Special Series: How to Negotiate Tough Times – Part One – Dealing with the Current Crisis and Your Customers

With the current economic volatility, market changes, bans on travel, and constant reports of the COVID-19, the uncertainty seems like the aftermath of Sept. 11. Like that horrible event, many of us feel out of control with so many bad things happening all at once. How do you negotiate through this turbulent climate? What do you say to your clients, your employees, your friends and your family?

NOTE: With the multiple challenges and emergency situations this crisis is creating, this is the first part of a three-part series with strategies relating to your customers, your employees, and you. In April, e-Tips will resume its once-a-month schedule. 

Communicate NOW with your Customers and Clients 

How do you keep those you serve informed without alarming them? The best way to communicate with those who use your services or products is to be open, address the issue, talk about possible fears, inform people of their options and let them know how you are taking action. 

Be Open
Linda Rutherford, vice president and chief communications officer of Southwest Airlines advises, “An immediate response can help with damage control, even if your team doesn’t have all the necessary information yet. Be transparent and share what you know at any given time, treating crisis communication as an ongoing conversation. “Rutherford wrote one of the best articles on crisis communications based on  facing another major issue, a technical outage that lasted 13 hours. In communicating about a crisis, she advises you to: 

  1. Respond in Real Time: React as soon as possible.

  2. Be Transparent: Tell the truth about what you know and don’t know.

  3. Cover the Waterfront: Be consistent on all your digital channels. Avoid disconnected messages on your website and social media platforms. An example of these three strategies is in Southwest’s recent letter regarding the Coronavirus from its SVP & CMO Ryan Green. 

Address the Issue 

Provide practical advice. Help your clients and partners get information to take care of their businesses and address the issues they are facing. Even with the dramatic changes in the oil and gas market, Empire Petroleum Partners communicated with employees AND dealers regarding health issues as well as business. Diamond Vinson, VP of Empire’s Operations West Division stated, “Our  motto is Fueling Dealers’ Success from Coast to Coast. Our dealers often don’t have access to all the information and resources we do. We care that all of our people and businesses stay healthy. Understanding the best practices to mitigate the impact and protect the end-consumer is essential in that regard.” Empire provided their Dealers with ways to prevent illness and stop or slow the spread of COVID-19 virus whether the virus comes to their community or not.

Inform Your Clients

Fluent Financial’s approach is to stay connected with the firm’s clients about market fluctuations, discuss the firm’s investment strategy and to show historical data on market recovery. In addition to discussions about the firm’s investment strategy, the information educates about the virus and even provides a link to an online resource WorldoMeter. Fluent’s CEO Mitch Kramer, CFP, closes on a positive note reminding clients there may be opportunities even in this time of concern. 

“As the Coronavirus continues to make headline news, this week the stock market has responded with the first and fastest correction in 2020. We would like to address some of the key points we feel are relevant to you to keep you informed….We will continue to look for opportunities to add value to your portfolio during these chaotic times in the market. Please feel free to reach out to us so we can address any of your questions or your concerns. As always, we appreciate your business and the trust you put in us.”Read this letter and other letters to clients on the Fluent Financial’s blog.

Use Reputable News Sources to Stay Informed and Make Decisions  

Crisis communication expert Lorri Allen suggests avoiding those exaggerated Internet posts if you want the truth. Instead, she advises you, “Look at reputable news sources and mainstream media. Go to long-established newspapers and where investigative news has been done. Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, NPR, Wall Street Journal are a good start.” Her site offers tips if a news reporter shows up at your door to interview you about this crisis or another.The World Health Organization can give you COVID-19 virus updates, provide advice, answer FAQ’s,  and address myths. As mentioned, WorldoMeter offers a county by country of those currently infected, fatalities, and those who recovered.  

Let Clients Know You are Taking Action

Tell clients how you are addressing their needs including limitations. Give them choices where possible. For instance, “We have three options for you. Which is most important to your business now?” or “Based on the delay in shipping, do you want us to store what we have until your order is complete or deliver items as we receive them?” Provide updates on anything that might be different or delayed. 

Business Development

How do you continue to build relationships in this era of social-distancing? Use this time to reconnect. Replace the “let’s have lunch” or “catch up for coffee” business development or client touchpoint meetings with virtual coffee meetings. Set up a time, have each of you bring your favorite beverage, and schedule a video chat on Zoom, Skype or whatever platform you prefer. Try to meet on video instead of calling. Although it means you need to be presentable, you both will be more likely to stay focused and not multi-task if you are on video. 

Travel and Conferences

Before you cancel that customer or partner event or conference outright, consider  creative solutions. If travel isn’t possible for some, could you offer a robust virtual component? Most speakers and experts have the capabilities to present their content through video. Professional speakers know how to make the program interactive and/or you can use a moderator. 

Use this Time to Reconsider and Refocus

Often crisis situations force you to be more resourceful and creative. Use this time to reconsider your ways of delivering services, communicating, and addressing your client’s needs. Circle back on client matters you wanted to address when you had more time in the office. Provide information to those who may not have your access to the data you do. Encourage those who are experiencing tough business decisions. And thank those who are still working with you. Most important, connect now. Let your clients and customers know you care about them, their people, and their businesses. We are all in this together. Journey On!