Two weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of proactive customer communications during the unsettling period of rapid change caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and COVID-19 disease. Brands are already acting to intercept potential brand problems and offer support to uncertain and concerned customers.
This health event will continue to evolve for months to come, creating unprecedented disruptions to business operations and significantly altering the needs, wants, and expectations of customers. Being proactive now is an opportunity to create a win-win, allowing your brand to simultaneously solve brand and customer problems.
Among the difficulties your organization may face are a host of customer concerns that can deter them from conducting business with your company, such as:
- Customer anxiety about visiting your location or purchasing your product. Is your product safe? What steps are you taking to ensure customer health in your physical site?
- Customer worries about your ability to deliver on promises: If I purchase from you versus a competitor, can you deliver on time? Will your inventory or logistics issues cause delays or frustrations?
- Customer hesitancy about making commitments: If I purchase advance travel, can I cancel if my situation changes or I am prevented from going? If I buy a ticket to your event, what happens if I’m unable to attend or the event is canceled? What are your timeframes or conditions for refunds?
If customers wonder about these questions, then they are becoming obstacles to your business maintaining its revenue in a difficult period. Furthermore, questions like these can raise your call volume, increase expenses, and further strain your staff as people seek answers.
Proactive action and communications during this epidemic can do more than minimize customer objections. They also represent a chance for your brand to demonstrate its customer centricity, earn trust, and build relationships. Brands that act quickly can differentiate themselves with decisions and information that decrease customer anxiety and solve customer problems before they develop.
If you are not yet communicating to customers on issues around the COVID-19 outbreak, you’re already behind organizations that have taken the lead to bring clarity and comfort in a time of growing fear and worry. I will share some examples, but if you have any worthy instances of brand communications you have seen (or launched), please share them in the comments or on Twitter.
Citi: Let us know if we can help
Citi sent a proactive email that solved both brand and customer problems. It promoted efforts at branches to augment daily cleaning procedures, diminishing customer concerns about the safety of visiting their bank. The email also recommended the use of the bank’s online and mobile apps, encouraging people to avail themselves of self-service tools versus adding to call volume.
But this communication did more than just resolve brand issues–it also proactively offered to solve customer difficulties. Citi confirmed its commitment to customers by announcing, for an initial thirty days, it will offer waivers on monthly service fees and penalties for early CD withdrawal. At a time when customers, particularly those employed hourly, may be troubled about the stability of their income, Citi is demonstrating they are a trusted partner.
TaskRabbit: Cancellation fee update due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
TaskRabbit reached out with an email to clients to let them know of changes in its cancellation fee policy. The company provides a “gig economy” service that connects customers with people willing and able to do household chores, such as moving furniture or mounting flat-panel TVs.
The email informed customers that TaskRabbit will allow them to cancel or reschedule a task within 24 hours of the start time due to illness. It also alerts customers that “taskers,” the independent contractors who accept the assignments, have been advised to reschedule if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
This is a win-win for the brand and customers–it provides more flexibility for customers and helps TaskRabbit to remove a barrier that can prevent customers from committing. Brands that offer more flexibility in times of uncertainty can win more business and demonstrate their customer commitment.
United: Book now knowing you have flexibility
Similar to TaskRabbit, United sent an email to customers to alert them of a change to its policies, thus helping the brand secure more business and removing a potential objection of customers considering travel during the epidemic. United is waiving change fees for travel booked in March. This is good for customers–more flexibility and less risk–and good for the brand–lowering barriers that may prevent purchases.
These brands are not alone. Instacart launched a new feature, Leave at My Door Delivery, to encourage orders from customers who may not want to interact with others. Delta created a COVID-19 hub on its website to keep flyers apprised of changes in its policies and share suggestions to maintain health while traveling. Disney Cruise Line altered its cancellation policy to permit guests to change their reservation up until the day before embarkation and receive a 100% cruise credit.
Of course, it’s not just customers who are impacted by the epidemic. Employees’ needs are changing, too, and brands that alter policies to assist employees produce benefits to both customer and employee experience. Microsoft announced that it will pay hourly workers their full pay, not just if they’re sick and need to stay home, but even if their hours are cut due to diminished demand for their services. Microsoft “will ensure that, in Puget Sound, for example, the 4,500 hourly employees who work in our facilities will continue to receive their regular wages even if their work hours are reduced.” Trader Joe’s changed its sick-leave policy to reimburse hourly workers, who would otherwise not be paid for hours missed due to illness. This change encourages workers to stay home if they feel ill and reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to customers or coworkers.
Assess the sorts of customers you serve and employees you hire, and consider how their circumstances may change. In the B2B space, your customers may face supply chain disruptions or reductions in revenue. For B2C brands, some customers may face the prospect of furloughs, layoffs, and cuts in hours, as well as the possibility of limited mobility and freedom because of voluntary or required quarantines. And, in the coming months, everyone will share some level of concern about protecting the health of their loved ones.
Brands willing to proactively assist people in a time of crisis can ensure their relationships remain healthy. Proactive customer experience efforts like these won’t prevent all the problems COVID-19 brings, but they can help prevent those problems from multiplying.