None of us started off 2020 having any idea that it would turn out the way it did.

As one of our clients commented this week “not one single Futurologist predicted a global pandemic would scour the globe in 2020”, (never heard of a Futurologist? Here’s a definition – seems it’s a much harder job than we might have thought!)

So it’s safe to say that even those of us who love planning, and have the activity in our marketing plan all mapped out for the year ahead (or two, or if we’re really bragging, maybe three..) were, ahem, rather caught out by the turn of events 2020 threw at us. Things went wrong. Plans were made, changed, abandoned, remade, abandoned again. It’s been a TOUGH year for most businesses – no wonder we’re all exhausted.

If this year has proven anything at all, it’s that things WILL go wrong. You might have developed an absolutely perfect marketing plan and covered every possible eventuality you could think of (or you might not), but there will always be factors outside of your control. So it’s important to be able to adapt and react as quickly as possible to events and changes when they impact your plan.

For many businesses this reaction has been to pivot – switching to a different target customer base, delivering their service or product in a different way, or branching out into a new service or product entirely. But even if you are still able to deliver your usual offering, to your usual customer base, in the usual way, it’s very likely you’ll have had to make some changes or concessions to Covid along the way.

Fortunately, our customers are human too, and they will accept changes and understand your reasoning, as long as you communicate it in the right way.

Here are our 3 top tips for communicating change in the right way to keep your customers on-side – and perhaps they’ll become even MORE loyal as a result.

 

1.Tell them what’s happening. 

If you have to change plans, such as cancelling an event, moving it online or postponing it for better times, it’s MUCH better to do so quickly and with the least amount of fuss possible. Give people as much notice of the change as possible, and tell them what you’re doing to put things right. If you don’t yet know how you’re going to put it right, say so – but be sure to communicate that you ARE working on it, and WILL be in touch in a reasonable timescale with more news.

Don’t leave people hanging; frustrated customers don’t stick around for long. But if they know and trust that you’ll keep in touch and fix things as soon as you can, they’re more likely to bear with you.

Here’s a lovely example of a (non-Covid related) cancellation we received recently.

What’s good about this approach?

  1. Elliot says sorry and keeps it simple.
  2. He tells me why it’s happening. No complicated excuses, just plain and simple.
  3. He uses humour to deflect (this won’t be appropriate for all brands, but if it suits yours, it’s a great way to defuse a situation.)

 

2. Tell them what you’re doing about it

Once you’ve told your customers that something is being cancelled, postponed or otherwise changing, you need to explain what you’re doing to resolve the situation. Sometimes the change will eventually work in their favour.

For example, Andrew And Pete sent us an email to explain that they’ve had to postpone their annual conference (which is a key benefit of their membership programme). To mitigate this disappointment, they’ve decided to offer all of their members an extra 6 months of membership free of charge, so they can still attend the conference when it takes place at the later date. And they’re sharing this information with everyone on their list, well in advance of the original conference date.

What’s good about this approach? 

  1. They’re keeping everyone informed WELL in advance of the date of change
  2. They’re turning the situation from a negative (postponed conference), to a major positive (6 months extra free).  Who could complain about that?
  3. They’re telling EVERYONE on their list – not just existing members. So they’ve turned this potential bad news into great news, and made it into a proof point of their reliability and fair play to customers. This gives them an opportunity to convert more new members who can see that membership is ‘safe’ and by joining, they will now benefit from an extra 6 months free too.

 

3. Tell them clearly what to do next 

So, you’ve told your customers about the issue and the change that’s going to take place, and you’ve explained how you’re going to handle it. Now you need to tell them what THEY need to do next. Do they need to rebook, or will you do it automatically for them? Do they have to choose a new date, or have you done it for them? Make sure they know exactly what is required of them – and if they don’t need to do anything, make that clear too. Confusion causes frustration, so don’t let any confusion creep in.

Here’s another example of a communication I received when a local event’s start date had to be pushed back due to Lockdown V2.

 

In this case, I wasn’t asked to do anything at all – it’s all done for me, hoorah! And they’ve made that point absolutely clear in the email.

What’s good about this approach?

  1. Again, they gave me lots of notice – no last-minute cancellations to frustrate and annoy.
  2. They kept it very simple – clear and straightforward communication, straight to the point.
  3. They explain, very clearly, that I do not have to do anything at all. And they highlighted this bit of information in the email to ensure it stands out for me. No confusion here.

We’ve also seen lots of bad examples of businesses who’ve had to change their plans, and haven’t communicated it as well as these three – but we’re not into naming and shaming so let’s just say that even being a national multiple retailer doesn’t mean you always get it right.

If your business has had to change plans, cancel events or switch services and you’re finding it tricky to communicate the changes, we can help with that. Just get in touch on info@marketingarchitect.co.uk  for a chat to find out more today.