You cannot predict everything that’s going to happen with your business.
Even if you’re the world’s best manager with your thumb on the pulse of your team. Even if you’re the finest CEO who pores over predictive analyses every darn day. Even if you’re Nostradamus himself. Even if you make a plan for everything, the unpredictable can still rear its head.
And when it happens, how do you respond? Whether it’s a storm that shuts down your main routes, a fleet of delivery trucks breaking down (oddly enough) at the same time, or something even more sweeping and disruptive to your business is going to have to react.
But what’s the right balance of communication between ecommerce brands and their customers when the going gets tough? How much extra communication is necessary?
Let’s dig into what your customers should know and how you should tell them so that your brand can engage and support while dodging communication overkill.
Here’s the TL;DR:
- Step 1: Determine of extra communication is needed
- Step 2: Focus on connection, not communication
- Step 3: Decide where, when and how to engage
- Step 4: Prioritize your messages
- Above all, be human
Step 1: Determine if extra communication is necessary
When it comes to far-ranging events that affect large regions or impact many people, it’s a good idea for brands to be transparent about how they’re responding. 72% of consumers said they expect brands to be positive contributors to society while 64% also expect brands to use their power to help people.
Creating a memorable and lasting customer experience means staying visible, transparent, and authentic even when times are tough. Even if the words are hard to send out to the masses— even if the news isn’t the greatest—the affinity built from wide open communication that’s real with customers instead of trying to gloss over big events is long-lasting.
The benefits of transparency are obvious, but the risks of over-communicating are real. So before you start, consider these questions:
- Are my customers being affected? If yes, they need to know
- Are my operations impacted? If yes, you need to level-set expectations
- Am I doing it because everyone is doing it? If yes, it’s not a good reason to reach out
- Do I *actually* have something to say? If no, your message will get lost immediately
You know your audience. You know what they care about and what they don’t, and so once you take a critical look at ‘the why’ of your communication strategy, you can move on to ‘the how.’
Step 2: Focus on connection, not communication
For example, “57% of consumers say that human communication would increase their brand loyalty and 58% say human communication would increase their likelihood of spending money with a given brand.” And in the United States, 65% of consumers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than great advertising.
This all points to the fact that people remember and appreciate when brands cut the corporate front and talk with them in authentic and human ways.
So, customers reward brands that are authentic and honest when it comes to communications, but how do they like being communicated to?
Step 3: Decide where, when and how to engage
The benefits to transparent and human communication between brands and customers when the going gets tough have been studied and proven—but what should that communication look like, exactly?
You might be wondering where, when, and how often should brands reach out to customers in times like these. Is this the time for hyper-personalization? Should you hold off? How can a brand toe the line of empathy and over-communication? The last thing an ecommerce retailer wants is for someone to unsubscribe or unfollow cutting off all lines of communication
So, what’s a brand to do, especially in the face of events that warrant a li’l extra communication?
Use social to foster your community
Social media is still the king of connection. With 91% of consumers feeling like social media connects people in a unique way, and 78% of people actually wanting brands to use social for these connections, social news feeds are the proverbial “family table” for a brand and its fans. Customer or not, your social channels are where people will turn to feel comfort and community when an event rocks the status quo. And because of the nature of social media, it’s also a safe space for brands to post more frequently and encourage more engagement.
While sending 36 emails to a customer in a day is definitely a way to drive them to hit the unsubscribe button, posting frequently to social is expected and totally normal.
Use email wisely
As a preferred way to receive critical updates, email is where brands should turn when an unexpected event crops up. Emails are ideal for a long-form message as opposed to the shorter messages throttled by character counts on social media. But you do need to be careful, nearly ⅓ of people will flag emails as spam if it’s not relevant, and 46% will plop an email in spam if the sender is emailing too often.
- Email marketing rule of thumb: no one wants to receive daily emails. 4 – 8 bulk emails a month is optimal for most merchants, but this will vary based on industry audience, so you need to closely monitor open and click through rates.
When writing your emails, avoid using hyperbolic or sensational language. Instilling dread and anxiety doesn’t help anyone. Instead, take this time to solidify the sense of community, care, and your brand’s values in relation to what’s happening in the world.
Get creative with an omnichannel approach.
Email and social are communication essentials for any company looking to build lasting affinity with people. As great and preferred as they are, though, now’s the time to consider engaging through more touch points across the whole customer journey.
