Five Ways to Permanently Lose Customers During a Crisis

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I think I’ve received hundreds of emails in the last three days, each explaining how every company who ever captured my contact information is dealing with COVID-19. Through the course of the last week, we’ve gone from hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes to weeks-long store closures and self-isolation. For a lot of companies, this is a crash course in crisis communications. Most score in the C+ to D range.

Since many of us are running through potential worst-case scenarios in our heads anyway, here’s a list of the best ways to alienate your customers with one email during difficult times. Don’t worry—I don’t name names.

1. Try to be funny

Look, I have a dark sense of humor. Sometimes I even cope with trying times by making jokes. I’m not looking to a corporation to do that for me and, even if you somehow manage to make *me* laugh in the darkest of times, you risk pissing off 98% of your client base who don’t share my refined and sophisticated idea of what is—and isn’t—amusing.

2. Throw your employees under the bus

If you want my business after a crisis, whether it’s a global pandemic or just a run-of-the-mill PR nightmare, make sure I don’t read any headlines about how you laid off half your workforce or slashed their benefits for the sake of corporate profits or total shareholder value. I understand better than anyone that you don’t want your company to go under, but people come first and the people who depend on you for a paycheck are more important than shareholders. In fact, the companies that have contacted me and let me know in writing that their employees would continue to be paid during a closure are the ones I’ll remember and continue to frequent when things are back to our new normal.

Every time a customer hears from you, consider it a moment of truth. Remind them why they like your company and why they continue to stay on your mailing list.

3. Keep your automated marketing and ads turned on

If I get a completely tone-deaf email or a happy-go-lucky social media ad when everyday life is crumbling around us, I will think less of your company. I know whoever is in charge of social media at your company just forgot to pause automated emails and the corporate social feed, but like it or not, your business now looks completely clueless.

4. Don’t even try to keep my business

More than one brand has been killed by a crisis. Every time a customer hears from you, consider it a moment of truth. Remind them why they like your company and why they continue to stay on your mailing list. And if you don’t have a real update, consider the adage that less is more. Everyone is being inundated with emails, texts and other communications so if you don’t have anything new to say, it’s OK to stay quiet.

5. Forget your humanity

Communications, even the corporate kind, have to start with people. If taking care of your employees is the foundation of your messaging and communications strategy, you will be able to weather the storm. A people-first philosophy builds loyalty not just from your staff but from your customers, and it just so happens to be the right thing to do. It might even help you sleep better at night.

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