I recently came across Daniel Newman’s article called 3 Key Considerations For Managing Customer Experience During COVID-19. I agree with Daniel on all points. This is essentially my take on empathy from a branding perspective.

I don’t have to tell you we are going through a weird time right now. 

This COVID-19 panic and subsequent lockdown/quarantine/shelter-in-place has wrecked our economy. But you already knew that. However, we have a unique opportunity to do something right.

If you’re lucky to still have customers — and you do, even if they aren’t paying you anything right now, because they’re either stuck at home or out of work — your most important strategy right now is to focus on customer experience and dial up empathetic engagement. That means we have to act quickly to put our customers’ minds at ease, recognizing their needs before they do.

The short term is really going to suck. It’s going to take 12-18 months to eliminate this virus, and who knows what the economic impact will be. Six weeks into the shutdown, my home state of Tennessee is gradually phasing in its economic “reopening” starting this week.

Sharpen your EQ (Emotional Intelligence)

We are long past the point of all the emails describing our response to COVID-19. I saw those come in waves, and they all said the same thing, so I decided not to send one myself. Should I have done that? I don’t know. Either it would have reminded people of my business and they’d hire me for something, or it would have just annoyed them and they’d block my email address forever.

In any case, we need to be empathetic. That means being human. Take the time to make a phone call. If you’re a cable company, and your customer support chat can’t arrange repairs because the repair chat isn’t live yet, give them the authority to connect customers with somebody who can make that happen. This actually happened to me last week, but once we got a phone call from them, they did a lot to ease our frustration. It’s amazing what happens when you get humans talking to each other.

If you have employees, do what you can to ease their concerns. A lot of people have lost their jobs. People are scared at every level, from the C-suite to the mailroom. This entire experience has been more traumatic than anyone expected. Six weeks ago, when we first heard rumblings of a two-week quarantine, my wife and I went to the hardware store to stock up on supplies to do those projects around the house that we’ve been putting off. We haven’t done those projects yet! We didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by the situation.

Think About Your Messaging

This is not the time for hyper-promotional messages. And most brands caught onto that early on in the crisis. A few went ahead and went about business as usual, to some backlash and criticism. (It appears the internet has already forgotten that Apple has released two new products since the pandemic hit the American consciousness in early March.)

Perhaps now is the time to take the focus off sales and put it on empowering your customers and engaging them on a societal level. Get real, get honest, and use your powers for good. Maybe there is a non-profit you can team up with. How can you make society better after the pandemic is over?

It might hurt your bottom line to delay your product launch due to concerns over the pandemic. That is something we can recover from eventually. But your customers won’t forget that you took the time to care about them beyond their money. Can you arrange for your customers to send a meal to a friend? Can you do something to keep your people connected to each other despite this era of physical distancing?

Stay Present

It’s going to take a while for the economy to bounce back. There will be a lot of economic reconstruction to come. We aren’t going to be able to revert back to our pre-COVID marketing strategies as soon as the economy reopens. Customers won’t be able to go back to that as quickly as they’d like — and believe me, they want to! Again, we are all scared. We miss our friends and family. Remember, it could take 12-18 months to find a vaccine, and it could take 12-18 months for the economy to truly bounce back.

However, this might be a good time to identify and fix the parts of your business that are broken, from customer experience to brand standards to supply lines. If you don’t do this now, you’ll lose your customers for good when the economy reopens.

Get Started Now

This is the perfect time to reinvent your business. I’m of the understanding that your brand is your reputation. Be proactive in reassuring your customers you will give them protection and safety. Pay attention to what your customers tell you and act on it. It may hurt in the short term, but in the long run, it’s worth it.

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