Businesses always have an extremely hard time during a crisis, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. Many close down, others hibernate to ride it out. As a result the prospect looks pretty gloomy.
So in spite of the wails of woe and wringing of (well washed) hands, my suggestion is to focus more on customer engagement. Especially if you still want a viable business after all this is over.
Hopefully the Government will hold true to their promises for financial help. But the last thing you want is to lose your customers as well as your staff, or you will end up with nothing.
Without sounding too obvious, now is the time for drastic action. In these times of reduced resources, it's a good idea to do the little things which will eventually result in something bigger - later on.
Take a look at this infographic:
And here's some code you could paste into your own posts (via the text mode) if you want to share this Infographic with your readers.
First, I would like to draw your attention to Walkers Crisps.
When they first came onto the market, they were completely overpowered by their competition: Golden Wonder and Smiths to name but two.
But then some sort of recession hit, and the big companies went into hibernation to recover. But not Walkers. They upped their advertising drastically (this was before social media). Any noise, mention or visual representation about crisps was by Walkers.
So much so, when the financial slump recovered, which brand did the public remember? Eventually the competition gave up trying to retain their former position. How often to you hear about Golden Wonder?
Keep calm and communicate
Now you may not have the money for consistent advertising during the promotional hiatus created by the current health crisis. Advertising isn't as effective as it used to be. But emailing and commenting costs nothing.
In fact, simple conversations with your customers, or in other words: customer engagement, will cost you only your time, imagination, social skills and brain power! And all these can be accomplished from home too.
Putting all these attributes into action is what will get you through this critical time. Doing this means you will continue to maintain a dialogue with your customers, by keeping them in the know and on your side.
COVID-19 may be creating the equivalent of a fiscal echo chamber, but you'll know what to say which will reverberate correctly and get picked up by the right people you wish to contact.
Opening up the airways
Listening is an excellent skill. Unfortunately it is not always carried out by companies. They tend to be so pompous and full of themselves, they actually forget the needs of their customers.
Customer engagement is all about listening as well as communicating. Listen to what your customers have to say. What are their problems, aspirations or expectations? What makes them laugh, cry, angry or sad? Emotions are extremely powerful, so it's worth being on top of how your customers feel.
And the next tool up your sleeve is questions. Ask them how they feel, what's their biggest problems, if they had a magic wand, what would they wish for. Even if their answers have nothing to do with your product, you can still learn a lot about the people your business wishes to serve.
Use the platforms where your customers are. A little bit of research to find out if you have more buyers on Facebook than on LinkedIn, or on Instagram rather than Twitter, will save you a huge amount of time and trouble. You won't gain anything by asking questions to an empty space!
Working with what you've already got
If your business marketing has been well managed, you should have a database of customers who regularly buy from you. These are your first point of call. It's much easier to get existing customers to respond to you than to spend time impressing new ones.
Send out your company's newsletter on a regular basis. Choose a manageable frequency and then stick to it by scheduling topics and content in advance. Also be ready to respond with instant reactions, trends, news and other items people can relate to. Remember this communication is for your customers, not about only promoting your company.
Use the social media platforms you've researched into for more customer engagement. This comprises of reading and listening to social discourse before blurting out your content. This ensures your answer is always relevant to whoever receives it, which makes it more likely to be accepted, understood and responded to.
Customer engagement has nothing to do with churning out dry self-promotion and company-centred information. It's about responding to what your customers say. This may have little to do with your business, but this doesn't matter. The first action is to get your customers to notice you on their terms, not yours.
Getting to know, like and trust you
Does your company have a blog? It jolly well ought to! And not just one with about three posts on it written two years ago. Just like your newsletters, create an editorial calendar to maintain a consistent flow of valuable content your customers would love to read.
Blogs are also an excellent medium for customer engagement. Here is a potential to create a community hub, somewhere your customers can feel safe and secure enough to ask you questions, rather than the other way round. Encourage as much commenting as possible by providing call to actions at the bottom of each post.
