In times of crisis, communication is everything. Communicating with your employees is how you dispel rumors, quiet panic-inducing gossip, and provide resources everyone needs to stay safe. Communicating with your customers and stakeholders is how you maintain your business’s reputation as you ride out the storm.
But first, you need a communication strategy.
Your strategy doesn’t need to be complex. It just needs to tell your employees what they need to do to stay safe and what you’re doing to help. It needs to tell your customers how your team is going to take to meet their needs and what they can expect. Follow these steps to create an effective coronavirus communication strategy.
1. Form a response team
The first step in creating a solid communication strategy is forming a cross-functional disaster response team. It’ll be up to this team to monitor developing situations closely, determine critical messaging, and communicate messages internally and externally.
Depending on the size of your business, this team might consist of just a few people. The purpose of this team is to maintain consistent communication and be a source of truth for employees and customers.
Your response team should abide by three key principles:
Provide as much information as possible, even if you don’t have all the answers. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
- Brevity No one wants to read a lengthy technical email. Keep your communication brief and easy to understand.
- Availability Your response team should be available to answer employee and customer questions without delay.
Once you’ve got a response team in place, start working on your internal and external communication plans.
2. Establish what and how you’re going to communicate with employees
The internal strategy applies to your employees and contractors. This strategy should tell your workers what they need to do and what you’re doing for them. It should answer any questions they might have about company policies and provide resources they need to get more information.
In deciding how you’re going to communicate with employees, know that some methods are better than others. Topics regarding pay, benefits, and schedules might warrant in-person conversations or phone calls. With topics like canceled work events, emails, instant messages, and intranet postings are likely to suffice. The key is to communicate quickly and frequently. The last thing you want to do is implement a major change and then go radio silent.
Here a few things you should communicate to your employees right away:
- The facts. Employee speculation leads to panic and fear, so be transparent and tell them what you know. You’re all in this together.
- Preventative steps your organization is taking to keep your employees and customers safe.
- Clear instructions about what to do if employees suspect they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or think they might be sick.
- Any changes to your PTO or sick leave policies.
- Any applicable work-from-home policies. If employees have to self-quarantine or you ask them to work remotely, they should know what you expect of them.
- Safety tips from the CDC and WHO encouraging employees to wash hands, disinfect workspaces, and practice social distancing.
- Reliable resources on how to avoid infection and prevent the spread of the virus.
- Who they should contact on your disaster response team if they have questions or need more information.
3. Determine what and how you’re going to communicate to customers
The external strategy applies to your customers, stakeholders, shareholders, suppliers, community, and the media. These recipients are more interested in understanding how you plan to stay afloat during these turbulent times and what you’re doing to prevent the spread.
Consider creating a dedicated webpage to keep your customers and stakeholders in the loop as the virus progresses. If you don’t have the resources for that, social media posts and emails are a good way to reach people quickly.
Here are a few things you should do as you create an external communication plan:
Focus on what’s most important to them.
Your customers will want to know what you’re doing to serve them. Will you send online orders later than usual? Are your store hours changing? Will customers need to reschedule appointments? Get this information in front of your customers as soon as possible, and let them know what you’re doing to make it right.
- Emphasize that safety is your top priority. Customers also want to know what your business is doing to prevent the spread of the virus. Have you increased your cleaning services? Have you asked employees to work remotely or halted travel? Your customers want to know that they can purchase your products and services safely.
Avoid making it about you.
Don’t use the coronavirus as a selling opportunity. Now is the time to focus on empathy. Make sure any advertising campaigns you’re running align with your key messaging around the coronavirus. This situation calls for increased sensitivity and diplomacy from everyone.
Transparency is vital for successful communication
If you’re experiencing cash flow struggles, problems making payroll, or issues fulfilling your promises to your customers, be upfront and honest. You are not alone. And your customers, stakeholders, and employees will appreciate your candor.
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