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Five Brand To-dos to Ensure Customer Loyalty During a Crisis

Five Brand To-dos to Ensure Customer Loyalty During a Crisis Article Featured Image

You’ve likely already sent out a communication to customers, acknowledging the pandemic; recognizing their worries; and explaining that you care about their safety and that of your employees, that you’re doing extra cleaning or maybe that you’re temporarily closing. It’s a first response to this unprecedented situation.

But ensuring the loyalty of your customers tomorrow will largely depend on how you respond to the coronavirus today. What’s your brand’s next step? It’s hard to know what to do given the seriousness of the situation and the ongoing volatility of the business environment. Based on our observations, coupled with our experience in customer management, we offer the ideas below to help you navigate this moment.

Be flexible with customers, especially your best ones. Extend loyalty memberships, loyalty tier expiration dates and deadlines to use benefits. Adjust requirements for earning various loyalty tiers or reassure members that you’ll do this in the future for their benefit once you know more about business impacts. Let customers cancel orders and reservations without penalties. Offer refunds. And waive shipping fees while your stores are closed. Among the brands taking one or more of these proactive approaches are Marriott, Best Western, Hilton, Hyatt, Starbucks, DSW, REI, and United Airlines. How might your brand be flexible with your most loyal customers?

Offer a gift of value to members. T-Mobile is providing unlimited data for free. AT&T and Verizon are suspending service terminations and waiving late fees. And Life Time is providing free virtual fitness classes. Other companies may gift loyal customers with additional points or generous gift cards to use now or when a business reopens. While the old saying goes, it’s the thought that counts, now’s the time to offer more than just a thank-you. How can you show customers just how much you value their business?

Offer a gift of value to nonmembers. Planet Fitness, FabFitFun and numerous other fitness companies are offering free online workouts to everyone. Comcast is providing free access to its Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spot. The New York Times, the Washington Post and many other national, regional and local publications are offering free access to ongoing coronavirus-related content. Michaels is hosting free online crafting classes for families. What can your brand offer free to nonmembers?

Be timely, thoughtful and on point. Let’s start with the don’ts: Don’t send emails with opportunistic subject lines, like “Now’s the time for a travel deal.” Don’t try to be too funny in an email: It’s too soon and likely will be too soon for a while. Don’t be tone-deaf: Customers aren’t looking for cute clothes for music festivals—most large group gatherings have been canceled. Neither are customers hoping for a good deal on sessions of laser tag or paintball. Now for the dos: Do revisit your subject lines, images, offers and ad copy to be sure that messages completely appropriate a week ago are still OK today. Do check in with any brand partners to make sure they’re on the same page with you. In other words, make sure that any messages reflecting your brand are in line with the image you want to convey today. Do offer a balance of seriousness and hope in your messaging. And finally, do offer information regarding your brand’s coronavirus response right up front on your website’s landing page. We’ve checked myriad sites and the vast majority do this. If you haven’t yet, do it now. Not doing so implies insensitivity to the worries at hand.

Be empathetic. We’ve read dozens and dozens of brand emails, landing pages and social posts. The best avoid the boilerplate; communicate honestly about customers’ worries and the business’s own fears; explain, with transparency, the company’s current approach to the pandemic to build customers’ confidence in the brand; and invite dialogue with customers.

We have two favorites. The first is from Madewell, whose website communication ends this way: “So please stay in touch. Reach out to us via email, talk to us on social media, tell us what you want to hear and see from us, when we’re getting it right and when we aren’t. And for our part, we promise to continue to be a place to inspire you, to encourage you and—now more than ever—to make you smile. Take care, stay safe and talk soon. Love from all of us, Madewell.”

The second favorite communication is from Bloom Bake Shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Owner Annemarie Maitri shares her fears, hopes and plans. Her email ends this way: “I am not sure what the next few weeks and months hold. All I know is that all of us at Bloom want everyone to be healthy and safe. And because of that commitment we have made the difficult decision to close our shop effective today.… In the meantime our focus will be ensuring we are able to take care of and retain our incredible staff and look at ways we can serve our customers via take-out and delivery.… We love this community. We love connecting with each of you and especially serving you. We love our team. Right now, our commitment is on putting everyone’s health first, but we look forward to opening our doors again as soon as possible. Stay well and tuck into your cocoon. We will keep safe as well and look forward to when we can all connect again.”

We realize that your brand is likely already looking ahead and wondering about future messaging. When’s the right time to reintroduce standard brand communications? When we do reach out, what should we say? How do we prepare now so that we’re ready when the time comes? Stay tuned. Our team is constantly monitoring brand communications, looking back on historic crises and brands’ responses, and brainstorming with those very questions in mind. We’ll offer our insights in an upcoming post.

The Lacek Group is a Minneapolis-based, data-driven loyalty, experience and customer engagement agency that has been delivering personalization for its world-class clients for more than 30 years. The Lacek Group is an Ogilvy company.