In just a few short weeks the world has changed.
After the holidays, the business world was focused on issues like tariffs, government regulation, 5G, record highs for the stock market, and automation. Today, those issues feel unimportant, largely forgotten, and we’re grappling with new issues – pandemic, social distancing, self-quarantine, global recession, essential and non-essential services and disruption in the supply chain.
When a crisis hits, our focus starts with internal needs – it’s hard to think about customers when a trip to the grocery store could be fraught with danger – but for business leaders it’s important to broaden the focus to include customers. While an empty office and employees in self-quarantine can make work difficult, it’s at that moment your customer needs you and your services perhaps more than they ever did before.
Thinking Ahead in a Crisis
Crises happen. They will disrupt business, impact the bottom line, and make life difficult for all of us. But the world will overcome the crisis and business (and life) will continue. The steps you take for your customers during the crisis can potentially set your company up for success in the future.
When a crisis occurs, it’s easy to get focused on the here-and-now and to plan for only the short term. While it’s critical to stay safe (and healthy) and to protect yourself, your family and your business, it’s also important to think about the future. Business still needs to think about growth. Your customers still need you.
That said, there is a new normal for business (and us) during a crisis. You’ll need to review how you operate, refocus your efforts, and you will likely need to adjust how you work with customers.
Crisis Strategies for your Business and Customers
There are steps you can take during a crisis (including the COVID-19 crisis) to protect your business and embrace success.
Here are a few tips for conducting business and working with customers during a crisis.
A crisis can bring out the best and worst in people.
During a crisis, everyone is struggling in different ways. Showing empathy, not only to family and friends, but also your customers, employees, and business partners, can be the difference between success and failure during a time of crisis.
Effective empathy is more than just words. There are multiple channels to empathy, and effective empathy means using the right channel at the right time (which means it works a lot like effective inbound marketing).
Psychologists identify three different types of empathy:
- Cognitive empathy means understanding how a person is feeling, which leads to insight into what they are thinking. With cognitive empathy, you should really listen to what your employee or customer is saying. Ask questions so you can understand what they are thinking and how they feel. Let them talk through their emotions. Recognize the importance of their feelings to earn their respect.
- Emotional empathy helps you share the feelings of your customer or employee – showing that you feel what the other feels. This is critical for building an emotional connection between two people. While some emotional empathy is important in business, too much can burn you out or appear unprofessional.
- Compassionate empathy is critical in a business setting. With this empathy channel, you show your employee or customer you are listening to them and care about what they are thinking and feeling. This allows you to stay composed and in charge during the crisis, while looking ahead to provide solutions. With this form of compassion, you are moving to act and help as best you can.
As you approach a customer, client, employee or prospect during a crisis, keep in mind the empathy channels you have available. Make sure you show genuine empathy, and don’t let yourself fall into the trap of taking advantage of others during a time of misery.
During a crisis, it’s important to keep in mind that many are looking for the new normal. Needs may change, and our approach to business may need to be adjusted.
That makes it a great time to evaluate business goals, and to look at how you can best help and support customers. Consider these steps:
- While the crisis won’t last forever, it’s important to consider the short term needs of your customers and how you can best support them. Remember compassionate empathy – what are the issues facing the customer now, and what solution can you offer?
- Depending on the length and severity of the crisis, this may also impact the long-term goals of the customer. When appropriate, set up a meeting the discuss the long-term goals and how the crisis may have impacted them.
- Consider your own goals during the crisis. Has the crisis changed your current goals? What different steps can you take now to meet your goals? What goals are appropriate in the current situation.
Don’t conduct business like nothing has happened. Take a moment to talk to your customers and better understand their goals in the face of a crisis.
Invest in your Online Presence
Communication is critical during any crisis. In fact, many argue that it is better to overcommunicate in a crisis than under-communicate.
Your website and digital channels are a primary messaging channel for your customers. You want to make sure you are providing correct and consistent information to them. Consider how you will communicate, because your customers are going to want information and updates quickly and efficiently. Here are a few ideas for building and leveraging your digital presence.
- Your website should work like a clearinghouse for critical information, so it’s important to make sure it has the flexibility and capability to meet those needs. Post regular updates. Provide easy-to-use links. Guide users to the information they need and want.
