Lynne Capozzi, Chief Marketing Officer at Acquia, how marketing leaders can nurture customers in a crisis.
There’s a fine line between reasoned, rapid response and ambulance chasing. Some marketers will be sticking closely to their brand’s detailed crisis communications plans and playing it safe. Others – whether through lack of a pre-planning or lack of effective CX tools – may all too easily step over this line. Consumers, journalists, and competitors will be quick to identify those brands suspected of doing the latter, and the negative impact of this could be deeply, and permanently, damaging. This is a lesson many brands will be learning very quickly – and sometimes very painfully – during the current COVID-19 crisis.
Whilst competitors will be keeping a keen eye out for rivals’ slip ups, it is consumers that are more discerning, and whom marketers will have to keep front of mind when crafting communications and marketing messaging. According to our customer experience survey, 90 per cent of respondents believe that, when it comes to delivering good CX, most brands fail to meet their expectations. And that was back in 2019. Add the coronavirus into the equation and you get a tough – and testing – time for marketers.
Open and authentic
Reputation, relationships, and sales are on the line if it looks for even a split second like your brand is profiteering from crisis. And the stakes are high. This isn’t a regional issue, or a problem affecting a select group of consumers in a single geography. It’s a global issue affecting everyone, meaning any misplaced messaging will be difficult to bury for a brand, and all too easy to recall by customers and competitors.
However, brands must continue to communicate openly and authentically with their customers. This is pretty much impossible to do without an acknowledgment of the current situation. Furthermore, failing to acknowledge the pandemic and its impact could be read as clumsy at one end of the scale, to downright heartless at the other.
For many brands, a rapid response is crucial. A bank, for instance, needs to communicate revised branch opening times and accessibility of services to account holders. This communication needs to be regionalised in terms of giving accurate information about local branches. It also needs to be personalised in terms of tailoring messaging to customers depending on the services and accounts they hold with the bank. A number of banks have also gone a step further. In addition to revised branch opening times and advice for customers facing financial impacts of COVID-19, building society Halifax has also built out its online coronavirus help centre to include mental health advice and support for those suffering domestic abuse.
Healthcare providers meanwhile need to ensure that patients have a way of accessing appointments, organising prescriptions, and getting medical advice. Governments with portals for benefits applications and financial aid must offer accessible customer support to applications from a variety of backgrounds – including the most vulnerable.
Even for brands whose services aren’t deemed “critical”, there’s still a need to keep open lines of communication with customers. Many customers – including those now unemployed or on furlough, unwell or unable to leave their home for long periods – will value effective communication more than ever. Trying to obtain a refund from a travel provider, for instance, could mean difficulty navigating a website to find contact details, before being forwarded from chatbot to customer service line. This is a frustrating experience ordinarily, but could quickly turn into a particularly stressful one in the current climate.
Contrast this with those brands that keep open lines of communication and acknowledge COVID-19. Fast-food chain Leon, for example, adapted quickly to the UK’s shutdown of food outlets by turning its 65-strong chain of restaurants into shops selling meals via click-and-collect and delivery. Some of its restaurants have also been turned into “mini supermarkets” with the brand spinning up a whole new section of its website to allow customers to easily place orders for essential goods. Leon’s strategy wasn’t just about its usual customers, though. It has also collaborated with Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust, University College London Hospital NHS foundation trust, and a number of other food outlets, to deliver meals to NHS workers at five major hospitals. This was accompanied by the #FeedNHS social media campaign, opening a direct line of communication with a whole new section of customers, and highlighting the positive outcomes of the move.
Acquia, too, has adapted to the COVID-19 situation, and considered what would be most helpful, and most appropriate, for both existing and new customers. As such, we’re offering free full service support and platform capabilities to any organisation on the front lines of this crisis in healthcare, government, higher education, and non-profit sectors.
Now, unable to access many services physically and lacking in-person contact, many consumers are relying on the digital domain and virtual experiences to interact with brands. Competition for consumer attention is high, emotions are escalating, and the stakes have been raised. As such, communicating during COVID-19 can seem daunting, yet not doing so risks unravelling years of trust- and loyalty-building with customers. It might not be “business as usual”, but customers will be very much aware of that – and it’ll hardly be business of usual for them and their own employers or businesses either! Almost two-thirds of customers we surveyed last year said that they’d abandon one brand for another if its online experience is poor and, while being loyal to certain brands, a single poor experience with one of these trusted parties will prompt them to lose faith and move on.
However, it’s possible to go one step further than providing run-of-the mill online engagements. In addition to simply acknowledging the current situation and ensuring continuous engagement with consumers, brands can also embrace the current situation as an opportunity to craft new impactful digital experiences. It might not be possible to create person-to-person experiences with your customers, but you can recreate these in a virtual environment, and invoke those same moments of personalised connection.
Real connections, real time
Offering a personalised connection means understanding your customer, their needs and wants, as well as how the current situation will have impacted these things. These connections need to be replicated at scale for each and every customer. For this you need data, as well as the tools to channel numbers and data points into analyses and action. Open marketing and CX technology can create omnichannel experiences that learn customer preferences over time, and adjust responses based on a user’s engagement history. Marketers are able to access a comprehensive view of each customer in real time, allowing them to create a dialogue with their audience and adjust messaging to suit customer responses.
A bank, for example, could create educational video content on the new loans available to SMEs, employment rights for employees on furlough, and financial support to recently unemployed, and ensure that the messaging gets to the customers that need it. That chain of restaurants could reach out to customers still placing orders with marketing email #1, while readjusting this messaging for once-regular customers who have not engaged with the brand (and may therefore have been impacted harder by COVID-19) for #2.
Finally, communications like these don’t have to be focussed on a brand’s products and services. Educational content on keeping kids entertained, inspiring ideas on working towards personal goals, top indoor exercise tips, setting up a home office, cooking lessons with store cupboard ingredients (delete where inappropriate for your brand!) may all be welcomed by customers looking for valuable engagements with their favourite brands.
Reasoned, rapid response can be helpful, comforting, and entertaining for your customers – and it’s them (not your brand) who must be front and centre when crafting marketing comms. Acknowledging COVID-19 doesn’t mean leveraging it to your advantage. Don’t chase ambulances and don’t desert your customers: nurture existing relationships rather than trying to pull in new business, and ensure a consistent output of clear communication.