Recent WHO (World Health Organization) announcement about COVID-19 pandemic is raising many uncertainties and questions about the way business will now be conducted around the world. In the face of this unusual situation, companies often do not know what to do and how to communicate with customers, partners, even their own employees.
It is obvious that the current quarantine situation cannot be compared to any previously announced pandemics or crises - this time, the world is shutting down completely. The situation is going to lead to hardly measurable consequences not only for individuals, but also for businesses. While people actively seek information and assurance from the government and trusted leaders, it is important for companies to demonstrate effective leadership within their own sphere of influence - through the right communication with employees, customers, partners and suppliers.
1. Do not ignore the problem
In the event of any unusual situation, do not avoid talking about problems. A pandemic will inevitably affect your company and employees, thus talking about security and any foreseen plans during quarantine with clients, employees and partners should be a priority. Everybody needs to know clearly what your business plans are, whether the team will now work remotely or you will temporarily be out of business, how you can be contacted and how you are willing to help the others. This will allow the company to maintain seamless communication and provide clarity in shaping future communications. “Gartner” has prepared a useful questionnaire to help you understand the level of company preparedness during the pandemic crisis.
2. Plan internal communication
When a crisis begins, employees need to understand how it will affect their work and the company itself. In times of panic, the reluctance to take on responsibility may begin, thus it is important to appoint a person or a team which will be responsible for sharing the information with employees. Staff should receive all mandatory information regarding the critical points and risks of a crisis, how to ensure a safe and responsible environment and how the work will look like from this point. Any communication with remote workers should be especially empathetic - create open communication, understand that a person is working from home and may have other family members in the same room, thus the environment may not be very professional.
3. Maintain contacts
Do not stop fostering relationships with clients, partners and investors. Use various communication channels, such as social networks, just to chat and show that you are responding to the situation. Clients need to understand that in spite of temporary troubles, the company is still in business and you are ready to help and answer any questions. The communication should take place regularly and be available at all times. It is important to stay open about the challenges ahead and how you are prepared to deal with them. Crisis can be a great time to re-communicate your company's core values.
4. Continue communication with the press, offer help and expertise
While the first instinct in a crisis is to get away from it all, long-built communication efforts should not be suddenly dropped. Do not push the press away - continue talking about your company by fine-tuning your tone, as people need empathy and sensitivity at this moment. A good way to help is by actively offering your comments and company expertise. For example, if you are a virtual educator, offer tips on what to do with children at home, and if you are a private clinic, share insights on health care, etc.
5. Share achievements
Despite the stress, understand that the crisis will not last forever, thus keep reminding your customers and partners about it. During this time, it is important to continue sharing company achievements and success stories. Inspire people and help them understand that this phase is temporary. Of course, achievements need to be communicated in a sensitive manner when many other companies are experiencing difficulties. This requires empathy and diplomacy at every step.
6. Find the right strategy for your business
Global crisis does not mean your customers are no longer interested in your business. For example, trade giant “Alibaba” claims that the number of online shoppers has increased by 2.5 times compared to February last year. Consumer habits are about to change, thus keep that in mind when choosing your further strategy. Business communication will also undoubtedly change - unique, value-creating content is going to be even more important than ever.
7. Work with the right professionals
Choose those communication professionals who have the best knowledge about your niche. In the time of crisis, avoid spending money on general news - focus on specialized publications. Start with an internal newsletter for employees and customers, and then move on to a niche message for your target audience. Think about how you can help people in crisis: “Microsoft” and “Google”, for example, have provided free access to conference tools to facilitate remote work, while some airlines have agreed to waive the fees for flight information exchange and cancellation.
8. Choose partnership
In a crisis, finding the right partners is more important than ever, especially if you are a small business. Instead of choosing competition, look for partnerships - help each other, share resources and ideas, and this may get you out of hard times even faster. One great example of open collaboration is the cryptocurrency company “Coinbase” - it has openly shared its internal communication plan with the world, including daily tips for employees and answers to everyone's concerns, from the latest news about the virus to general advice about pet care during quarantine, etc.
9. Prepare external communication plan - think of existing and potential audiences
In the global context, all businesses face the same situation - only an attitude and preparation will differ. Now is a great time to build a communication plan that will help to address different audiences. If your business is not localized, this is a great opportunity to look for partners in wider and unexplored markets. It is worth considering communication abroad as well - perhaps your business solutions could address some specific consequences of a pandemic. For example, fintech companies can help create new solutions for remote billing, translation agencies could employ more freelancers who now can only work from home, and so on.
10. Contribute to community
There probably are people around you who need help - take a chance to find ways to contribute safely. Perhaps you can provide food aid to those who have returned from abroad and are in compulsory two-week self-isolation, or assist elderly people struggling to get the essentials - there are many safe opportunities to contribute to the community. Do good deeds and communicate about them, and it will encourage others to join in as much as they can.
Kristina Skindelyte and Raminta Lilaite, founders of digital communications agency “Blue Oceans PR”.