Best Practices

Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus

Educate consumers about how to interact with your company

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to maintain and build relationships with consumers when their world has been upended. Businesses are now facing tension between generating sales during a period of extreme economic hardship and respecting the threats to life and livelihood that have altered consumer priorities and preferences.

This tension is very real, particularly for newer ventures or smaller businesses that provide discretionary products and may not have the resources to survive long periods of severely diminished cash flow.

The coronavirus has changed even large, more established companies literally overnight. On March 16, Nordstrom’s 380 stores in the U.S. and Canada bustled with typical Monday activity. Just one day later, all of those stores went dark for at least two weeks, as consumers and employees alike were told to stay away due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Such is the nature of business in the time of a pandemic.

What can smaller, newer, more vulnerable businesses do to strengthen relationships with consumers when social distancing has minimized or eliminated personal interaction?

Drawing on nearly 70 years of combined experience in business practice, research, and education, we have found that five key strategies help companies weather crises and preserve their bonds with consumers:

          Humanize your company

          Educate about change

          Assure stability

          Revolutionize offerings

          Tackle the future

These strategies are part of what we call the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication. It provides guidelines on what to say — and what not to say — to consumers during sustained crises. It emphasizes making current and potential customers aware of your company’s plan for supporting them and providing new value that they might require.

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