Communication During COVID-19: How to Connect With Customers Now
The following exclusive was written by tire industry PR and communications expert Dan MacDonald whose new column, "Creating a Buzz," will appear in the May edition of MTD.
Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday when we were kicking off 2020 with a strong wind at our backs? The stock market was setting records, unemployment was low, and the economy was humming.
Then it all changed. Suddenly, a strange word most of us had never heard of disrupted everything: COVID-19. Since then, the stock market has fluctuated wildly, unemployment claims have spiked and our economy has ground to a sudden halt.
Tire dealers are a resilient bunch and most everyone has weathered recessions, weather-related disasters and even 9/11. But this is different. COVID-19 is an invisible and uncertain enemy and there’s no timetable for a return to normalcy.
Everyone is confronting the same tough questions: How do I adjust my approach to business to stay viable? How do I sell enough tires and service to keep my employees on the payroll? How do I keep the lights on?
One thing is certain: This is not the time to quietly hunker down and ride it out.
Communication with your customers, vendor partners and employees has never been more essential to the viability of your business.
During a crisis, you need to reach out more frequently and be very thoughtful and intentional in the ways you communicate. Here are three key things to consider as you ramp up your communications during this challenging time:
Be timely and real in delivering your message. It’s so important now to be communicating with your customers on a regular basis. If you don’t send a monthly email newsletter to customers, now would be a good time to start one. Email marketing tools make it easy to create a professional, branded email template, upload a distribution list and send out mass communications to your entire customer base. These tools even track open rates. That covers the timely part.
So, what should you say in your communications? This isn’t a time to tout sales, like “Buy three tires and get one free.” That kind of marketing or “business-as-usual” message will seem tone deaf to everyone. Be authentic. Tell your customers how grateful you are for their business. It’s okay to say you’re doing everything you can under the circumstances to take care of your employees. Let them know how this public health crisis is impacting your business and how you are adapting to still be there for your customers. This leads to our next tip.
Deliver useful, factual information. Everyone is afraid right now and unsure of what they can and cannot do. This is the time to communicate all the things you’re doing to keep your employees and customers safe. Let them know that you are following Centers for Disease Control protocols and social distancing guidelines as you operate your business. Explain that your employees are wearing masks and gloves, and everyone is staying at least six feet apart. Let your customers know that you wipe down door handles, keys, dashboards and steering wheels with disinfectant wipes before and after every service. Let them know that your top priority is the health and well-being of your customers and employees as you manage your business through this crisis.
Be proactive and be a problem solver. This goes beyond communication. You may need to think of your service levels differently in the context of this crisis. For example, many dealers have started operating pick-up and delivery services for customers. Maybe that’s a “social distancing” special service you can offer? If you can execute on a service like this, you may earn a customer for life and it doesn’t have to eat up your margins, either. People are willing to pay more for convenience and a sense of safety, especially right now.
There are so many challenges before us during the COVID-19 crisis. But it’s important to remember that this, too, shall pass. If you’re building stronger bonds with your customers during tough times, it will pay off during the good times. That may make your business stronger than ever when things do get rolling again.
Dan MacDonald is a freelance writer and former public relations director for Bridgestone Americas Inc. Dan founded MacDonald Communications, which focuses on public relations and digital marketing. He can be reached at 615-681-5381 or firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.maccomm.net