Communications in a Crisis - Good News Spreads Fast, Fake News Spreads Faster
In times of uncertainty, business owners and managers need to remember the importance of clear communications. We live in extremely difficult times - we all have natural human concerns for ourselves and for our families but for business operators there is an added level of concern. Lorcan Bannon, a business specialist with ifac, writes how effective communications present an opportunity for businesses to come through this in a better place.
A once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon like Covid-19 has the ability to shake the fundamentals of running a business to the core. Established ways of working no longer make sense. For businesses still able to operate, basics like the ability to accept cash as a form of payment is no longer considered a safe thing to do. Fake news stories about shortages in supply chains can create uncontrolled panic and stir up the most basic of emotions in customers. It is also worth remembering that everyone you are dealing with is dealing with the same emotional roller coaster as you. Be aware that they may not have the emotional capacity to deal with you and your business needs as promptly as you would like.
In times of greatest crisis, there is a need for business leaders to provide a voice of clarity and reassurance to both their staff and customers. Some ways to deliver on this include:
Remember your Customer
Customer communication remains key. While face to face contact is obviously a non-runner for businesses, technology provides a way to ensure that you can stay in touch with your customers. Platforms like Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp offer professional solutions that mean you can connect effectively with your customers.
For business-to-consumer brands, have the ability to see the crisis through the eyes of your consumer and look to support and add value where possible. Use social media to facilitate both one-to-one contact and wider updates to your follower base. Three Mobile for example removed their fair usage policy for their “all you can eat” data customers on Mother’s Day, acknowledging the need for video calls on that emotional sensitive day. While Centra promoted social content around the theme of #WereInItTogether. If you operate a business-to-business operation, showing empathy and providing flexibility to other businesses where possible is key. For example, have recently announced that they are shortening the payment terms for their smaller suppliers from 14 to 5 days, recognising the outstanding service that many Irish food and drinks companies continue to deliver in unprecedented times.
Keep lines of communication open
In the short term, there is need to stay in touch with your customers, your staff, your bank and your suppliers. Keep the lines of communication open. Listen to what your connections are saying and try to adapt where possible. For example, many food producers are looking to do local deliveries where possible through online orders while many restaurants are looking at ways to convert their businesses to take-away only services.
Transparency of communications
To help deliver these lines of communication, both internally and externally, business leaders now need to look at new ways of structuring their teams and how they communicate within these structures.
Remote working has gone from a peripheral business concern to a cornerstone for success within this crisis. Business leaders need to ensure that their staff have both the basic infrastructure like laptops and internet connection and the trust to complete the workloads remotely and to the best of their abilities. Business leaders need to provide freedom within a framework. Clear schedules of communication without having the need to overwhelm your staff with updates with help keep people informed in a controlled way and help to limit the delivery of potentially negative news like the reduction of a working week.
Celebrate your staff
Many businesses who are required to stay open, like food retailers, are relying heavily on the goodwill of their staff. The commitment of staff means that food producers can harvest their products, delivery drivers can complete the logistics and retail staff can ensure that our shelves are well stocked. In a timely reminder, Lidl shared a social post with the names of their 5,000 members of staff under the title “5,000 Thank you’s”. Make sure your staff know their efforts in these unprecedented times are appreciated. Many companies who have staff on the front-line meeting customers have implemented a Covid19 Bonus to acknowledge in a very tangible way the challenge their teams are going through.
Address fake news head on
In times of crisis, good news travels fast but fake news travels faster. It is important for business leaders to be aware of potentially negative stories gaining traction and be willing to react decisively and speedily if needed. Last week for example, the Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky sent an email to all his customers to advise them that the company was well capitalised and on a secure financial footing to counter a viral WhatsApp message urging people to take their money out of the financial start-up as it was on the brink of collapse. I must admit that as a Revolut user, I was concerned by the WhatsApp message before receiving the email and conducting some further online research. Proactive action like this from business leaders is key to maintain the status quo in times of crisis.
A clear communication approach with grounded optimism has the potential to spread, giving us all a sense that there is a way to get through this crisis and eventually come back stronger and better than ever.