- Use prominent website space. Website banners are great for reiterating brand values or giving shoppers a glimpse at what a brand is doing when challenging times roll in. This is a great touchpoint for people who are making decisions about where to shop and why, and putting brand values or responses front-and-center could be what drives a purchase and continued loyalty.
Everlane is an example of a brand doubling-down on their values and inviting customers to join them. The CTA to learn more about what’s happening is also a nod to the importance of staying informed and in the conversation
Fellow Barber is using this valuable real estate to drive home their commitment to their employees. Consumers love companies that love their people.
Both examples bleed empathy and community. They aren’t pushing sales to benefit the company, but instead these are messages of contributing to the greater good. This focus on community and doing good is impactful and your homepage could be just the place to say something big.
- Take advantage of chatbots. Much like banners, chatbots can be placed on any page on your website. They’re working 24 hours a day to engage with people coming by your website while simultaneously giving them some control over the conversation.
With chatbots, you won’t have to worry about over-communicating because the user controls when to simply exit the chat and disengage.
- Control the narrative post purchase. If shoppers are moved to act or purchase by any of your communications, that’s fantastic. But once action has been taken, it’s crucial that brands don’t forget the power of the post-purchase experience, which is considered the most important part of the entire purchase experience by 73% of shoppers.
Too many online retailers leave their customers up to their own devices after they make a purchase—a quick tracking email, a pat on the back and then they’re the carrier’s problem. But here’s the kicker – 94% of consumers blame the retailer after a delivery goes poorly… Whether it’s fair or not, your customers expect a lot from you. Communicating effectively and resolving issues quickly are key components of building long term customer trust.
Route is working to bring peace of mind to consumers during times of uncertainty. When that purchase is made, folks want to know what’s happening with their goods. Route is one way for brands to give customers full transparency, making for an uncompromised customer experience.
Step 4: Prioritize your messages
Your customers want to hear from you, and they want to feel comforted and reassured through their entire experience with your brand. But what exactly should brands say first, especially in times of uncertainty?
- Be proactive with immediate issues that stand between products and customers.
First and foremost, retailers should be as transparent as possible when it comes to a customer’s purchase. In fact, 93% of customers reported that they want to stay informed and receive proactive updates from retailers about their shipments. No matter what’s happening in the world, your customers will always want to know if there’s anything that will prevent them from getting their purchases.
- Experiencing operational changes? Let ‘em know.
If you’re running a brick-and-mortar shop in addition to your ecommerce store, be sure to mention any changes in hours. This would be a prime opportunity to segment your customers and send emails based on geographic location. For instance, if you run one store in Los Angeles, someone from Wisconsin isn’t likely to be stopping into your store anytime soon and might not find this information very relevant.
Furthermore, if you’re experiencing logistical or shipping issues, now is the time to be very specific as to what changes are happening so you can level-set customer expectations.
- Talk about what your brand is doing to help or support positive outcomes.
As we mentioned earlier, consumers believe brands should be using their power and resources for the greater good. Telling people what your brand is doing to support a positive outcome is the gentle, empathetic story they’ll remember now and in the long run.
Want some ideas for ways to run your business and do good at the same time?
These 8 brands got seriously creative with their “do good” strategies.
- Internal news that’s “nice to know.”
While being open about how conditions outside of a brand’s control could affect day-to-day business, customers are going to feel more directly and immediately impacted by their personal experience with your brand, including how long it’s going to take to receive their purchase.
Over-communicating about your company’s internal actions—like how often the desks are being swabbed clean, or how your employees all wear gloves now—has potential to be too irrelevant to your customers, causing them to unsubscribe and cut off major channels of communication.
- Do prioritize communications about issues that could impact customers directly and immediately, like shipping delays or store hours for folks nearby.
- Don’t drag on about nitty-gritty internal details that don’t really impact your shoppers.
Final Thoughts: What’s the right communication mix in the face of uncertainty?
While customer communication is especially difficult during times of uncertainty, balancing your communication strategy is an ongoing dance. It’s important to be relevant and present throughout the entire customer experience without drowning them in emails, Facebook notifications or irrelevant information. However, through all of this there is one overarching truth, especially when times are tough:
Be human every step of the journey.
Staying authentic, transparent, and comforting provides hope and community for your customers. How you respond and react to the most trying times will stick in the minds of shoppers and outlast any event the world throws our way.