Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How to serve your customers in a time of crisis.

By Kieron McCann, Director of Strategy at Cognifide, a Wunderman Thompson company.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis and the following unprecedented upheaval has led to brands all over the world re-examining their current communications and becoming hyper aware of their customers online behaviour. Meanwhile, customers are watching how brands behave and communicate with them during a difficult time, when many are feeling a mix of emotions.

Ironically, lockdown has led to people communicating more so than ever before on digital platforms as we have more time to invest conversations with friends, family, or even our favourite brands on social media. However, with more conversations happening than ever before – there is a higher chance of brands getting it wrong. So, in difficult moments such as this, how can brands strengthen relationships with customers and boost loyalty, whilst also appealing to new customers amidst rapid digital and cultural change? Here are five steps to help you on your journey.

  1. Reimagining your communication strategy

Brands need to take a step back and really consider their current communication strategies and messaging. Thinking carefully about moments of engagement and whether they are appropriate and necessary within the new context are hugely important. Genuine authenticity and empathy will always prevail. Simple gestures of thoughtfulness and care will go a long way, especially when where people are experiencing real highs and lows in mood. Brands do this by bringing context, personalisation and awareness to their marketing activities, so they don’t appear tone deaf or insensitive. Key to this is tapping into what customers really need at this time. And delivering the right offer, at exactly the right moment, can have a big impact. 

  1. Segmentation, Segmentation, Segmentation

But how can brands find out what their customers really desire right now? Brands must ensure they understand their customer segmentation in order to take advantage of, as well as avoid risks around, certain moments. And in turn, embrace loyal customers who want to hear from them, while knowing when and how to approach those that may not. It also presents a unique opportunity for marketers to be more relevant and get closer to their customers because they are now on the receiving end of more data.

  1. On the fly

Acting on real-time data is essential to assembling and delivering a personalised experience as a customer moves through their unique journey. However, this requires access to the right technology – its success rests upon decisioning and experience management tools. 

Deciding on the right tools will ultimately depend on a number of factors but to achieve real-time personalisation will require a data platform that will integrate data from the various channels that a consumer might utilise in any one journey. Analysing and making that data actionable will require some level of automation to speed up the decision-making process and integrations with a content management system and other campaign tools to ensure that the right content appears in the right place at the right time.

However, organisations that think they can solve this with technology alone should take heed. Without the organisational change required to operationalise new tools, technology implementations will fail. 

  1. Be kind

In order to avoid disenfranchising customers, it’s important to treat a customer as you would like to be treated. The brands that have really thought about ways to support communities, the NHS and those in need, such as offering food discounts and altering their opening hours, will be remembered for adapting and approaching the pandemic with genuine care for others – rather than in an opportunistic manner. In demonstrating kindness now, customer relationships will be strengthened for the future.

  1. Be agile

Poor customer experiences during this time have largely come down to a company’s ability to react quickly to change. Whether your business is digitally mature or struggling with moving online for the first time, always getting it right is hard. That’s why it’s so important to remember that personalised customer engagement is an iterative process – built on data, testing and insight – and subject to constant improvement. Businesses at any stage of maturity should look to data first to create an accurate picture of their target audience. Start small and focus on perfecting the small things. 

With consumers now relying on digital experiences to serve their every need, it’s more important than ever for brands to invest in the right technology, expertise and knowledge to meet their expectations. From knowing when to reach out to customers, to adjusting tone of voice, or adapting products on offer, the onus is now on brands to capture customers hearts and minds digitally. Those that succeed in doing this will not only maintain their consumer base during the crisis but be remembered for their empathy and good practice at a time when consumers needed them most.