Crisis response: how to retain and develop customers

This article is based on a presentation at the IBD business clinic

The best advice takes three words: talk to them. But as a small and medium-sized enterprise owner, the next question is how.

Phone calls are a great idea. But there has been a shift in the world over the past 10 years to an attention economy and every business owner needs to be able to use digital tools to keep in touch with their customers.

The COVID-19 crisis helps us to see who the winners may be when the world returns to normal. Even if the simple truth is that no-one knows what normal will look like.

Three areas for attention

There are three areas where you should focus your communication and these are:

  1. People
  2. Community
  3. Generosity.

Pret A Manger provided a great example of how to do this in an email it sent to its customer email list on 18 March.

It was headed “Dear NHS worker” and it said “Your hot drinks are on the house from today. And we’ll take 50% off everything else. Thank you for everything you are doing. We look forward to serving you. With Love Everyone at Pret.”

Dear NHS Workers - great communication

These 37 words were sent to everyone. While Pret is not a perfect business at the heart of its values is the belief that happy staff make for places that customers will want to visit over and over again. I think this message is pitch-perfect. Especially in that is signed from “Everyone at Pret”.

What messages to send

The business world is divided into three. Some places are facing unprecedented demand. Some are facing a massive decline. And some are paused. What you say depends on what you can say.

If you are open for business, then keep on selling. But think about what you will be remembered for. Generosity is important. It takes different shapes. It could be a big discount. Or charitable activity.

If you are not open, then you still need to keep in touch with customers. If you don’t have an email list, then you need to use social media – Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook. Experts advise that the best way to do this is to post in a Facebook group that is relevant to your customers. For example, most local areas now have groups. Facebook also has the best track record for scaling messages to relevant people organically.

How to frame your messages

The first thing is to be aware of the mental and emotional state of your audience. Research this by looking at the messages in your social media newsfeeds. Copy the messages that resonate with you.

Take some time to work out what your opinion is about the world, the industry you work in and the people you know. Think about what tactics you are prepared to use. Once you have an opinion, then share your ideas repeatedly. Be known for your views so that people remember who you are.

And finally, late in March my family and I took part in Jay Flynn’s virtual pub quiz. We were told about this by a Facebook friend. In less than a week, Jay attracted more than 300,000 people to take part in this quiz worldwide. The previous Guinness Book of World Records number was 1,600ish.

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