5 Best Practices for Customer Communications During a Crisis


Communication between your business and your customers has always been crucial.

But never more so than during the pandemic. 

The ability to reach out to your customers to alleviate their questions and concerns is more important than ever. This is especially true of businesses that operate in the customer services industry.

The customer experience has to be right during a crisis. At such a difficult time, customers are less likely to be patient, as they’re experiencing a wide range of emotions. 

Customers need to be handled more carefully than pre-pandemic. The focus before was on providing a seamless customer journey. However, now the emphasis must be put upon addressing more vital customer needs. Testing methodologies should be put in place to evaluate the points of communication throughout the business.

What are crisis communication best practices?

In the event of a crisis, such as a company-wide data breach or a global pandemic, businesses that have a crisis-best-practice plan in place fare much better. 

Crisis communication best practices refer to a set of policies and procedures that spring into action in the event of the aforementioned crisis situation. An established set of best practices facilitates the continuation of business operations with as little panic as possible. 

Best practices for crisis communication adhere to three main criteria: 

  • Anticipate - be prepared for the unexpected
  • Act - activate your business response 
  • Overcome - restore normal practice   

No matter the size of the business, a crisis communications strategy is essential for maintaining a smooth running of business operations. 

There are several different best practices for handling valuable customer communications when a crisis hits. It’s likely they will all apply to your business to some degree. 

In this article, we look at five of them, including some technologies that will help along the way.  

1. Remain reachable

Businesses that disappear when the going gets tough aren’t going to make it through a minor crisis, let alone a global pandemic. 

It’s imperative to open more lines of communication with your customers. That may mean live chats, phone calls, and email. Try to incorporate a dual approach designed to inform both employees and customers where necessary.  

Enhanced customer service is provided by employees having the full information they need to deliver that improved experience. 

With a wealth of essential tools at their fingertips, interactions are faster, and a higher rate of calls are resolved the first time.   

Technology that delivers many benefits for businesses is Automatic Call Distribution. ACD features include:

  • Improved customer experience 
  • More effective caller-to-employee connection 
  • Reduced customer friction 
  • Full customer history data
  • Analytics reporting 
  • Higher resolution rate

As a business owner, it’s your duty to understand the impact a crisis has on your customers and work out how best to communicate with them at this time.  

Management is key during a crisis. Frequent communication requires addressing the crisis response on a daily or weekly basis. This includes:

  • Availability to deal with escalated customer concerns
  • Hosting regular team meetings to ensure employees’ wellbeing
  • Continual training of employees’ soft skills 

Businesses that are quickly able to shift from traditional office working practices to remote working are able to maintain the usual communications. In addition, within industries that require extra customer communication, this can be facilitated, too.

2. Establish a public information point 

Your customers need to know where to go when they need help, and this needs to be very visible. 

There are some things that will change for your business during a crisis, including some general information that will be relevant for all your customers. 

This commonly-sought information can be shared at the public information point, which will also save time for both your customers and staff. 

To get started with collating data for your business information point, follow these steps:

  • List common customer questions
  • Check social media for customer feedback
  • Evaluate the impact of the crisis on your business
  • Detail the managers responsible for each area
  • Decide on company-wide policies, such as refunds 
  • Set expectations
  • Create answers to common questions
  • At all times, be empathetic, realistic, and helpful  

It’s worth mentioning, at this juncture, that it’s not just customers who need to be handled with empathy.

Customer service staff, especially those who are customer-facing every single day, need to be recognized and rewarded. It’s all too easy for these staff members to burn out in their job roles due to the significant amount of stress they’re now put under.

3. Be a conversation starter

Continuing along the lines of excellent communication, it’s a good idea to reach out to your customers for their feedback and concerns. This allows your customers to have their voices heard and their opinions valued. 

Being transparent with your customers is the best policy. Ask how you can help them, and then help them!

This is why big and small business phone service providers are imperative to open channels of communication. 

A cloud-based office phone system enables high-quality calls, whether your staff are in the office or working from a remote location. In addition, such systems can integrate Microsoft Teams, together with your CRM system, for seamless communications. 

Agile is the name of the game when it comes to cloud-based systems for crucial customer communications. 

Don’t underestimate the power of social media and phone calls, either.

4. Check your content

Sweep through your entire content - website, social media, email campaigns, and push notifications - to check that you have a consistent crisis-communications message. ‍

48% of US adults check their social media accounts for news information, so your up-to-date business information needs to be easily accessible on these platforms. 

It’s likely that you’ll need to adjust your company’s message a little in light of a crisis. 

Businesses that have a lot of content to sift through are turning to sales process automation to handle this task. Smart automation software can automatically take care of customer updates and important changes to content.  

Utilize social media and Google Alerts, too, to quickly reply to stakeholders and customers in the event of mass panic online. You can then make use of a phone system for business with online calling to swiftly alleviate concerns and rewrite the script.

5. See what they see

We can’t talk about customer communication without addressing their preferences in communicating. 

It’s all well and good opening lines of communication and informing customers explicitly of changes that will impact them.  But you need to ask them what they want and need. 

Now is the time to be open and transparent.

Ask your customers:

  • How you can help and support them
  • What kind of content they want to see right now
  • What would reassure them 

Once you have this information, you’re able to tailor a strategic content marketing plan to appropriately address your customers’ needs. 

Businesses should tailor their product offerings to their customers’ exacting requirements and generate online product recommendations accordingly.  Understanding their online behavior, what makes them tick, and what else they might need right now all play a part in suggesting online products and services to them.  

After the event 

As vital as implementing and maintaining those essential communications are during a crisis, it needs to continue post-crisis, too. 

Businesses should also have a post-crisis evaluation plan to determine what worked well and what didn’t. This forms the solid groundwork for when the next crisis occurs (hopefully not for a while!). 

Standard notification templates can be implemented at this time and updated for different sections of your audience. These can include email responses, texts, and standard answering service prompts. 

Adhering to these best practice solutions and solidifying them for all staff members ensures everyone knows exactly what to do in the future. Some businesses have implemented a response team unit with key players to maintain policies that have been set during the crisis. 

A response team unit should include:

  • Upper management
  • Legal staff
  • PR staff
  • Managers from each division of the business 

Once in place, all relevant staff need to have their tasks solidified. For example, upper management and legal would be in charge of assessing the risk during crisis time. Managers would then ensure all documentation is shared with the rest of the company.

Twice a year is suitable for assessing the best practices that have been implemented. This allows for a thorough review to see what needs to be updated. 

Keep communication lines going with all staff members so that everyone is in the loop and aware of how the business as a whole handled the crisis and steps to improve for the future. All employees will have their own opinions, too, so keep active listening. 

Crisis connections that last 

The pandemic has forced companies to pivot their strategies, and in some cases, rethink their entire business model. 

General sales and marketing have now taken the backseat, with customer focus at the forefront. This is a positive step towards customer-oriented strategies, which, ultimately, will lead to business success. 

The business landscape has changed forever. 

Businesses that embrace the change, keep the communications channels open, and put customers first will win out. 

Business Education
Written by John Allen

John Allen is the Director of SEO for 8x8, a leading communication platform among Gartner Unified Communications Providers, with integrated contact, voice, video, and chat functionality.

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