6 tips for turning crisis into opportunity through communication

The business, social, and political landscapes have changed weekly, if not daily, in 2020. There has been a constant need to keep customers, employees, vendors — stakeholders at all levels — informed of changing hours, curbside services available, masks or no masks, PPP loans, and so much more. This has left many business owners and leaders wearing the hat of a communications professional and that can be a stressful role. As the pandemic continues to worsen in Wisconsin, the U.S., and abroad as we head into the winter months, communication between businesses and stakeholders is going to remain as relevant as ever. It is important to remember that when so much is out of our control, one important factor is not: How often and how well we communicate with those that need to hear our message.

In leading the communications strategy for Capitol Bank in 2020, I have learned these six helpful tips to turn crisis into opportunity through communication:

1. Put yourself in the customers’ shoes

Do you want to hear more doom and gloom or hear from someone who sounds confident and level-headed? Don’t waste air talking about how bad things are. We all know it, so what is your business doing to adapt and overcome? How does that address the “what’s in it for me” question that your customer will be thinking the whole time they are reading your message? Definitely be honest with your customer, but the goal is to have your customers feeling like they’re in good hands and not like they should be moving business to your competitor.

2. Be concise but informative

Less is more and simpler is better. We are all getting inundated with communications and customers will appreciate if you can get a message across succinctly. I proofread everything several times before sending or publishing — even internal emails! I often find that I can get the same point across in a sentence or two versus an entire paragraph. Here is a very basic outline to help you craft your messages: 1) An introduction to set the tone and provide context for the rest of the message. 2) The important details that they need to know: what is in it for them and what action they need to take, if any. 3) Thank them for their business and encourage them to reach out to you with questions!

3. Consistency

Gauge the “right” amount of communications and emails to customers. If you’ve got customers unsubscribing from emails, you may be sending too much. If you have customers reaching out asking for information or updates, you may need to ramp up the amount of communications. Also, it is helpful to develop a schedule. For example, with our PPP loan customers we aimed to have an update on a biweekly basis, usually midweek, to keep our customers informed. We have found that consistency and frequency has resonated with them. With so much changing on the PPP loans front for several months — and more to come in the coming months — our borrowers even appreciated our emails to them basically saying “there is no update this week.”

4. Strike a balance between professionalism and emotion

When we think of writing to our customers, especially in B2B, it’s easy to forget that we still write to people! We aren’t writing to robots or to the four walls and roof that their business operates out of, we are writing to people with thoughts and emotions! Speak professionally, but talk to them like you would in person, with a warm undertone. If you aren’t sure if you’re striking the right balance, ask a few others to proofread your communication. How do they feel after reading it? Does it sound professional, yet warm?

5. Save the speculation for the critics, experts, and media

At Capitol Bank, we have made it a point to strive only for delivery of the facts to our customers. There are so many opinions and speculation that it is best to communicate with customers only what you know to be fact. This also helps with No. 2, staying concise but informative. Think of it this way: If you publish information, then have to retract it, are your customers going to find you trustworthy and credible?

6. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver

Avoid specific dates and times with making a statement such as, “we will communicate with you on a weekly basis,” or “please be assured we will provide a timely update when we have more information.” Another example would be letting customers know you’ll respond to requests within 48 business hours, while having an internal goal to respond within 24 business hours. Underpromising and overdelivering always makes for a happy customer!

How do we know these six communication principles work? Because our customers have told us so! We have received more positive feedback this year than ever before. People in general are more likely to leave feedback when they have had a negative experience. So, when you start to see customers going out of their way to leave positive feedback and encouragement, you’ll know your message is resonating. Now, here comes the opportunity piece. What do happy customers do? They tell their friends and business contacts about you. Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing is so critical to all of our businesses and always will be.

If we’re being pragmatic, every business will deal with a crisis in some form at some point, whether it’s pandemic-related or not. As you continue to wear the hat of a communications professional in your business, I hope you find these six concepts to be helpful. If you feel you don’t have time, or writing is simply not your strong suit, reach out to a communications professional or agency for assistance. Great communication in times like these has a direct impact on your businesses’ ability, not just to retain customers, but to create customer loyalty and WOM marketing opportunities. Don’t miss out on these silver linings!

Natalie Gregerson is director of marketing/officer for Capitol Bank.

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