Customer engagement should be a vehicle to showcase your business as transparently as possible. It is important your customers should get to know and trust you better. Be honest and own up to mistakes, funny situations and overcoming difficult scenarios as well as reporting only the good news.
Communication is about revealing everything, warts and all (as long as it isn't liable or illegal). It's about enabling your readers and customers to relate to you, have an affinity with you and your business, and feel safe enough to have a connection and a closer bond with you than with your competitors.
Be the first brand to pop up
The more you are able to communicate with your customers, the more likely they will remember your company when they want the product or service you offer. Promotion is about consistently 'turning up' and 'getting noticed', and customer engagement will certainly help contribute towards this.
Just like Walkers Crisps stealing the limelight during the recession, your company should also take advantage of this 'quiet time'. You now have free rein to communicate with your customers without any distracting noise from your competitors.
Now you have centre stage, use this opportunity wisely. I wouldn't advise going in with all guns blazing, you don't want to frighten off your customers. What I would do is to open up as many communication channels as you can, and start having conversations with them. Invite them to comment by commenting on their pages and profiles.
Customer engagement is about talking to people. Listen, ask questions, learn what's going on, offer solutions to problems, add value to discussions, make suggestions, provide encouragement, give out invitations. Note none of this is full-on promotion of your company – this comes after you've created and maintained your relationship with your customers.
Fill that hole!
These present circumstances has resulted in a gap in marketing efforts which can be filled by customer engagement. Gentle pulling rather than ferocious pushing. Gathering information, credibility and trust rather than forcing another advertising campaign down your customers' throats.
People don't like being preached to. But they do like being social, especially when the other person is able to accommodate their ideas and needs. Take a back seat and see the world from your customers' point of view. You will certainly learn something new about them which you could use at a later date.
The world of social conversation with customers is often a new concept for companies. Usually their marketing and sales departments conflict together, each vying to outdo the other to win more sales.
But if they stopped this minor warfare, overcame their frustrations and actually focused on their customers, they might be surprised to know what they are doing is usually totally the wrong thing!
Learn from customer engagement
Most customers are happy to tell you what they want, as long as you give them the opportunity. The businesses which are the most successful are the ones which totally understand their customers.
The best way to find this out is via customer engagement. Talking to potential, present and past buyers provides valuable feedback: are you going in the right direction? Are you producing the most effective product? Could your customer service be improved?
Enable chat facilities on your website. Encourage people to ask questions during the sales process. Provide ample advice in various formats to sort out FAQs, which could be a hindrance towards people completing the final transaction.
Your company needs to come across as friendly and always willing to provide immediate help. You could use AI or chatbots to sort out the initial queries before being transferred to a human for the final impact.
Nothing will happen overnight
Customer engagement is not an example of a quick fix. This is the slow tortoise form of marketing. Many sales people prefer to be the hare, but can get caught napping if they presume too much of their customers.
There is no advantage to cutting corners, or focusing on getting things done too quickly. Even the most efficient marketing systems become ineffective if there isn't enough information about who you are targeting.
Social chatting as online conversations with your customers is the best way to find out as much as you can about them. This feedback is vital for your marketing campaigns, sales processes and improvement in what your company provides.
Communicating with customers should not be seen as a waste of time, or taking too long to produce results. Because if it is done right, the dividends can contribute towards success for many years to come.
What customer engagement do you already do?
How do you talk to your customers? Do you converse with them online, on social media or through your blog? Have you set up a chatbot system for customers to ask questions while on your website?
Are you staff fully trained to communicate effectively and friendly online? Are all your channels open to receive questions and complaints? Do you respond quickly and efficiently? What customer engagement strategy do you have in place?
Once your business starts doing customer engagement properly, even outside a time of crisis, you will ask yourself why you didn't do this sooner!
Let us know in the comments below any successes, even failure stories, about your dealings with customer engagement – we would all love to know about them.