Around the world, large companies are making unprecedented moves on behalf of their customers. Dunkin' is awarding its loyalty program members bonus points for using their drive thrus; luxury product manufacturer LVMH switched from making perfume to producing hand sanitizer.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantining procedures present a dilemma for business owners. How should one engage with customers during this frightening period? Is there a right or wrong strategy? Here are three dos and don'ts for effective interaction.
DO offer cancellations and refunds to the best of your ability.
Even if you have a policy that expressly states that all sales are final, recognize that these are extenuating circumstances and err on the side of generosity, especially if products haven’t been used or services rendered.
Andrew Maff, who runs a digital marketing consultancy, understands why many of his staffing agency customers have pulled their orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The job market is a big question mark," Maff says, "so to help our clients do whatever they can to make it through this, we’ve had to be creative.
"For example, while we didn't give outright refunds, we basically offered a hold. Most of our clients have a minimum of a six-month contract. We volunteered to hold the monthly payments for up to 90 days, and then re-evaluate," he explains. "We did have two clients start in March and we voided those contracts, saying we'd revisit in the next few months. For clients who paid us already, we stopped working for the time being and will use the funds as a pre-payment for future services."
DO send a small gift or coupon to make their immediate situation easier.
If your product or service correlates to pandemic-related needs, consider providing something for free or at a discount. While this strategy may help you upsell, this isn’t the goal. You can show your customers that you’re thinking about their well-being by sending a food delivery, a subscription or even a simple handwritten card.
Lisa Barrington, an employee engagement strategist, realized that her clients could use her advice in their newly created work-from-home roles. She responded by developing and delivering pro-bono webinars as well as free, downloadable videos and resources. The response was positive.
"People wrote on my LinkedIn to thank me for the great resources on my website, and one of my students who'd never worked from home before commented that he really appreciated and found the video useful," Barrington says.
DON'T be tone-deaf in person, on the phone or online.
Expect that COVID-19 is preoccupying everyone's thoughts and be careful not to act as if it’s business as usual. It'll read as if you’re not taking the situation seriously or you’re judging your customers’ choices.
Keeping a softer, more sensitive tone to your communication is more important than ever, so ask your marketing team for input regarding whether you've struck an appropriate tone. You might also want to test drive your communication with a few trusted clients and massage it based on their feedback.
DON'T bombard them with product offers that don't meet crisis-related needs.
You may be thinking of products and services to map to customers' needs, but this is not an appropriate time to do so. Even if your offering is critical, don’t use COVID-19 as an opportunity to drum up new business. Instead, approach your interactions with the greater good in mind. Ask yourself: "What does the community need right now that we can provide?" Solicit ideas from other members of your various teams and encourage innovation at all levels of your organization, regardless of how long employees have been with you.
By showing your customers you’re in this together, you can help them survive now and preserve your relationship in the long-term.
Daniel Santos, the CEO of college admissions counseling company Prepory, saw that students doing remote learning don’t have as much access to their school counselors and can’t prepare properly for exams or college applications.
“Because our programming has always been remote and we’d already built a video-based college admissions curriculum," Santos says, "we decided that we’ll offer free college advising services to any student in the U.S."
DON'T hold them to arrangements that go against government recommendations.
If your business requires in-person interaction and your government has mandated that people stay at home, please don’t encourage them to do otherwise. Instead, invite them to use prepaid products or services, purchase new ones once the environment has stabilized or devise novel solutions that minimize face-to-face contact.
Investment realtor John Castle sells properties for a living. Nevertheless, he recognized that it’s not currently in clients’ best interests to open their homes and businesses to strangers.
“Since the crisis began, I’ve advised clients to postpone selling their properties, and when it comes to clients who insist on listing anyway, I’ve created a 3D virtual tour of interiors so buyers can 'walk' through the property," Castle says. "This keeps the tenants safe while protecting the seller from liability.”
These are strange and troubling times, and no one is immune to the crisis’ negative effects. By showing your customers you’re in this together, you can help them survive now and preserve your relationship in the long-term.
Read more articles on customer engagement.
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