COVID-19 Lessons on Communicating During a Crisis

By Richard Lorenzen,
business.com writer
|
Apr 10, 2020
Image Credit: Jacob Lund / Getty Images

Here's how to ensure you're communicating with all of your audiences in a crisis.

The COVID-19 crisis has sent shockwaves throughout the world.

These shockwaves have completely throttled industries, bankrupted businesses, left millions unemployed, and forced us to confront, face to face, with the chilling reality of an invisible and deadly enemy.

Despite these uncertain times, there is an opportunity to leverage this moment in history to create a positive influence and level up your business in ways you've never done before.

You can utilize this crisis to your advantage by effectively communicating with your customers, employees and the media in a way that enables you to remain strong and create momentum in this time of friction. Tap in with people and see how they are being affected, for all you know, someone very close to them may have passed away. Communication and active listening become most important during times of crisis.

If you can adapt and effectively communicate then you will experience the long-term benefits of increased support, brand loyalty, and, of course, a better bottom line. Remember, you cannot neglect effective communication and active listening during a crisis and companies that do so will experience the negative ramifications for months to come. Instead, strive to build customer, employee, executive and media support through communication and active listening during this time.

The most effective method to achieve this is through a consistent communication and response plan which includes both outreach and inbound inquiries. You must show people that you care. If you do not have a communication and response plan in place, you must create one right away.

Below you will read about how you can implement action steps immediately, to effectively communicate and create your response plan. Depending on with whom you are speaking, you may have a different agenda or relationship. Therefore, we've broken down our communication tips into three categories: employees, customers and the media.

Each group requires nuanced communication, hence, understanding how to properly approach the group is essential for effective communication during this crisis and beyond. You might ask yourself, "What is the best approach?", "How do I open up space to actively listen while also being able to communicate what I want to communicate?", "What are some questions I can ask?".

Here are some fundamentals that will enable you to communicate effectively and actively listen. 

Communicating with customers

The relationship with your customers is a two-way street. This means that you must reach out to let them know what's going on and you must be able to field inbound inquiries. Therefore, your communication and response plan needs to reflect this by having both in mind. 

Have you sent out a newsletter with updates? Have you properly communicated with them the impact the crisis has had on your product, service, or delivery times? If not, what are you waiting for…? 

Do not keep your customers in the dark! Nothing beneficial can come from this. Next, you must also be there to help your customers and to offer them support. Look for ways to stand out by going above and beyond. Have you sent out an email asking your customers how they are doing and letting them know that you are available for them?

Your customers are currently in a hyperemotional state, and if you can provide excellent customer service which understands that the customer is going through a crisis as well, then you can build rapport with your customers. This can create a new level of depth and intimacy with your customers, which will ultimately facilitate the development of customer loyalty.

Trust us, they will remember how well you took care of them when things got tough. 

Communicating with the media

Use this time to become a voice and a leader for your industry. Establish your thought leadership by creating content with substance.

Media outlets are hungry for information that educates others and equips them with the knowledge, resources and tools required to overcome this crisis. If you can position yourself as a go-to resource, the media will pick up your story for an ultimate win-win where you educate and inform their audience in exchange for exposure. Reach out to journalists and share your insights regarding the impact the crisis has had, and will have, in your industry.

Highlight what you are doing to address the crisis and how you believe others can adapt to have the brightest future. What do you see coming?  

Communicating with your employees

Make sure you are providing exactly what your employees need; they are the backbone and lifeblood to your business. If they go down, then the whole ship goes down with them. 

Make sure you are there to support them by listening to their needs. Employees are in close proximity to you, and the channels of communication should already be open for them to express their needs/wants. If they are not, then open them right now.

Your employees are people, too. They may be going through tough times personally and professionally. By getting an update on their situation and circumstance, you will learn how you can be most beneficial to them while opening up the line of communication for you to share how they can be most beneficial to you and the business.

Active listening is huge with your employees, and it's one of the keys to effective communication. Be sensitive to their concerns and needs, it will pay off. Communicate clearly about actions being taken to protect their safety and how new procedures (i.e., work from home) are being implemented and measured.

After working through COVID-19 topics ask your employees, "So with everything going on, how are you being affected both personally and professionally?  Additional questions could be, "What challenges, if any, are you facing right now?" or "What do you need most right now and how can we support you?"  Solid and clear communication between you and your employees will determine how well you all adapt to the shockwaves created by COVID-19. 

To effectively communicate you must be genuinely interested in the needs of the other person. Allow people to share and express their current needs. This will simplify your conversation and give you instant insight into how you can benefit them right now.  If you do this genuinely, you will deepen your connections and nurture relationships through meaningful conversations with your customers, the media and/or your employees.

Reach out to the media and share information that benefits others and highlights your area of expertise. Create content with substance and you will be rewarded. COVID-19 is giving us the opportunity to communicate effectively and actively listen. Be an active listener and watch how your communication skyrockets. People will share and express their needs, personal or professional, you just need to give them the opportunity to.

With this information, you can be the best executive possible and adapt to change because you will know how your employees are feeling so you can lead them appropriately.

Develop your communication and response plan to deal with this crisis. Those who do will avoid disastrous situations and will reap the benefits in the upcoming months.

Richard Lorenzen is an American entrepreneur, investor and speaker. As the founder and CEO of Fifth Avenue Brands, Richard is regularly cited as one of the most influential millennial entrepreneurs in the United States. Born in New York as the son of a journalist and an FDNY firefighter, Richard developed an interest in entrepreneurship at the age of 15 and founded what would become Fifth Avenue Brands out of his parents' home. He bootstrapped the firm to having now served hundreds of clients across the US, London, Tokyo and Singapore. Inc. Magazine called him one of the most inspirational entrepreneurs to watch. Richard has been featured by CNBC, Forbes, Fox News, Business Insider, AdWeek, PRWeek, Inc. Magazine, Mashable and more. He speaks frequently on entrepreneurship and policy, including at the United Nations, TEDx, NASDAQ, and universities and corporate conferences in the US, Europe and Asia.
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