you help people learn new skills and be active and creative at home with your products or services? Is there a way you can support vulnerable groups or key workers, whether through offering your services or getting involved in community fundraising or volunteering initiatives? It might not be top of the list of priorities, but as the dust settles, this will be a great way of staying visible while doing something meaningful.

5. Keep an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel

We will get through this. With Government support in place, we can be hopeful the economy will bounce back as things return to a new normal in months to come (things will undoubtedly be different). Short term communication and adaptation of services are the number one priority, but don’t lose sight of the long term. Customers may be more cautious or restricted in spending for some time, but they will be keen to get back to normal when they can. Once you have a business continuity plan in place, consider how you might price and market your services at that point; can you offer a discount or a special offer? Part time or new membership models? And, as your business develops and changes, update your business plan too.

Useful resources:

Scottish Government updates on Covid-19

UK Government guidance for employees, employers and businesses

Working on a business plan: guide

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