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Staying in touch with your customers

An international expert on business explains exactly what you need to do.
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Staying in touch with your customers

Staying in touch with your customers

2 April 2020

Written by Marise Donnolley

As the fallout from COVID-19 intensifies, it’s more important than ever to stay in touch with your customers and maintain relationships. An international expert on business explains exactly what you need to do.

You’re probably feeling under siege right now. Businesses are buckling, customers are evaporating and the reality of COVID-19 is starting to bite. But it’s now, more than ever, that you need to talk to your customers and let them know what’s happening.

And what you absolutely must do, says Dr Jana Matthews, is tell the truth.

Dr Matthews is an international expert on entrepreneurship leadership and business growth. She is director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia and has made the Australian Financial Review’s list of “100 Women of Influence”.

So, listen up people because she knows what she’s talking about.

First up, what you communicate to your customers will depend on your situation. Dr Matthews says your business will likely fall into one of three categories.

The lucky ones

Some companies are doing well. And since crisis also creates opportunities, those that can capitalise on the opportunities will also do well. Companies that make face masks, protective clothing and ventilators are going to have their best year ever. Those who can switch from making juice or gin to making hand sanitisers should also have a good year.

Dr Matthews says the messages to their customers would be:
  1. We’re checking to see how you’re doing, if there is anything you need from us or anything we can do for you.
  2. Just want you to know that we’re doing OK and are still on plan to deliver what we promised. Actual delivery may be delayed by couriers, or the format may be modified (e.g., from face-to-face to online), but we are on track to complete the project, and you can count on us to deliver.
  3. Tell us if you have urgent needs that we might address, and we’ll get back to you in 24 hours and tell you if we can.  

The ‘pivots’

Some companies cannot continue with the same business model, and they are pivoting. Eateries are doing take-away and home delivery. Retail is moving even more online, as are universities and many other companies.

For these customers, says Dr Matthews, your communication would:
  1. Ask your customers how they are doing and where they need help.
  2. Describe the status of your work for them and if you are behind, identify the problems you are having which are inhibiting your ability to deliver in the timeframe promised. If you can no longer deliver face-to-face, describe the plan for delivering online.  If you can’t get the chip, the part, or even the box needed to ship the product, tell your customers the truth, and provide a realistic date when they can expect delivery.
  3. If something has happened that makes it impossible for you to deliver, talk about this with your customer and problem solve together to determine the best course of action. If you engage them in the solution, they are less likely to become a problem.
  4. If you are asking to renegotiate the timeline or payment schedule, describe the reasons why and explore whether they will give you more time to complete the work, or whether there’s a substitute product or service you can provide, in the interim.

The closers

Sadly, some companies are on the ropes and will need to shut their doors permanently.

Dr Matthews says you still need to communicate with your customers.

Your message should include:
  1. If the shut-down was forced by government edict, send a text or email – or call your best customers, let them know you have loved having them as customers, you hope they stay well, and you look forward to the time when you will be able to serve them again.
  2. If you are being sold to another company, tell your customers who has bought you, what will change, and tell them you believe they will get the same high level of service as you always tried to provide.
  3. If the company is closing its doors, let your customers know that you are grateful to have had them as customers, that you are sorry to tell them you are closing your doors, and you wish them well.

Dr Matthews warns businesses not to just ignore the situation.

“It’s very important you prioritise customers and be customer-focused,” she says.

“You need to communicate with them and engage them in problem solving if something is getting in the way of what they were expecting and what you promised to deliver.”

And it’s also important to send yourself a clear message.

“You need to be able to manage yourself” says Dr Matthews.

“Keep your confidence up and your anxiety down. Deal with the reality of the situation. Remember that governments and banks have created an environment for having a breather. Use the time to rethink your business plan, paint your restaurant or upgrade your own skills.”

Cos that’s what will get you through the challenging months ahead.

Read more from Dr Matthews

Five Steps to Increase The Odds Your Business Will Make It Through
How to Stay in Front of your Customers and Continue to Add Value

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