All organizations are navigating in uncharted waters in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve rounded up tips to help you communicate with your employees and customers during these unprecedented times.
1. Establish a crisis-response team
If you haven’t done so already, get a small team together to centralize communications, recommends Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, in an article for Harvard Business Review. The team should include a member of the leadership team, someone from corporate communications, an HR executive, and an expert in the area of concern. The team should meet regularly to monitor the latest developments, serve as the main source of information about the crisis, provide regular updates to key stakeholders, and be as transparent as possible.
2. Communicate regularly with employees and customers
Educate employees about the virus, including how it spreads and what they can do to protect themselves and others around them, writes Peter Keijzer, strategist and owner, Lubbers de Jong Tech Pr, in an article published by TNW. Also let them know what your company is doing to handle COVID-19.
“Truthful communication will build trust, while lack of information or disinformation will result in mistrust. If an employee tests positive for the virus, tell the employees they have been in contact with that they have been exposed to the virus at work. (However, respecting sick employees’ privacy is important, so don’t reveal their names.),” he says.
Furthermore, it’s vital to maintain the trust and confidence of your customers, the lifeblood of your organization’s business and mission. Identify their concerns and develop messaging that assures customers that your company has done all it can to ensure consistent delivery of products and services. If there are delays, keep them informed. It’s also important to let customers know what steps you’ve taken to protect them from exposure to the virus.
3. But make sure your message offers practical advice
Your employees, customers, and vendors want practical information about how the virus is affecting your operations and business—not emotions, says Andrea Obston, president of Andrea Obston Marketing Communications, a reputation-management firm in Bloomfield, Conn. in Hartford Business Journal. They want to know what you’re doing and what they can do.
However, choose your words carefully, advises Tracy Brower, Ph.D., a sociologist in a piece for Forbes. “Consider your message from every angle and play devil’s advocate as you develop your communication—thinking about how your words will likely be passed from person-to-person and could potentially be (mis)interpreted. Choose words that are accurate and not inflammatory, supportive but not condescending and accessible but not sentimental,” she says.
Give your employees and customers concrete suggestions. Be clear about the present and focus on the future to help people find hope amid the chaos, Brower says.