How do you communicate with clients during a crisis?
Does it matter how you communicate with clients during a crisis?
Client communication is vital during a crisis. A business crisis is not a new term in the business world because unexpected events happen daily. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a unique one since it affects businesses worldwide simultaneously and in an almost similar manner. It is both a social and financial crisis for companies and employees. The persistent spread of the pandemic is changing the way we work, live, and how we interact, thrusting business leaders and employees into new territory. During this uncertain period, businesses must ensure that communication is ongoing, accurate, and transparent.
In October 2020, a crisis struck my business. Cancer struck in our family, and the lens tightened into survival. I had recently hired new staff and had just onboarded a new client.
Suddenly, I could not meet all of my obligations to clients or my new team.
My action plan? I decided to be completely transparent with them. Each team member and each client was contacted. I told them about my Mom being diagnosed with stage 4 metastasized pancreatic cancer. I knew she didn’t have long, and I needed to be there as much as possible to help Mom through the journey.
Each client agreed that I needed to put family first and only commit the time I had available when it was available. At first, I thought I would be able to work part-time. It quickly became apparent that Mom’s cancer was aggressive, and she only had a short time left.
The hard part was letting go. It all fell apart when a meeting scheduled with a client, but I was in the emergency room with Mom instead. The client was notified, but that was a turning point. My focus shifted entirely to Mom for the short time she had left.
We work hard to retain our existing clients and even harder to find new clients. A new client had just been onboarded, but she did not know me or my work ethic. I was pretty sure she would just let me go and move on to another provider. Instead, she adjusted some of her focus, and we got through the crisis with minimal impact on her.
I did lose a few team members who could not wait for me to focus on business again. I also had a few team members who were able to help me through the crisis and keep some tasks moving forward.
Why do I tell you this?
Client communication and even team communication can help your business through a crisis. If I had shut down communication, I would have lost all my team members and most certainly a few clients. Communication is the heart of any business regardless of its size and scope.
Proper communication in any crisis is a fundamental skill for any business owner. Clients are thirsty for information. They want to know the current state of things. They want to be kept in the loop and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
A crisis tests your communication, leadership, and strategic skills.
Today let us focus on best practices for client communication in a crisis.
Here are three thoughts to provoke you, two ideas to inspire you, and one item to act on!
Three Thoughts to Provoke
Number One. Communicate Clear & Timely Information
It is important to remember that communication is nearly as important as resolving the problem. When a crisis happens, let the client know that you are taking immediate action. Be proactive. Please do not wait until they are complaining. Reach out to them first. Share with them essential information and give them an exact time by which they can expect another update. I believe it is better to lose the client than my business reputation.
I recently had an incident where I traveled and used my laptop for an extended period. Typically, this would not be an issue, but a series of unfortunate events unfolded.
First, one of my client’s email accounts disappeared from my laptop, and I did not notice. Second, my client started emailing me at the email account reserved for their social media accounts. I wondered why I didn’t hear from them and thought they were reticent. Finally, I reached out when I had not received a scheduled document. They replied that they sent it the week before. They thought I had disappeared. We worked through the breakdown, but WOW, what a wake-up call to the importance of communication.
Remember, this is the time for transparency. Avoid any excuses and false information. I let the client know that I was traveling, and the laptop didn’t have the account they were using.
John Joseph Powel reminds us that:
Honest, open communication is the only street that leads us into the real world… We then begin to grow as never before. And once we are on this road, happiness cannot be far away.
Number Two. Be Human
Acknowledge all the emotions you and the team are experiencing. Be transparent about how the crisis is impacting you. Demonstrating vulnerability can help build trust between you and others, especially in a challenging situation. Take time to reflect and process what is happening before taking significant steps.
I like this quote by Paul J. Meyer,
Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.
Connecting on a human level communicates care, reduces the threat response, and encourages innovative, sustainable, and creative problem-solving.
Number Three. Use all available tools for communication!
During my crisis, I used email, text, WhatsApp, and my project management platform. I even used my newsletter to let people know I would not be sending out the newsletter for a few weeks.
I recommend you use all the several communication channels in your business for quick and effective communications during crises. But remember to share only accurate information and links to trusted sources. Your reputation and success can depend on reliable and clear communications. Use your website, social media pages, blogs and E-newsletters, phone systems, and text alerts to communicate.
Two Things to Inspire
Number One. Reassurance
It is critical to reassure clients. Crisis impact your clients in personal ways. Things that used to be sure are now in question, and this is troubling for most people. Now is your chance to be part of the solution, not the noise. This action of reassuring clients can help soothe fears and stabilize their business lives and yours during a time of uncertainty.
Number Two. Practice Empathy and Accountability
In a crisis, empathy, honesty, accountability, and open communication will go a long way. The way a client feels they are treated is often more important than the situation itself. Provide opportunities for direct conversations about complex topics. Through honest dialogue, openness, and communication, the business can pull the challenges they face into the light, where they’re not as scary.
Your Action Item.
A crisis can strike any business anytime and anywhere. Advanced planning is always the key to survival. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a crisis communications plan.
Start by assessing your communication channels and determine how you can leverage each. If necessary, the company website needs to be updated, so the public knows what is happening and what initiatives are ongoing in response to the crisis. Also, keep your social media platforms active. Constantly share information on these platforms as clients will want to visit them for more information and engage with you.
Remember that your internal and external communication can help you keep your reputation, public image, and continuity.
Would you like to share your experience in handling client communication during a business crisis? We would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.