Andy Bailey, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is an author, CEO and head coach of business coaching firm Petra Coach, who serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, leaders of the Scale Up movement. We asked Andy how companies can help their customers get through the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's what he shared:
It's clear that Covid-19 is a deadly serious global pandemic and that companies must implement necessary protocols to safeguard employees. Business leaders face the additional challenge of having to mitigate the very real threat of lost revenue, while also helping their clients through this crisis.
As a business owner and business coach, I'm witnessing firsthand the stress this pandemic is causing the member companies that we counsel. The disruption facing businesses today is in some ways similar to the issues that my previous company, NationLink Wireless, encountered during the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
At the time, clients were shutting off their cellphones right and left as their companies downsized and fired employees by the thousands. It truly was a painful time to be running a business, and I nearly lost the company. But with the support of dedicated team members, we made it through and ended up forging strong relationships with our clients.
The point I'm making here is this: The strategy and tactics you put in place now will define your legacy as a leader and how you interact with your customers in the future. There is no try, only do. Here's how you do it:
1. Create a customer communications task force
Form a team that includes senior leaders from sales, customer support, marketing/PR, legal and accounting to determine customer communications strategy and protocols. Keep the team small, between five to seven people. As the leader, don't be a dictator and rule with an iron fist. Bring ideas to the team and make sure you are listening to the insights of each group member. You need their buy-in to implement an effective client communications strategy. Done well, the way you communicate can enhance the entire customer experience.
2. Prioritize client issues and determine messaging
Once you have the team in place, start categorizing the issues that are affecting your clients. Rank your clients from the most affected by the pandemic to the least. Next, leverage the marketing communications tools you already have in place to send emails to clients. DO NOT market or sell. Messages should be focused on providing information and helping clients. Tell them you have their back.
One more point: Create a designated email address so clients can contact you with important questions. Make sure someone on your team is monitoring the emails and responding in a timely manner.
3. Talk to your customers--NOW!
Don't delay reaching out to customers. Pick up the phone and talk to them. Emails and texts are valuable communications media, but the personal, two-way nature of a phone call will provide greater insight into how your clients are feeling and the challenges they are facing. Ask them the following questions:
- How are you doing?
- How is your company doing?
- How is your industry doing?
- How are we doing and is there anything we need to do better?
If your partners are struggling financially, work with them on payment terms or provide less expensive services on a temporary basis. Look for ways to save them money--even if it hurts your profitability in the short term--to help them ride out the storm. This is uncharted territory for most businesses, so be a resource during the crisis. Your clients won't forget.
4. Always follow-up
Following up after the initial phone call is critical to building trust with your clients. It shows you care about them and their business--that your call was not a one-off, token expression of concern. Follow-up calls allow you to stay abreast of important changes with your clients, to gauge how their business is being affected and to continually offer different ways to help. End each conversation by determining next steps and scheduling the next call.
5. Regroup and review
When the pandemic ends--and it will end--bring your team together and identify three to five lessons learned and areas for improvement. Itemize and prioritize any short- or long-term actions that need to be taken to improve your product, service and relationship with your customers. Don't rely on memory.
The lessons learned during this crisis and the takeaways will help you tackle future challenges. It will make you and your team stronger and your customers more committed to doing business with your company in the years ahead.