8 keys to compassionate communication, during and after COVID-19

Here’s how to makes sure your messages are guided by compassion instead of fear, and a map for getting through this crisis no matter what industry you serve.

8 keys to compassionate COVID-19 comms

As a publicist working in the hospitality space for many years, I have navigated hundreds of crisis situations on behalf of clients, but never have I seen a crisis like COVID-19.

With no road map, companies are trying to navigate their response in times that call for sensitivity. The word of the moment that I keep hearing in Zoom conferences is “tone deaf,” as in “We don’t want to appear tone deaf…” or “That company surely was tone deaf with that Instagram post.”

The word that we need to work toward is “compassion.”

Here are eight tips for handling communications throughout and after the current crisis:

1. Proceed with an abundance of compassion. People are fragile right now during these uncertain times, and need all the TLC your company can provide. Relax restrictions on redemption of gift certificates, subscriptions etc. where possible, and be flexible wherever you can.

2. Don’t blast your customers daily with nonessential messaging just to try and stay top-of-mind. Messaging should be shared only when your company truly has something important to deliver. If you overcommunicate over this period, customers might delete important messages when your business is ready to reopen.

3. Use this period to review your website and its content. Stay in touch with your employees to monitor their health and communicate clearly what information you might have regarding recovery as you know it.

4. From a communications standpoint, the message should be loud and clear: We have been through an international crisis and here are the extra measures that we are taking to ensure your safety and well-being. Think about how your business will look and feel when things resume to our new “normal,” how you might scale your reopening approach to meet new guidelines, add services or offerings to match demand and make sure that this plan is made public on your website, social media and emailed to your loyal customer base?

5. Think about what your current messaging is and know that it might have to be revised due to unforeseen circumstances. Messaging that made sense three days ago might not now, so keep following the news and pivot accordingly.

6. Masks are the new essential safety item and when business resumes, we are going to see companies branding them with their logos. Every company’s messaging upon re-entry should be about safety and well-being, so don’t worry that you are scaring your customers by providing them with branded masks or hand sanitizer. Your customers will appreciate it.

People want to get back out, but when they do, they will still have some trepidation. Managers and employees will need to provide a more compassionate approach than ever to their customer base. The tone they take should be warm, reassuring and caring.

7. Make sure that all of your employees know what extra steps have been taken for the safety and well-being of guests. Host a meeting or conference to ensure that all employees are well-versed in appropriate messaging for the time when business will resume.

8. Consider your return experience. When Wuhan opened back up, the city’s skyline was illuminated, buildings’ lighting was on scale with how your city looks on New Year’s Eve. Start thinking about what your business will look like upon re-entry.

Noreen Heron is the president of Heron Agency, a PR firm in Chicago. She is also an honoree for Ragan’s 2019 Top Women in Communications Awards.

A version of this article first appeared on the Heron Agency blog.

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