The do’s and don’ts of customer comms during the pandemic

Maintaining relationships with customers is a priority for most businesses, assuming they want those relationships to remain positive and productive. Today, most of these relationships are nurtured over email and SMS messaging given they are a cheap and generally effective means of reaching a customer through devices they usually have about their person.

Following the enaction of the GDPR, the way businesses use these channels are subject to stricter rules with the GDPR’s grim penalties proving largely successful in deterring malpractice. However, as commerce squealed to a halt under the weight of a national lockdown, for many businesses, customer communications was all they had left. As such, the urge to deviate from the mandates of the GDPR intensified. Understandable though that urge is, acting on it is no less unlawful than before the virus breached our shores.

Businesses need guidance, and in this piece, we outline the do’s and don’ts of customer comms at a time of unique uncertainty.

The do’s

DO provide updates on how and when normal service will resume

With this being an unnerving time, your customers will want to know that you’ve taken the pandemic seriously and have implemented measures to keep your business and those who interact with it safe.

Using specifics, you can send correspondences which explain to them the actions you’ve taken. This includes everything from how you’ll ensure customer and staff safety, to the extra cleaning and sanitation procedures you’ve implemented. Basically, if you’ve made a change to the business that may in some way effect the customer, tell them about it. Make clear why you’ve made those changes, how the changes will affect their experience of engaging with you and direct them to webpages or helplines where they can get more information.

Get straight to the point with this as well. Yours will not be the first communications your customer will have received and it’s best to assume they’re getting bored with a constantly pinging inbox. Keep the comms short, clear, and easy to scan with helpful devices such as headers and bullet points.

DO share details regarding online options or alternatives

Even with the easing of lockdown restrictions underway, there’s a lot of anxious people out there who aren’t quite ready to jump into any establishment with its doors open. For these people, (and indeed all people in the event of a second lockdown) share with them ways they can still acquire a level of service from you digitally.

For example, many restaurants and other eateries have offered home delivery services, gyms have emailed their clients with links to training programs and online classes, and professional services companies have been conducting consultations using video conferencing platforms.

If you’ve implemented such measures yourself, tell your customers.

DO direct customers to your website

Your website should have a dedicated COVID-19 page where you provide updates on measures the business is taking and plans to take. Any communications you send out should link back to this page, so customers have the option of finding out what you’ve been doing in more depth.

Some business owners have been worried that this would constitute marketing but providing the link directs to the dedicated page, there’s no problem. If the customer decides to browse your website having read the page, even going on to make a purchase, then that’s up to them.

DO read the room

OK, this one has nothing to do with the GDPR, this is more just friendly advice. We have all dealt with this period differently. Some have coped remarkably well, others have lost loved ones, lost jobs, and are generally anxious about their health, finances, and the future.

With this being the case, you must demonstrate a level of emotional intelligence with your language. Even if your company’s tone of voice is usually irreverent or edgy, now is not the time. It doesn’t mean you have to be sombre or excessively corporate, just leave the humour out for now.

The best advice we can give is to just be clear and matter of fact. A certain degree of positivity and reassurance is fine but get a second opinion before anything goes out.

The don’ts

DON’T use this as a marketing opportunity

This goes back to what we alluded to in the introduction, the urge to reach out to customers with offers and promotions is strong when the bottom line has taken a pulverising, but it must be resisted. This is especially true for businesses who are taking customers’ details as part of the track and trace scheme.

It is absolutely imperative that companies who are participating in track and trace understand this: the details you take from customers can only be used to support the scheme. Unsolicited marketing communications with a customer, using the details they provided for track and trace, is a direct contravention of the GDPR and they will have a case for pursuing action against you. 

Even those companies not involved in track and trace should tread with caution when it comes to direct marketing. If you are intent on launching a campaign, undertake a data cleanse first.

Unless they’ve given explicit consent for you to keep hold of it, any personal information of customers you possess, that was obtained prior to enactment of the GDPR, should have been deleted by now. For the rest, analyse the extent of the relationships. If someone is a regular, repeat user of your business, an offer or promotion may well be of interest to them, but if they bought from you once and you never heard from them again, it’s advisable that you leave them alone.

DON’T bombard customers with comms

This goes without saying, but at the moment it really is imperative. Of course, you want your customers to know you’re still around, the problem is every other business is wanting the same thing. For the poor customer, that means an inbox full to bursting, mostly with waffle.

The old adage goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Whilst COVID-19 remains a threat, replace ‘nice’ with ‘relevant’.

That said, now would be a good time to review any campaigns on ice. Are they targeting engaged, active customers? Is the content within them appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in? Are they tailored to customers whose lives are quite different to how they were before March? Will what you are offering be genuinely beneficial to them or are you just trying to make a quick buck?

DON’T downplay the situation or the importance of adhering to health advice

It may well be that your business cannot perform at optimum levels whilst social distancing and other safety measures are mandatory, or at least advised. Unfortunately, that is for you to work around. If customers feel you are promoting or even just condoning activities and behaviours that contravene official guidelines, you’re going to have problems.

Not only will an on-edge audience take a dim view of your perceived recklessness, the authorities might too.



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