What would you say to customers and clients if you had to close your office or shop because of the Coronavirus crisis, or if it delays deliveries or services? This is not a time for panic, but does highlight the importance of having either a crisis or risk and reputation management plan in place…
As the Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – situation continues to build steam we have seen some brands close stores, offices shut and companies suspend factory lines, even football matches have been cancelled.
While you may already have a crisis management plan or a reputation and risk plan, now is a good time to revisit it to ensure it is solid enough to withstand any developments caused by Coronavirus.
There is no need to panic, but you should be prepared to reassure customers, stakeholders and staff, and think how you might respond if it is confirmed that a member of your staff has contracted the virus. For the most part, these messages can be prepared in advance and should focus on the welfare and health and safety of your people, rather than profits.
For instance, what would you tell customers, suppliers or say to the press if your office or store had to close temporarily because of Covid-19? Have you considered what you would do if an employee returned from a trip abroad and fell ill with suspected coronavirus? The key is to address these questions now and to incorporate Coronavirus planning into your crisis communications plan.
As with so many things in life, preparation is key. Make sure you know who will be handling any crisis, and if there is anyone you need to include for this particular issue. With the risk of losing key members of the team to the virus or to self-isolation, now is the time to ensure you know who their replacement would be.
You should be prepared to answer questions from customers, prospects and your suppliers on social media and even from the press; employees and their families will also be looking for reassurance. Ensure that you can show that you are ready for the situation, have prepared for all likely outcomes, and that you have everything under control.
Be clear and concise
If you must close one of your office or other buildings, it is better to be honest about the reasons. A statement of ‘closed due to unforeseen circumstances’ will get the rumour mill working overtime. If you must close for a deep clean, for instance, say so. Your company will be considered proactive and efficient in dealing with a crisis.
If a member of staff does contract the virus ensure that the right message goes out both to internal and external stakeholders, to convey that you are doing all the right things both to take care of them and to ensure the safety of others.
Communicate with your staff
Everything we mention about talking to customers or clients also holds true for your staff. It is key to take the same care with internal communications; it will stop any gossip in its tracks, keep anxiety levels low, and ensure that staff know all they need to know about what precautions are being put in place to keep them safe, and the contingency plans that have been prepared if they need to work from home, or self-isolate.
Business as usual
Keep in touch with your clients who, rightly so, may be concerned about a reduced workforce and continuity of service – can you reassure them that you have this covered and have a contingency plan in place? If it is going to affect your service, ensure that this message is conveyed to them in the correct manner. It is far better to inform customers of any administration or delivery delays in advance, rather than waiting until they contact you asking where their order is, for example.
You may need to speak to clients or even the media. Do you have a spokesperson who is comfortable with doing this? And do you have a backup if they are not available? This might also be the time to consider whether you or your managers would benefit from some media training or crisis communication training.
The worst may not have happened yet – so now is the time to put your preparation to the test before you need to use it for real.
Many companies have started to ask if they should stop posting on social media, as they have run out of stock, thanks to their factory suppliers in China being shut down as part of mass quarantines. They wonder if they should stop posting, as they cannot supply product at this time.
The best advice is to use social media to keep everyone informed of your position. Use it to help people stay up to date with the situation, or to remind them of what your company does. Dropping off the radar now will mean you will have to work doubly hard to maintain company awareness when this is all over.
Amazon has already sent out advice to sellers that are low on stock, advising them to cancel any orders they cannot currently fulfil, and to switch their Amazon status to ‘vacation’ so that they don’t get pushed down the ranks by Amazon algorithms.
It’s good advice to use for any business – do not leave people hanging on for an order that you are unable to fulfil and be upfront about how you will be handling cancellations. We have already spotted some great social media posts updating customers – a local coach company for instance, assured customers that it would still be running trips, and gave clear information of how its refund and rebooking policy would work, while reminding everyone that they are a small, family-run company trying to do their best to run their business during difficult times.
You can keep up to date with government business advice at: www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-employees-employers-and-businesses.
Find NHS advice at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19.
And read the latest news about Coronavirus on the BBC website.
If you would like to have a chat about devising a crisis management or reputation and risk plan, or want to find out about media communication or any other marketing requirements, please call Alison Page on tel: 07963 002065 or email: email@example.com. You can of course browse our website to see what our existing clients have to say about our work.