Crisis Communication Strategy: How Small Service-Based Businesses Can Communicate Better With Their Clients (& Do it Right) During COVID-19
With COVID-19 raging across the world, it’s more important than ever to retain your client base and come out on the other side ready for action.
While logical thinking dictates that you focus on upskilling yourself or adopt alternate interesting ways to grow your business, there’s not much advice that talks about communicating effectively with your clients. Out of sight, out of mind… goes the old adage and rightfully so.
That’s why it is important for you to build and ace a crisis communication strategy for your small business.
Crisis communication strategy for a small service based business? Is that even a thing? Sure that might raise a few eyebrows, but the truth is it is the need of the hour.
Having a crisis communication strategy will help you build a framework and clearly communicate with your clients during this pandemic and beyond. Without planning for one, your clients may get mixed messages and could feel abandoned and let down if they don’t hear from you. Additionally, if you aren’t communicating the right message—of hope and empathy—you can come across as a business that is more interested in sales than people.
In this post, I’m going to share the best way forward along with some lessons you need to remember when building a crisis communication strategy and communicating with your clients during these troubling times.
How to Write a Crisis Communication Plan: 4 Key Essentials
How your business presents itself during a crisis will have a massive impact on its longevity. That’s because your clients will remember how thoughtful and engaged you were with them even when your barbershop, spa, salon or wellness business was temporarily shut-down.
That’s why it is significant to know that your crisis communication strategy includes the essentials mentioned ahead:
- Clear brand intentions
Your crisis communication strategy should lay down your brand intentions clearly. This is especially true when communicating with clients via emails and social media.
Many small service-based businesses are using emails to communicate with their clients. Unfortunately, most of this communication is generic—without any element of personalization.
That does absolutely nothing for the clients—and actively hurts your small business’ brand identity.
Instead, you should be focusing on personalization—if you are using social media channels make sure that your communication is on point and leads with empathy. Here’s a great example from goGLOW— a Genbook customer. This post leads with addresses all the stakeholders of the business—from its community, to its teams, to its guests and shows the businesses’ compassionate side.
View this post on Instagram
The safety and health of our guests, community and incredible team is just too important to us to remain open during this time. Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17th we’ve decided to close all goGLOW locations with the hope of reopening Monday, March 30th. Brow Bella @browbellaspa in Burnsville, MN will remain open and are able to provide you with a goGLOW service and products. Our online store is still up and running, and our team will continue to work safely and efficiently to make sure your orders are fulfilled in a timely manner. Our team will be standing by to answer any questions you may have – please email all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and be patient waiting for a response. xox- Melanie, Margo & the goGLOW Team
Remember, your clients want to feel connected to you and want to be sure that you are invested in taking care of them.
- Compassion and empathy
The Coronavirus crisis is unprecedented. Ensure your communications during this crisis note the changed circumstances of the world, and how you empathize with the people who have been directly affected by the virus.
Let your clients know that you feel as concerned about the situation as they do—we’re in this boat together. Be sensitive, be caring, be vulnerable, and be human.
You may not be able to sell your services right now, but you can still look for ways to be of help.
For example, though clients can’t go to wellness centers for therapy, a counselor can still help them through a virtual session, just like PwC Boulder—a wellness business that’s helping clients through virtual sessions.
View this post on Instagram
Mothers! We are here for you. Follow the link in our bio to RSVP for our free virtual support group and more information on our Tele-Health Remote Access Services . . The focus of this group is to provide support for moms who are looking for a community of women to come together during this difficult time. Each group will begin and end with a grounding exercise to make sure moms feel held during and after each group. Approach will offer structured support and informed by body awareness and mindfulness-based practices . . Hosted weekly on Thursdays 3 – 4 PM MST over Zoom – Drop in, for moms with children all ages – Sign up/RSVP required
- Supports employees
If you’re a business who can still make provisions and support your staff— taking care of salaries and medical insurance for the foreseeable future, do share it with clients.
Wondering why this forms an essential part of a crisis communication strategy?
That’s because your clients have already built a long-standing relationship with your employees—the stylist, therapist or counselor—without whom their service experience wouldn’t be the same.
When your clients read or hear that you’re taking care of their favorite stylist, therapist, barber or counselor they are assured that they will be returning to the same experience at your business.
- Address the wider community
Small businesses like yours are central to your community. And that’s why your crisis communication strategy should address the wider community as well.
Are there services you can provide to the community, health workers, grocery staff, or construction workers? If not now, perhaps after the pandemic is over?
If you have the wherewithal to offer free spa or beauty treatments, massages, or counseling to people on the frontline, let the community know.
Generating goodwill in the community needs to be a priority during emergencies, and your messaging should reflect that.
Now that you’ve got a fair idea of key essentials when it comes to crisis communication strategy, let’s jump on to the lessons you need to remember when communicating with your clients.
4 Quick Lessons To Remember When Communicating With Clients
Crisis communication needs a fair amount of planning and tact—you are constantly striving for balance in the way you share information and in the kind of tone you adopt.
To ensure that you get your messaging right, we have a few quick lessons to share with you so that your crisis communication hits the mark with your clients.
The news surrounding the Coronavirus is changing on a near-constant basis.
There is a lot of misinformation about the virus and it tends to spread faster than legitimate news—sensational pieces can go viral, but that doesn’t mean they are true.
When gathering information for your crisis communication strategy, check the time and date of the news before making any sweeping policy changes and sharing it with your clients.
But more importantly, confirm the source of the news—is it from a trustworthy source like the government, the WHO, or the CDC? Only then can you rely on it and share it.
