In the time of a crisis like the current Covid-19 pandemic, website updates and email marketing with your customers should be at the top of your priority list. The manner in which a company responds to a crisis can either significantly harm your reputation or do the complete and preferred opposite; build brand loyalty and trust.

Here are 8 things to consider when facing a crisis:

1 – Don’t ignore it
First and foremost, don’t ignore something that’s affecting your customers. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s okay, most of the world is right now! One way to approach the situation is to sit down with your team and ask the following questions: are our customers affected by the crisis and if they are, how directly is the situation impacting our ability to deliver services or products to our customers? If you rated highly in both of these questions, you need to take action.

2 – Timing matters
During a crisis, even more so when your customers are directly affected they expect to hear from you so you need to act fast. Even if you don’t have all the answers, you can communicate that. Explain that you are exploring solutions, monitoring the situation carefully and that you will update them on any changes as they come to hand. While responding quickly is important, be careful to not over-promise if you don’t have all the information yet.

Inaction breeds fear and creates rise for the emergence of rumours and misinformation. You don’t want to leave people wondering and speculating when everyone is already scared. Failing to respond quickly enough can leave your audience feeling like you’re not taking the situation seriously or worse, assuming that you don’t care.

3 – Take it seriously
It’s not a time to joke. While it might be fun to share memes amongst your friends and colleagues sharing this kind of thing during a public crisis is in poor taste and could significantly harm your brand. Pre-scheduled emails may also no longer be appropriate in light of developments, so you may need to consider pausing or postponing any planned campaigns. Last week Spirit Airlines sent out a pre-scheduled email with the headline “Never a better time to fly”, don’t be that brand.

People tend to be more sensitive to brand communications when fear and anxiety levels are high. For example, an attention grabbing headline for this post could have been “8 things to consider during a crisis to ensure your brand comes out alive” but in the current climate, that kind of wording might not land the way you want it to you and at worst could be seen as insensitive and completely inappropriate.

So use a serious tone in your emails, even if this isn’t your typical brand voice.

4 – Be clear about actions
There’s no need to waste words on the fact that the crisis exists, we already know that. What customers want to know is exactly what actions you’re taking to respond to the situation and how those actions affect them. Communicate in clear and simple language with the most pertinent information at the top.

Don’t oversell what you’re doing, how you respond is subjective so state the facts without the superlatives. What one customer might be pleased with might shatter the dreams of another. Don’t be ‘pleased to announce’ anything as one person’s relief may well be another’s disappointment. Where possible, provide options to allow customers to select the action that best serves them and their needs.

Communicate regularly throughout the crisis and don’t be afraid to change how you’re addressing or handling the situation. Things are changing rapidly based on new information and government decisions so it’s okay for your response to change too, just ensure you update your audience with any new information.

5 – Manage expectations
If you’re facing an unprecedented number of calls, tell your customers that. If there is likely a longer wait time than usual, communicate that with them. If you want them to sit tight for a few days so you can prioritise different customer groups, inform them. Managing customer expectations in advance is always a better way to prevent further frustration at an already difficult time.

6 – Help people find (consistent) information
Ensure any communication regarding the crisis is consistent across all communication channels, website, email, call centre, social media and in person.

When it comes to emailing your customers, make it easy to identify crisis critical communication. Consider a subject line that clearly identifies what your email is about in the first couple of words. Then within the body of your email include the most critical information at the start.

Pin important posts to the top of your Facebook page so that it’s easier for customers to find regardless of which channel they look to for updates.

Make necessary changes and updates to your website so that once again, customers can find what they are looking for. Consider adding a banner to the homepage or a prominent link above the fold so customers can quickly locate what they need.

If providing options to customers means an influx of incoming calls beyond your service capacity, consider coding any required changes to your website to allow customers to make changes themselves without needing to contact you.

7 – Have compassion
Know that during a time of crisis, your communications can help, hurt or confuse people and while you may feel you have made the best decision it may not be the desired outcome for all customers. Show that you care (genuinely) and that customer wellbeing is your priority.

At the risk of sounding opportunistic, times of crisis can actually be a great time to reinforce your brand values (if they are genuine).

8 – Be prepared with answers
Know that whatever you communicate even if perfectly executed, will likely still result in customers having further questions or requiring clarity. The best way to deal with that is to have a set or prepared questions and answers. Your email out could link out to a list of FAQ’s on your website. You can also monitor social media posts for common comments/questions so that your customer service representatives are better prepared.

When responding to any questions take care to be empathetic as people may be confused, scared and upset. Try to be clear and as specific as you can avoiding unnecessary words or jargon. Ensure that you are consistent, your customers talk to each other! And finally, try to be as helpful as you can giving alternative options where they are available.

If you haven’t already, now is a good time to sit down and consider the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on your customers and what actions you can take to manage or lessen the impacts. Communicate quickly, clearly and with compassion. See this as an opportunity to do your best to show customers you care and to strengthen the value of your brand during a difficult time