Time to Revamp Your Crisis Communication Plan


COVID-19 presented a new kind of crisis that few businesses could anticipate in their crisis communication plan. As businesses suddenly shut down, they scrambled to figure out what to communicate and how. Soon, customers were flooded with emails from all kinds of businesses about how they were handling the pandemic.  These heartfelt emails were well-intended but quickly became annoying.

As businesses begin to reopen, they are challenged with providing consistent, relevant communications. They need to address customers’ current concerns as well as plan for longer-term impacts that aren’t yet known.

Many of the communications sent over the last few months were created on the fly and were focused on short-term needs. Now is the time to plan for both short- and long-term communications that build customers’ trust and loyalty.

What have we learned about crisis communication over the past few months? How can we use what we learned to better prepare for both short-term and long-term communications?

Our company provides a 2-way messaging platform to communicate with customers. Throughout the pandemic, we observed some key success factors that will be effective for future crisis communication.

What We Observed about Crisis Communication

Speed and Content Matter

The speed with which a business sends the first communication impacts customers’ impressions. A quick response can indicate how well a business understands its customers and their needs. It can also show how prepared they are to respond in a crisis.

Speed matters but so does the content of the message. Customers look for factual and relevant information. They also look for consistent messages from different parts of the company. Is the CEO’s message say something different than marketing messages? Does the sales team say something different? Is the business taking appropriate actions for the situation?

Communications should help customers understand how to interact with that business. Customers want to know that businesses will do everything possible to reduce their pain such as longer warranties, pause in membership, extended return policies, and no change fees.

Nimbleness is Important

An effective crisis communication plan needs to be nimble. As we’ve seen, the COVID-19 situation changed often for the first few months as new information was learned.

Businesses need to be able to quickly adjust their crisis communication plan to address new needs that arise. When new information emerges, businesses need to be able to relay how that information impacts their customers. Remember, speed counts.

As businesses move through the reopening process, operations will likely change often. Customers need to know how the changes affect the business and what they can expect from the business.

Proactive Communication is Important

Customer service channels have been overwhelmed during the COVID-19 crisis with customers seeking help. Customers spent hours on hold or waited days for an email response. Even online chats were overwhelmed and taken offline.

Understanding your customers will help you to anticipate their questions, well before they reach out to you. Proactively communicating answers to these questions will ease customers’ concerns. Not only will customers appreciate the information, but incoming inquiries will be reduced.

We are continuing to learn how to communicate during a crisis like the pandemic. One thing is for sure. Implementing strategies now will provide the basis for greater success in a future crisis. Here are some strategies that successful businesses do well.

What Successful Businesses Do Well

Use Multiple Channels

Successful businesses include multiple channels in their crisis communication plan. These can include messaging, email, phone, and social media. Customers consume and process information in different ways. Some differences may be based on generational preferences while others are based on comfort level or access to channels. Knowing your customers helps you better communicate with them, especially during a crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed businesses toward digital channels. The learning curve to change behaviors was steep. Businesses that were already had a digital foundation did better. Now is the time to implement new channels.

Messaging is fast becoming a preferred channel for many age groups. A benchmark study by Zendesk found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of a messaging channel for customer service, increased by 23%. If your business doesn’t have a messaging platform, now is the time to implement one.

Our clients found our 2-way messaging platform a valuable channel for crisis communication in four main ways.

  • Personalized
    Customers’ names and other demographic data were attached to each message. Businesses could easily personalize interactions and provide relevant information that customers valued.
  • Simple, Clear
    Messaging by nature keeps communications simple and clear with short consumable bites of information. Customers prefer to skip the jargon or fluffy marketing language.
  • Fast and Easy
    All relevant information was found in the messaging app. Customers didn’t have to work to find information in numerous emails or various locations on a website. In addition, new information was pushed to customers, so they were kept up to date.
  • Allowed 2-way Interaction
    Businesses flattened the curve of customer inquiries and provided an excellent service experience. Not only did businesses send updates to customers, but customers also used the messaging app to ask questions. It was easier for customers to get help and it was more efficient for businesses to respond versus the phone or email.

Actively Listen for Valuable Data

Customers use a variety of channels to communicate with businesses. These interactions provide valuable data about what is important to customers. Successful businesses actively listen to interactions on these different channels.

Actively listening to customer interactions can provide early warnings about problems that are developing in your business. These insights can help you course-correct earlier to lessen additional impacts.

The unstructured data from customer interactions provides a wealth of information. The data helps businesses craft genuine, relevant communications quickly. Look for patterns and trends in customer interactions. Use these insights for proactive communications and FAQ updates.

Create Trust and Credibility

Trust is created over time and can be lost in an instant. Businesses should build customer trust long before a crisis. In a 2019 brand survey, 81% of the respondents said that trust in a brand is an important part of their purchase behavior.

Businesses can build and even enhance trust before as well as during a crisis in the following ways.

  • Show Empathy
    Businesses that show empathy immediately increase customer trust. Acknowledge customers’ fears, uncertainty, and pain. 
  • Be Transparent
    Customers are smart and can quickly assess if a business is being transparent and honest. Be honest about what you can and can’t do. Share relevant information and acknowledge uncertainties.
  • Respond
    Respond to customer inquiries on email, social media channels, and phone calls and provide a messaging channel.  Acknowledge their inquiry, respond, and if necessary, direct them to channels that may be faster for them to get the information or assistance they need.
  • Show Competence
    Show customers that you know what you’re doing. Providing a great customer experience is a balance between the personal dimension of service and the procedural dimension of service. (Link our blog) When the balance tips toward procedural, customer service can feel robotic. When it tips toward the personal dimension, service can appear incompetent.
  • Be Flexible
    Current policies and procedures may not work during a crisis. What modifications can you make to help customers? Customers will be less willing to listen to a policy of what you can or can’t do.

The best time to create a crisis communication plan is before a crisis. Creating strong relationships with customers and a flexible communication framework will lead to greater success. The question isn’t IF another crisis will occur, but WHEN.

Communication is always key to providing a good customer experience. In a crisis, it can make or break the trust and credibility and will define the future relationship with customers.

About Peoplocity

Peoplocity provides a 2-way messaging platform. Businesses provide their customers with a personalized mobile app to ask questions and get help. Businesses use a cloud-based platform to respond to customers and to deliver information, reminders, alerts, and updates to customers on their mobile app. It’s more efficient for businesses and increases customer satisfaction.


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