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Tips to ensure your customer communications team is ready for the next crisis

BY Pam Mugford

Globally, organizations of all types and sizes have been caught by surprise by the extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many have been unable to quickly communicate important operational updates to customers – or at least unable to do so without moving mountains and incurring excessive costs.

While most large organizations have invested a lot of time and planning into making sure their employees and core IT systems are ready for a crisis, the same can’t necessarily be said for their customer communications.

Readying your customer communications teams, systems, and processes for a crisis is akin to having your pantry stocked with extra flour, water, and toilet paper available in case of emergency.  The right preparation enables you to respond very quickly to reassure and prepare your customers for necessary changes in how to interact with your organization or even what to do in the event of service disruptions.

The following are key tips for stocking that pantry and being ready to handle the unexpected:


Tip 1 – Identify the kinds of communications you will need to be ready for.

Often in the case of a crisis, you will need to send a general broadcast message to affected customers about how your organization is handling the situation and how they will be impacted.  This would usually be a message from your organization that is sent to many of your customers and would typically be managed through a batch generation process. During the pandemic, most of us received emails from our trusted banking vendors regarding changes in their hours of operations for example.

Customer service teams should also be equipped with approved communications (the ones that are typically managed in interactive applications) to address standard questions or target a segment of a customer base with specific messages. Ensuring these teams are equipped with the right pre-approved message(s) can be a critical part of keeping your customers happy.

You also may need to quickly add and adjust important bulletins to traditional customer communications like statements, invoices or other servicing correspondence.   People will often pay more attention to their invoices and statements than what may be perceived of as a marketing letter and this can be an effective means of reinforcing a key message.


Tip 2 – Have approved, standardized content already written.

Insurers have very specific protocols for handling different types of natural disasters. They often have core communications pre-authored and ready to go, enabling them to act quickly.  While often some content in a communication will need to be tuned, having pre-authored content is a huge time saver.  For example, pre-written communications for hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, flooding that can quickly and easily be edited to the specific situation helps teams get the right message out the door quickly through the right channels. Accessible shared content objects that provide required regulatory content or the different ways to contact your organization can be quickly modified across a corpus of communication when using a system that centrally manages shared content.


Tip 3 – Pay attention to the details when writing content.

In regulated industries, legal content and a formal tone can be detrimental to building a loyal customer following. When emotions are high during a crisis, carefully analyzing the sentiment conveyed in your message is instrumental in building trust with customers.  Overly formal communication may be interpreted as cold and uncaring, where organizations with more playful brands will need to exercise caution so their communications are not regarded as insensitive. When important information needs to be communicated, it’s particularly important to ensure your communications are understood by writing them using plain language, at the appropriate reading level.  Lastly, ensuring alignment with your brand guidelines not only helps customers recognize your communications but also reduces concerns over phishing attempts and continues to foster customer trust and loyalty.


Tip 4 – Pre-build your communications templates.

It can take a company days to weeks to build a new correspondence application with a legacy customer communications management (CCM) solution that requires IT to do all the coding.  Purpose-built crisis communications touchpoints and templates eliminate this barrier to being a responsive organization.


Tip 5 – Set up the customer data feeds.

In many crises, you need to target a very specific group of customers. Setting up communications templates and touchpoints with access to the right data feeds and parameters enables you to segment your audience in a granular way if needed. For example, consider a very specific ZIP code that is impacted by wildfires or flooding; or in the recent pandemic, customers of mortgages that qualify for payment deferrals.  It is essential to include customer demographics, products purchased, as well as channel and language preference to focus your message to the right audience without having to rely on a lengthy back and forth with IT, especially when IT is probably busy dealing with issues of their own.


Tip 6 – Ensure you have multiple ways to reach your customers.

When the information you need to communicate is time-sensitive or when displacements happen, you need to have multiple ways to reach your customer base. While respecting your customer’s preferred communications channels is very important, if they are entirely reliant on printed mail that can no longer be delivered to a home address, they may miss critically important information. Work with your customers to identify their preferred and alternative communication channels. Ensure that you can consistently communicate the same message across all channels at the same time. By using a single system to push approved content out via your Web site, text messages, email, and print templates in concert, your customers will receive a consistent message no matter how they interact with your organization.


Tip 7 – Modernize your systems and processes to remove bottlenecks and potential points of failure.

Legacy customer communications management systems that require IT programming to create and modify templates, content, data sources, and targeting rules present the communications team with a significant barrier when it comes to being agile and responsive. Finding a system that enables business users to author content and target customer segments is essential to being able to act quickly. A central place for editing content that can be shared across various communications channels not only ensures consistency but also streamlines the editing and authoring process reducing change management timeframes by up to 90%. Look also for systems that are cloud-based to enable easy remote access, reliable availability, and zero reliance on IT to manage updates and maintenance.


Tip 8 – Be ready for the unexpected.

There are always going to be situations that arise that you can’t predict. It’s critical to have not only the right systems in place but also a streamlined approval process to enable you to create content, proof a communication, test it and target it to the right customer segment within a single business day.  The ability to assign a super-user role that can perform several or all these functions significantly helps to streamline processes and accelerate time to market.


In summary, there are many things that companies can do to mitigate the challenges that come with managing crisis communications.  Be prepared by having the right technology and the right processes in place gives you the upper hand in dealing with the unexpected.


Watch the webinar replay – Crisis Communications: Best Practices for Preparing for the unexpected – as we discuss strategies that enable organizations to increase their agility with customer communications during a time of crisis.

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