Customer Experience

How to Talk to Frightened Customers About COVID-19

This period will be remembered in history for its terror, economic disruption, and isolation from social life. Businesses are hurting and badly. Your customers are likely living in fear, as well. It’s a tricky time to be a marketer—you want to genuinely serve your audience, but you don’t want to come off as uncaring. You also want to project feelings of peacefulness without giving people false hope. How can you communicate with customers in a way that eases their minds when your own mind is probably at major unease? Here are five ways to talk to frightened customers about the coronavirus in a way that truly serves them.

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Don’t Make Claims You Can’t Guarantee

One problem that’s being exacerbated at the moment is people speaking with knowledge they don’t actually have. Nobody knows when social distancing recommendations will end. Nobody knows when your store will be able to reopen its doors to the public. Nobody knows when a vaccine or an antiviral will be developed. Nobody knows when the virus will subside or subside enough so that we can return to some semblance of normal life.

Making either bold promises to customers (“We’re certain your event in June can still take place!”) or dramatic proclamations (“We’re going to be social distancing for the next 12 months until a vaccine is available!”) is not helpful. You may think you’re being a voice of guidance to customers, but in fact, you’re being the opposite—you’re spreading misinformation that is impossible to know and giving clients a false sense of either security or dread. Be as honest as possible whenever your customers ask a question.

Stay Calm and Positive—Tone Is Everything

There are probably many things you’re frustrated about right now, be it that you’re working from home, your brick-and-mortar store had to shut its doors, you’re seeing a major drop in business, or you’re out of toilet paper! But don’t show your frustration to customers. Remember that they, too, are dealing with major battles you may not see.

Stay as calm as possible over phone or digital communication, and offer as much grace as you can. Keep a positive, uplifting tone (again, without straying into promises you can’t keep), and make sure customers feel calm and confident in your service. Customers don’t need to know how badly your business is hurting or how frustrated you are. Try and find a different place to unload other than your clientele.

Keep Marketing—But Use This as a Gut Check

It’s tempting to feel like you should put a stop to marketing and sales efforts. After all, people are concerned about life-altering things right now, and you don’t want to come off as frivolous. Furthermore, you may have convinced yourself people aren’t concerned with what you’re selling at the moment—they’re focused on getting through the day. Some of these fears are justified, but in actuality, if the way you’re marketing makes you feel sleazy, it may be an important gut check. Are you selling in a way that genuinely serves people, or are you just trying to grab a few quick dollars?

Nobody is going to fault you for continuing to market and sell your services. You need to keep the lights on in your business, pay your employees, and serve more people. But there are definitely ways to do so that feel like war profiteering and ways that feel more moral. Think about what your customers actually need at this time, and try to serve them.

For instance, are you a digital streaming company? Reach out to schools to see if they need your assistance in getting lessons to kids. Are you a financial consultant? See if some of your past clients could use a consultation call at a discounted rate. Reaching out to people you honestly believe you can help will never be sleazy. Panicking and trying to fatten up your bank account by capitalizing on people’s pain, however, is a different story.

Be as Generous as Possible

While this may be a financially difficult time for your company, it’s not the time to get incredibly strict about things like refunds. If you’re a business with a lot of advance sales that is suddenly seeing a large number of people canceling plans and needing to be paid back, try and be as generous as possible. This doesn’t mean completely financially decimating your business or breaking your own rules—it just means, once again, remembering that everyone is in the same boat right now.

Try and put yourself in customers’ shoes and understand that this time is trying on everyone’s spirits and wallets. If you can be generous within your company, try and do so. This also applies to your employees, if you’re able. Obviously, those who can work remotely should be doing so, but while they’re remote, are you providing helpful resources and hour flexibility?

Some employees may need to work more early mornings or late nights due to childcare problems. This isn’t the time to be squeezing every single ounce of productivity out of your workforce and every single dollar out of your clients. It’s a time to have trust that things will eventually return to normal and that the people you are here for now will be there for you then.

Know This Will End

We don’t know when. The world feels heavy right now, and the sight of empty parking lots is a frightening one. But there will come a time when things slowly start to get back to normal. There will come a day when your entire life doesn’t feel dictated by an invisible virus. Don’t give in to doom-and-gloom ideas about staying in social isolation forever. Instead, remind yourself that this is a painful but temporary period in which there are important lessons for our businesses and society as a whole. Then, when you return, you can do so better than ever.