As states across the country start to reopen, there’s a sense of both
relief and nervousness among businesses. Easing the lockdown is essential for getting the economy moving again. At the same time, we already have our hands full. According to
Strategy + Business:
“Companies are learning to operate in “the new normal” yet are continuing to respond to immediate fires.”
We’re having to adapt to the new business reality, while tackling the many issues left over from lockdown.
This blog looks at four key issues impacting clear communications during post-lockdown, and how to minimize their impact.
1. Business operations are disrupted
We’ve seen the following operational changes during and post-lockdown:
- Opening hours
- Customer Service hours and availability
- Directing customers to service alternatives (e.g. live chat and online customer portals)
- Updated terms and conditions, legal notices, privacy policies
- HR policies (relating to remote working, working patterns, job roles, health and safety)
- Resources moved from offline to online
- Extension of deadlines and enrollment periods
- Adoption of new technologies
While some of these changes are internal, most will have an impact on customers. This means that the information we’re communicating on a regular basis has increased.
2. Communications are subject to change
We’ve seen a surge in communications. And messages are likely to change in response to the relative success of reopening across states. We should expect to see even more communications as states adjust their plans according to the virus’s spread.
Nationwide, coronavirus cases are up 30% compared to the beginning of June. Certain states may return to lockdown, or at least roll back some reopening phases. You may need to close offices and move customer appointments online, or reschedule them. You will have to communicate all of these changes to your customers.
3. Guidance differs by state
Each state shows a very different picture. At the time of writing, June 2020, cases were declining in New York State, and New York City entered phase 3 of its reopening. Jersey was already in phase 2. Whereas North Carolina’s Governor announced that the state’s phase 2 will continue for three more weeks. Other states have recently paused their reopening plans. These updates are coming in minute by minute.
If your business operates across multiple states, you will be dealing with different phases of reopening. Are you completely clear on which rules apply to which parts of the business? As well as how the rules differ across states? And do you have a plan for communicating all this to customers, without confusing the heck out of them?
4. We’re under pressure to get messages out quickly
Finally, we might feel rushed to send all these communications as soon as possible. No organization wants to be the last to let customers know how they are dealing with reopening. Isn’t it better to be proactive, rather than wait for calls from confused customers to start flooding the queue? In some cases, yes. However, problems arise when we race to send out messages, and fail to prioritize clarity.
Get your communications right first time
It’s tempting to rush to communicate the most recent step in your reopening plan. The problem is, when we act quickly, we risk making mistakes or forgetting clarity. Take time to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Think about what they really need to know at this moment. The Financial Brand shared:
“Brands are flooding consumers with coronavirus readiness messages. We should ensure that our communications are focused on the consumer, are relevant and add value by being helpful to the situation.”
- Target communications to specific customer groups as much as you can. You’ll certainly want to segment by state, and make sure your latest update follows the most recent guidelines.
Consider frequency of communications
Right now, there’s a high risk of customers unsubscribing from messages. We’re overwhelmed with communications from every angle. As well as segmenting your audience, think about how often you’re communicating with an individual customer. Consider the following example from the insurance industry. A customer has just received an email about new opening hours. The next day she gets a claims letter. A few hours later, she gets another general email about the brand’s self service portal. Then an updated legal notice drops in her mailbox. Look at staggering your communications so customers are not bombarded with messages from you.
Clear communications mean that your customers get the right message from the beginning. By following the principles of plain language, your communications will be easier to understand.
“In a time of uncertainty, it is important that communications be proactive, simple, direct, honest and empathetic,” Jeff MacDonald, First Vice-President of Marketing at Marquette Bank.
Content creation is a company-wide concern. We know that it’s almost impossible to streamline the sheer volume of communications produced by teams across your business. Especially now, with increased communications coupled with the difficult dynamics of remote working. Solutions such as VT Insights and VT Writer can help here. Just upload your text and wait a few minutes for the solution to score your content for readability.
It’s never been more important to communicate with customers in a way that fosters trust. As Melanie Butler says for Strategy + Business:
“Keep in mind that the impact of the actions you take today will probably outlast the pandemic and define the loyalty people have to your brand and your products. So the messages you put out in the marketplace must be grounded in the actual experience and needs of your customers. And those messages must be matched by your credible ability to deliver on them. If you can earn customers’ trust in this way, you’ll build a connection today and in the future.”
Customers have so much to deal with at the moment. Complex communications come across as “tone deaf” at a time when you really need to be simplifying. Clarity is key – not only post-lockdown, but always.