By now, the situation has sunk in. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will change the world’s economic landscape for years to come.
This means that marketing agencies, business influencers, and sales gurus have all had time to formulate thoughts on how your business should survive this crisis.
Your LinkedIn feed is filled with advice. If you jump in any business-oriented Facebook group, this is all people are talking about.
Currently, the guidance ranges from “spend more time with your family” to “apply for as many government programs as you can” to “crank up your sales and marketing engine to grab market share." These diverse opinions about what to do next can make your head spin and give you analysis paralysis.
However, there is one strategy that every thought leader in your industry is endorsing:
Support Your Existing Customers (In an Effort to Keep Them).
How you over-service your current customers today is much different than how you would have provided a standout experience last month. In our new reality, this mandate can lead to overwhelming stress and missed opportunities. If fact, missteps can damage your relationship with customers when we emerge on the other side of the COVID-19 outbreak.
To help you be there for your customers in our new economic reality, we are sharing the framework we use for supporting our customers during a crisis, appropriately called, “AAAAAAH!”
A - Ask and Listen
A - Assert Your Commitment
A - Align
A - Ask Again
A - Adapt
A - Allow Time and Space
H - Help in Any Way That You Can
Step 1) Ask and Listen
Even though you know your customers well, you don’t know what they want and need at this moment. Ask them about their situation, thinking, and plan. Be sure to listen.
We have found that many of our customers just want to talk. They want to share what they have processed about the current situation and how it has evolved, as well as pick our brains (even though they can’t make any long term commitments at this point).
Step 2) Assert Your Commitment
(If it is true) Be clear that you and your company will be there for them through this storm and when it passes. This should be done through mass communication, like blog posts from executives, as well as through individual outreach.
Step 3) Align
Adjust your products and expertise to where their heads are. Don’t overextend yourself or launch a business line that is outside of your wheelhouse, but after you have an understanding of where your market is headed in the short term, conduct a deep dive of your solutions and people to see how you can best realign with what your customers need.
Step 4) Ask Again
Temper your assumptions. Customer’s priorities shift quickly and keeping open lines of communication will help you adapt more precisely. At this point, market conditions are changing very quickly and you can assume that your customers' mindsets and needs are shifting every 2-3 days.
Keeping up personal communication affords you the opportunity to repeat the “ask and listen” process outlined above. Over time, conditions will change more slowly and your understanding of your customers will hold for longer periods of time.
Step 5) Adapt
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have all of the answers when the ground beneath us is shifting by the day. The lack of certainty is going to be one of the hardest parts of this crisis for businesses that are used to being market influencers and thought leaders.
I’m impressed by the number of businesses that are adapting rapidly and then adapting again and again and again. People who love their plan so much that they adapt only once will get left behind.
Be flexible, keep your ear to the ground, and don’t hesitate to make adjustments at a pace that you would have never been comfortable with under the old rules.
Step 6) Allow Time and Space
Your existing customers are your biggest priority right now. However, you are not your customers’ highest priority. They have their customers, their employees, and every other aspect of their business that needs attention.
Even if you have a tight relationship with a customer, be sure to give them space to process what is going on and make decisions. Don’t overstep your relationship by demanding more time and attention than makes sense for your role in your customers’ lives. Striking a good balance of concern and space with your customers will position yourself well in your customers’ minds through the balance of this crisis.
Step 7) Help in Any Way That You Can
At the end of the day, we are all in this together. Your customers are just trying to get through this economic shutdown, just like your company. That means relationships and supporting each other reign supreme and any help you provide during this unprecedented time will not long be forgotten. Traditional notions of “not my job” or “out of scope” have taken a backseat to just being human.
Customer Engagement Takeaways
Coronavirus does not read the Wall Street Journal. Its economic toll doesn't differentiate between large companies and small businesses. It can’t tell the difference between regions, economic sectors, how long you have been around, or how many customers you have.
This pandemic has effectively leveled the playing field for many industries - rendering mute what have historically been big differentiators.
We are all hurting. You are and so are your customers.
Use this time to be more human in how you communicate and service your customers. Following the steps above will open a new door in your customer relationships so that you can purposefully support the people in your business ecosystem - today and in future (better) times.