Use an infographic maker to create memorable and powerful messaging, and always include the source of the information so clients know where it is coming from.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Reacting to news and events is human nature, but when you are running a small business, waiting to react to changes can cost you revenue and goodwill.
Moving elements of your business online can take time and practice—not to mention the amount of time it takes to send out the message that you are online.
In that time, you will have lost valuable revenue that you could have generated from online therapies or classes.
Making the move into e-commerce territory in a more timely fashion—and informing your clients of the change—will help you stem the loss of revenue.
And goodwill can be even further hampered by waiting too long—if businesses around you are already stepping up to help the community, lagging behind in this aspect might make it look like you don’t care about the people or clients around you.
By being informed, you can stay ahead of the curve and proactively make changes that will benefit your business.
Choose Your Tone of Voice
Your tone of voice is an essential aspect of branding—it can be as memorable as your logo so you need to get it right during a crisis.
Here’s an example:
View this post on Instagram
We're proud to announce that we donated $10,000 to @sickkidsvs, which includes your generous contributions during the holiday campaign! Thank you for your continued support 💕 #sickkidsvs⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #sickkidshospital #donate #socialgood #fundraising #torontofundraising #givethegift #elmwoodspa #spalife #torontospa
This post from Elmwood Spa showcases a few essential elements of great crisis communication: real people, generosity, sense of community, gratitude, personality.
All these elements make for communication that sounds like it was written by real people for real clients, which is what service-based businesses should adopt.
Most brands have a set tone of voice that they employ for their promoted content—in the case of small businesses, it is often more personal, even intimate.
If that’s the tone you have been using, do not change to third-person now—the effect will be jarring for your clients.
On the other hand, if your tone is usually on the flippant or sarcastic side, you might want to rethink the content of your posts during this pandemic period.
As brand-conscious as you want to be, you also need to allay the fears of your audience—and you can’t do that by employing a tone that makes light of the current crisis.
How can you guarantee you don’t make a mistake with regard to the tone of your content? Check online to see what people have to say about SMB brand voices—what do your clients want to hear, and how do they want to hear it?
Listen to what people have to say and you will be better equipped to match your tone and content to the needs of your audience.
Share Updated Terms and Policies
You will have seen sweeping changes come into effect because of the Coronavirus pandemic. This has meant making swift updates to the way you do business so that your service can continue to align with client needs.
Take a look at this post on updated policies from David’s Bridal:
Once the pandemic was declared and businesses were asked to temporarily close their stores to clients, David’s Bridal took the initiative to change their business model.
This included making no-contact pickups and deliveries available, for free, and increasing online sales and appointments with the online stylist.
In the same vein, you can make updates to your policies—we outline how to do this.
- Exchange Policies
As a small business, especially in the personal service sector, you’ll need to implement an exchange policy to alleviate the consequences of the COVID crisis.
Send out messages that detail how the exchange policy will work and how it can be availed. Take a look at Monaco Rejuvenation’s updated exchange policy:
They’ve exchanged the dates for existing appointments—along with the deposit—for a later date so that their clients aren’t inconvenienced, while also sparing themselves the added concern of losing revenue at a time when revenue sources are becoming scarce.
If you don’t have exchange policies in place, now is the time to institute them—these will ensure that client relations remain strong.
- Cancellation Policies
Cancellations have become the norm but while they are an understandable reaction, the hit to your business is immense.
There is a way to mitigate this situation—change the cancellation policies to exchange policies.
Your crisis communication strategy should include messaging for informing clients that cancellations can be swapped for exchanges.
Instead of an outright cancellation of appointments, the same appointment can be set for a later date but prepaid online.
Genbook provides a variety of features that can be adapted to the current crisis. For example, Genbookers can add lead time or buffer to space-out clients and ensure that your business does not have more than the appropriate number of people in one spot.
Through the general announcement feature, businesses can alert clients of COVID-19-related policy or practice changes.
You must also ensure that your client knows how you are guaranteeing that their information is private and secure—particularly if they aren’t used to transacting with you online.
Loyal clients should have no trouble agreeing to these new terms—they want to support local businesses and the community and this is a great way to do so.
- Send Positive Vibes
Effective crisis communications will focus on spreading awareness and information, but also to send out positivity whenever possible.
Here’s an example:
While we aren’t advocating a sudden change in tone in your messaging, it can’t hurt to add an upbeat post to your schedule every now and again.
Share a popular meme—if you can revise it to suit your business, even better—or pictures and videos of pets.
Ask your staff to take short videos about their day it— will put a smile on clients’ faces to see the staff members they meet regularly online.
Sharing tips for home care when people can’t access personal services is a great way to stay connected to the community and put a positive spin on the current situation.
Getting Back to Business as Usual
If this pandemic has shown us anything it is that a crisis can be around the corner—and absolutely nobody has been prepared for it.
Small businesses like you have been hit hard and the ones that do survive this crisis will need to ensure that they are prepared for the next one.
Have backup plans for when your physical outlets might have to be closed—what provisions can you make for staff? What about supply chains? New sources of revenue?
Take the lessons you’ve learned from this situation and implement them when thinking of your crisis communication plan—this will guarantee some modicum of readiness for when (if) the world is faced with another disaster of this magnitude.
And if you’re looking for a personalized plan to help you sail through, try our COVID Business Health, Revenue & Safety Health Check.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Ronita Mohan, at Venngage, the online infographic and design platform. She enjoys writing about, design, social media, digital marketing, as well as pop culture and diversity.