- Review your CMS to make sure you have up-to-date information on your customers. Can you quickly build targeted lists of contact to send information? How quickly can you compose and launch emails to your lists? Do you have a process and team in place for managing email communication?
- Look at other methods of crisis communication, like a newsletter. With a newsletter, you can provide more in-depth information and use links to direct readers to more information if they like. Also consider social media channels as a way of keeping your customers up to date.
- Monitor your digital channels. Review what people are saying about your business to evaluate your strategy and messaging. Be prepared to adjust as needed.
Many businesses unfortunately haven’t taken the time to implement and develop digital communication channels. They find themselves struggling to reach and communicate with customers when crisis hits. Look at building your email lists and utilize tools like a newsletter, emails, or landing pages to stay a step ahead of the questions your customers will have.
While communication is important during a crisis or ongoing situation, action can have an even bigger impact on your customers.
Consider the biggest risks and the dire issues facing your customers and consider how you can best help them in their time of need. This doesn’t need to be financial help. Instead, look at adjusting your services, or offering additional services in areas they may be struggling. For example:
- In a crisis, many companies find they don’t have the technology or infrastructure they need. Look at offering the technical expertise or aiding in implementing new systems. You may know a solution that’s worked for another customer in a similar situation, and just a quick conversation may be all they need to find a solution.
- Take a moment to review the risks you see to their business and look at the steps you can take to help mitigate those risks. Often, as we see with the COVID-19 crisis, it is supply chain disruption creating business risk. Forecasting need, identifying alternate supplier, staying in contact with supply chain partners can reduce that risk.
- Regular contact, and just asking what you can do to help, may be all the customer needs. Set up regular meetings during the crisis, even just a few minutes. Get the latest information and stay a step ahead of what may be a rapidly changing situation.
While it’s important to show compassion, it’s also important to aid where you can. Business will likely need to adjust, and customer needs will change. Be prepared to adjust with it, which may lead to new business opportunities.
When a crisis hits, it’s natural to think in the short term. Often, we start thinking about how to keep jobs and protect immediate business, leaving us little time or energy to think about the future.
While the short term is important it’s also a great time to think about the future. A crisis will often reset the market, providing opportunities for businesses that take the time to consider how things will change, and what they can do to find a place in the changed market.
Here are a few questions you can ask as you start thinking ahead:
- What needs will your customers and market have after the crisis passes? The COVID-19 has exposed many of the flaws and weaknesses in the global supply chain. In the future, it is likely more businesses will rely on the expertise of managed service providers to protect and strengthen their supply chain and to better manage purchasing.
- What changes can you see impacting the market in the future? Is there a new technology or service that has gained in popularity? How will that impact you and your customers? Today, more than ever before, digital assets and communication are supporting business. Technology is providing a vital connection and lifeline for all of us. More and more businesses will be investing in and building out their technology infrastructure.
- What changes can you make today to better serve your customers in the future during a crisis? Identifying the changing needs of your customers will also help you identify how you can better support them in the future. Adding an additional service, or shifting how you provide a service, may unlock additional business in the future.
- What steps can you take now to strengthen your business in the future to better support customers? A crisis will not only change the market, it could also change your current business model. Look at exposed weaknesses in your business, or where the crisis pressured your service model, and then plan how to shift resources or strengthen your internal structure.
Thinking ahead isn’t easy, especially during a crisis. Looking critically at the crisis may open new opportunities for you and your business.
Supporting Your Customers and Business in a Time of Need
No amount of planning and preparation will cover every contingency. There will be another crisis. The unexpected happens. It will increase risk for you and your customers.
How you respond to the crisis, and what you do to overcome the risk, can be the difference between success and failure. A crisis can also represent an opportunity for the savvy and smart business leader. Address the immediate concerns, provide the support your customers need, then look at how you can strengthen and support your customers in the future.
Want to learn more, or see how you can leverage the digital, marketing, and supply chain expertise of GO2 Partners to overcome the challenges impacting your business, then contact us today. Ask about our Managed Services and see how they can reduce cost and increase efficiency for you.