Looking for ways to stay connected to your customers during coronavirus? Digital channels such as social media and live chat could be a great place to start.
Whether you offer a product or service, customers are the backbone of your business. Although the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and subsequent social distancing have created an uncertain future for many business owners, there are plenty of ways to maintain a close and genuine connection to your customers, so they’re more likely to return to your business when the time is right.
Bec Bignell is a 2019 AMP Tomorrow Fund grant recipient and co-founder of Cockatoo Co. Lab – a media agency that helps connect national media to rurally-based creatives. We asked Bec for tips on how she maintains personal connections with her customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carefully consider your messaging
If you’re unsure about how to start proactively engaging with your customer base, this isn’t the time to experiment. Instead, invest in a strategy that’s tailored to your audience and their needs. “You can’t just generate communication and content for the sake of it, you have to be really utilising that opportunity,” Bec says. “It might take more time, more planning and more work, but if you’re genuine about getting an outcome from it, then it’s about cultivating the relationship.”
During coronavirus, Bec is focusing on communicating to her clients and customers about where the company stands right now, rather than trying to predict exactly where they’re headed. Although things may constantly be changing, she says, she makes certain to affirm that the company isn’t wavering from its core values.
“We’re very much about maintaining consistency with communications. The message is: ‘We’re still operating, we’re still doing some cool stuff’. We’ll continue that model for a period of time, iterating at a basic level but making sure that our core function and mission is very clear.”
Use communication channels to enhance customer experience
Take stock of all the channels that you operate, including digital – such as social media, blogs and newsletters – and physical, like a shopfront window, to engage with new and existing customers. Every one of these channels presents an opportunity to stay connected and strengthen your relationship with customers, so use your most relevant platforms. For Bec, the dispersed locations of her creative community mean she relies on social media and other digital channels for connection – and that’s even more important now when face-to-face interaction is limited.
Identify the channels that are most relevant to your business and commit to regular (yet relevant) communication through them. Would an eye-catching sign on your shopfront help customers to understand your current services better? Would scheduling a phone call with customers about their recurring contract put their mind at ease? Could a well-written email newsletter effectively answer the questions your customers have been asking en-masse? Could you provide customer service through a live chat option to help ease the worries of customers currently browsing your products online? Put your customers’ needs first, then build a strategy from there.
Be transparent when engaging with customers
Transparency is an indispensable way to strengthen trust between your business and your customers and employees, especially if you’re addressing legitimate concerns your customers might have about your operations and what the future might hold for their investments.
“We’re always transparent in terms of, ‘This is where we are, this is where we’re going, this is how we’re doing it’ because we work in social media and the audience really likes that we do a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ things,” Bec says.
Equally though, she’s cautions against applying a broad-brush strategy to how much you’re sharing with clients and customers, as their responses can differ. Instead, she recommends having an underlining consistency in the message you’re sending. Sticking to one tailored approach creates more trust, confidence and reliability. For example, sharing details about the home life of a business owner might be appropriate for some businesses, but it’s not necessarily the right approach for everyone.
While transparency is important, it must also serve a purpose and not simply be the result of a blanket rule. Asking what business goals transparency will help you achieve is one way to apply it correctly, suggests Harvard Business Review1.
Strengthen personal connections in your community
Your customers are more than just people who pay the bills; they’re the community that turns the wheels of your business. For Bec, although her bread and butter revenue has been affected by the pandemic, the relationships that exist outside of specific jobs are still intact – a fact she leans on during uncertain times.
“The value I put on relationships is really high, so in our P&L [profit and loss statement] you’ve got the normal monetary allocations, but I also try to look at it in a holistic way and place huge value on relationships,” she explains. “We’ll still reach out to let past and present customers know what we’re doing, and people are really receptive to that – if it’s done in a way that’s not like a sales pitch.”
It’s as important as ever to maintain authentic relationships that aren’t just transactional. Look for opportunities to connect with customers that go further than this and you’re more likely to see them return when they have more buying confidence.
Generate excitement for reopening – slowly
Although excitement around reopening a business or starting up again is understandable, Bec suggests not putting all your eggs in one basket.
“We don’t know what behaviours are going to emerge once the gates open,” she explains. “Sometimes, humans respond differently than you might anticipate. Be consistent around what your focus is, what your mission is and just evolve according to behaviours as you observe them. Having the mentality of not rushing to every trend once it’s identified is really beneficial.”
Rather than making bigger and bolder promises that you might not be able to live up to, concentrate on the very best of your current offering. Spend time and resources on formulating a plan for your reopening and direct your marketing strategy towards communicating this to your customers.
Safework Australia has guidance and resources to help you make sure your business is COVID-safe. Letting customers know you’ve got this in hand can help them feel reassured as and when your business gets going again.
1 Harvard Business Review: When Transparency Backfires, and How to Prevent It
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