We all know we’re in the middle of a crisis right now. The spread of COVID-19 has thrust the world into a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty, and complicated questions abound:
How do I keep my family safe?
When will society begin to resemble what we knew before?
Will it ever?
As individuals wonder about their health, finances, and safety, brands are also facing serious questions:
How can we serve our customers in this moment of fear and confusion?
What do people need from us right now?
How can our brand survive?
This pandemic presents challenges we have never confronted before. We’re all writing the playbook in real time — in every aspect of business, our personal lives, and how we’re functioning as communities. But for as many challenges as our current circumstances present, they also have an incredible amount to teach us, both as individual businesses and as collective industries.
When it comes to serving and engaging with our customers lately, we’ve all been asking ourselves, “What should we do right now?” And this is an important question for sure. But there are also a lot of things we should be very sure not to do. Crises, of any scale, can be make-or-break moments when it comes to customer trust. To prevent this moment from becoming your downfall, here are three things your brand should never do during a crisis.
1. Talking more than you listen.
The first step in any crisis communications strategy is to determine the most urgent messages you need to share. Are you changing your hours of operation? Have you run out of inventory temporarily? Focus first on communicating the key updates that are most critical to your customers and for your business.
However, despite your best efforts to proactively communicate what you believe is top-of-mind for your customers, they’ll inevitably have new questions that you didn’t necessarily see coming. Or they’ll ask questions in ways you didn’t anticipate. This is particularly true in the event of a longer-term crisis, such as a natural disaster, health crisis, market crash, or instances of prolonged political instability. Call centers (or the business’s main number itself) can become flooded with concerned customers, many of whom often ask the same or similar questions.
This is when your website becomes your most valuable asset. It’s your primary tool for reflecting your customers’ interests and concerns, and surfacing the information they’re looking for about your business. But you won’t know what your customers want and need if you don’t have sophisticated ways to listen to what they’re asking online.
To get a sense of public sentiment around your brand, or an issue potentially affecting it, you can monitor search data from Google Analytics. Social listening can help too. And for insight into search terms and queries specific to your brand, you can tap into your site search provider to see the direct questions your customers have for you. The results may surprise you, and this data can play an important role in informing the custom content you develop.
Don’t spew information without considering your customers’ actual questions. Of course, you should always be monitoring the sentiment around your brand and your customers’ key queries — but this is especially important during times of heightened concern.
2. Positioning yourself as an “expert” (unless you actually are).
Be careful about taking to Twitter (or any form of social media) with the intent of sounding like an expert on whatever crisis is currently unfolding. Maybe you’re thinking, “I would never do that!” But it can be understandably tempting. When something is top of mind for you, and has implications for your business, it can be hard to talk about anything else (this a great time to note that when it comes to social media, it is always an option — and often the best one — to just say nothing).
Let’s take the COVID-19 crisis as an example. It’s one thing to give common sense advice (e.g., “wash your hands for at least 20 seconds”) and quite a different thing to post hourly health guidance updates as if your brand is the CDC. Beware when sounding off with advice, however well intentioned, that doesn’t come from a verified source.
That said, brands have an opportunity, and perhaps even an obligation, to keep customers informed in a crisis by delivering verified answers to relevant questions. Don’t stir up panic with by-the-minute tweets (again, unless the crisis-at-hand really is something you are uniquely an authority on), but do make sure that your website can deliver the answers to questions your customers are asking.
To build trust, brands need to keep people informed — quickly and seamlessly. That’s true at all times, but the stakes go way up during times of crisis, when emotions are high and failing a customer will feel more egregious, perhaps even unforgivably so. To do otherwise puts both companies and individuals at risk. As an example of how organizations can handle this, IHA healthcare systems has incorporated the most recent CDC information into their website to deliver their customers the answers they need. Click here to learn how.
3. Forgetting to distribute information across the web.
As you see above, it’s critical to make sure your website is up to date and positioned to deliver answers to users’ questions in times of crisis. But don’t forget about all the places across the web where your brand’s information appears — and all the platforms your customers use to search. After all, they won’t always come directly to your website.
To reach customers and new users who ask questions about you on Google, Bing, or Amazon Alexa, make sure you have a strategy in place to answer their questions and direct that high-intent traffic from the search engine or voice assistant back to your website.
For example, a telecommunications company could create a page on their website for any outages they may be experiencing. With proper Schema tagging, a search engine is more likely to return that page (and possibly even a rich snippet with some of the page’s content) for searches like “4G outage in Boston.”
In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to be there for your customers — everywhere they’re asking questions. Learn more about how Yext can help your brand distribute information across the web, capture high-intent traffic, and deliver answers.