Dealing With Sandy: A Guide for Business Owners
Last week, Hurricane Sandy delivered disastrous damage to the East Coast. And, as a business owner, you may be trying to figure out how best to communicate with your customers during such a difficult time. Do you let them know about every update, or just the big ones? How often is too often?
Whether your company is experiencing shipping delays, store closures, or service disruptions, here are a few do’s and don'ts to consider as you keep your community informed—in this crisis or any:
1. Do: Be Clear
As you work to get your business back up and running, you’re likely sorting through details big and small. But in the meantime, it’s important to update your customers with timely—and correct—information. When you decide to communicate with your customers, take the time to make sure you have the most up-to-date, complete information. For example, if you’ve been told that your most recent customer shipments will be delayed by two days, does that apply to every region? Is there a chance they could be delayed longer? Are you offering any rebate? And don’t be afraid to be candid about the information you’re still waiting to confirm. By providing your customers with transparent, comprehensive updates, you’ll save them a great deal of confusion during an already chaotic time.
2. Do: Find the Balance
Your customers depend on the product or service you provide and need to be updated about any disruptions they’ll experience. But how often? If your product or service is critical to your customers during this time—think food, shelter, power, internet—you should communicate as often as you have an update. Your customers will be grateful for the information and transparency.
But if your product isn’t as crucial to getting people back on their feet, only communicate the most important updates. For example, if you’ve told your customers that your store will be closed for the next five days, you don’t need to email them each morning reminding them that you’re not open. On the other hand, if five days turns into 10, you should let them know.
3. Do: Show Support
Let your customers know that you and your team are thinking about them during this challenging time. If there are tangible ways that your business can help your local community or those who were affected more broadly—like by donating products or a percentage of your revenue—let them know where they can find that help.
1. Don’t: Make Light of the Situation
American Apparel received backlash this week after it launched a Hurricane Sandy sale during the storm, with the language: “In case you’re bored during the storm, just enter SANDYSALE at checkout.”
Needless to say, many customers didn’t appreciate that approach. You want your customers to feel supported during a crisis; not slammed with a sales pitch.
2. Don’t: Make it About You
Your communication should always focus on your customers: how they’re affected, when they can expect normal service, and the ways your brand is working to support them during a tough time. I recently received an email from a brand that wrote—at length—about the company’s experience during the storm and how much it was suffering. Sad, yes. But people are suffering in much worse ways. So, save the drama for your mama and keep communication focused on your customers.
3. Don’t: Be Unresponsive
No matter how thorough your updates, your customers will likely have additional questions more specific to their own situation. Make sure that your team is available to answer them, especially if your product or service is crucial to getting people back on their feet. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get answers from a company that refuses to answer the phone.
If your company has been severely impacted and regular communication is not possible, try to find some way to let your customers know about your situation—and when they can next expect to hear from you.
Remember that you are communicating to a wide spectrum of customers—from those who have been severely impacted to others who were not. And while their needs will be different, your message should be the same: You are committed to supporting them during this difficult time, you’re working hard to resume normal service, and you’ll keep them updated. Your customers will appreciate it as they work to do the same.
Photo of woman in crisis courtesy of Shutterstock.
About The Author
Alex Honeysett is a Marketing & Brand Strategist who believes the secret to marketing success is not to sell your soul, lose your sense of humor or shape-shift into a corporate marketing robot -- it's to create a human relationship with your community (strategically!). After spending nearly a decade leading corporate communications strategies for companies including Thomson Reuters and NASDAQ, Alex now helps women entrepreneurs and small businesses create foundational brand, messaging and marketing strategies that leverage all the ways they innately communicate and connect with people and bring those strategies to life. You can learn more about her work (and story!) here: alexhoneysett.com.