If one thing is for certain, it’s that over the past few weeks all of us have learned much more than we’ve wanted to about crisis communication.
I’ve worked in various forms of marketing and communication capacities for about 15 years now, and while I’ve seen my fair share of company challenges, I, along with the rest of the world, have had my moments of PR paralysis over the current public health situation. Quite frankly, there have also been moments when I've had to force myself not to stay there.
One of the easiest things to do in a crisis is nothing. And while, yes, there are times that call for silence, a lack of action can often be one of the most destructive things we can do to our businesses. During a time of crisis, our clients need us more than ever. If we fail to communicate, we fail the relationship. We're like that thoughtless friend who doesn't bother to call or text when you're in the hospital. If we aren’t keeping our clients safe and informed in a crisis then what kind of "friends" are we?
But what exactly should we be saying? While that part is a bit more nuanced, there are five very safe and effective strategies that will work in any situation that your dealership might be faced with now or in the future.
1. Put the information cart before the horse.
One of the worst things that can happen to your brand or business is to appear as though you’ve intentionally held back information. What’s the second worse? To appear as though you’re too incompetent to have even noticed said information (error or issue). If you are aware of an issue, challenge or error, it is always best to bring it to your customer's attention, before they bring it to you. Not only does this type of proactive communicating inspire respect and trust, it could very well save you from losing their business altogether.
2. Focus on service.
If you are worried about your sales during this pandemic, you're in good company. But reaching out with thinly veiled attempts to generate revenue will surely leave your customers with a poor taste in their mouths. This doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop selling! If you believe at all in your products, you’ll also know that if they weren't made readily available for people to buy, you'd be doing them a disservice. Don't do this to your customers. Instead, find ways to be of true value to them by identifying what they need most urgently. Some great examples right now are cost savings initiatives for budget conscious consumers (i.e. lease pull-aheads, payment deferrals, cash back initiatives) and service offerings (i.e. warranty inspections, tire and oil changes).
3. “Here’s what we know.”
In times of uncertainty, the biggest stressors can be all of the unknowns. Thankfully there are always at least some questions that can be answered. Instead of going silent because of your own uncertainty, focus on what you know. Do you have new store hours? Shop from home services? Do you plan on offering a weekly or monthly update? Even if the information is very basic, the "here's what we know" approach is a sure-fire way to ease consumer anxiety.
4. Words matter.
Are we amidst a "global pandemic", “the covid crisis”, or a "public health situation"? No matter what the PR challenge, the words you choose matter. Our words have a significant impact on the responses we receive because of the automatic images they conjure. Whether it’s a social media post or a message to a customer, be sure that your words are carefully vetted so that you don’t inadvertently cause any alarm bells to go off. (P.S. the answer is the latter.)
5. Don’t forget to communicate internally.
Last but certainly not least, be sure that you’re also taking the time to communicate internally. Your PR strategy should be made as readily available to management as it is to service and reception. In a time of stress, it's easy to forget the very basic fact that these are the staff members who will be answering many of the questions. Ensuring that all staff are well informed will allow your team to offer a unified and trustworthy message.
Do you have specific communication questions related to your dealership? Feel free to send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free one-on-one consultation.
By Kiera Fogg, VP Communications