It’s life Jim, but not as we know it
Covid-19, coronavirus, pandemic, furlough, self-isolation, lockdown – all words most of us had never used until a few weeks ago. Whatever happens next, the world has changed, business has changed, people, and the way we live and interact has changed. So, how do we communicate in this new world?
My job, and that of my business, is to shape, create and manage communications. We know our clients well, many of them have been in business for years, and they understand their stakeholders’ requirements; what they need, their interests, how they communicate, and what they want from that business. Now however, we are in unknown territory, everything has turned on its head, and we need to look at everything with fresh eyes.
In every aspect of our businesses, we need to create new dialogue, new ways of communicating, and a much more personal level of engagement than we have ever needed before.
Post Covid-19 communications
With this in mind, I wanted to put together some guidance on stakeholder engagement, starting right now. There is a clear need for guidance, trust and transparency that has to feed into the way we communicate with each other. So, I will start with what I see as the most important stakeholder group – your employees.
If you have followed best practice, you will already have a communications plan in place for your employees, whether they are key workers, furloughed or working remotely. We have seen some great initiatives, from online lunch meets to company quiz nights, mental health support sessions and personal development. It’s your way of saying, “ you matter, and we are here to support you now and in the long term.”
Everyone wants to know what is going to happen next and while we don’t have a crystal ball, we can share what we know. As a business owner, I know only too well how stressful this pandemic has been, but it is a worrying time for the people who rely on us for employment too, so we have a duty of care to keep them updated. A weekly update on the health of the business and its people, or simple Q&As around return to work, holiday and furlough can ensure people feel connected and informed. In silence, it is easy to make assumptions.
As we begin the next phase, share the practices you will have in place for safe working, from deep-cleaning of the workplace and safety measures, to adjusted working practices, travel to work, and working remotely. This is an opportunity to show you care and that you have made the welfare of your people a priority.
TIP: Choose a team of ambassadors to drive commercial and social interaction and bring the leadership team in for weekly video updates and Q&A sessions.
At the beginning of this pandemic, I delivered a webinar for the Institute of Directors (IoD) titled ‘What happens next depends on how we act now.’ This is personal; we have all suffered personally and economically and we will have long memories. I spoke to a large business last week who had asked a key supplier of many years for an additional 30 day in payment terms while they measured the short-term impact of Covid-19. The supplier said no, and actually asked for the outstanding invoices to be cleared that day. As it turned out, the business in question has remained buoyant and the aforementioned supplier lost a contract worth more than £1 million per year. How we act matters.
Re-engage with your suppliers; let them know how you are doing, talk about what terms you are able to work with for the next few months, and listen to how you can help them. If you can make adjustments for order and delivery times or have cash in the bank to pay a little earlier, you will see a much closer working relationship as a result.
TIP: Write a letter or make a call just to say, ‘how are you doing?’,tell your suppliers what you need and start negotiations now for a return to business as usual.
You may be an expert in what you do, but the landscape has shifted. Even if you have contracts or work on pause, talk to your clients to find out how they are doing and what they need from you in this new world. Do your research so you can show them that you understand the impact on their business or sector and respond with empathy.
We all have enough fires to fight, so think about how you can reshape your service delivery to help your clients react to change. They will appreciate it more than you know.
On that point, share your positive news with them. If you have been looking after your staff with wellbeing activities, volunteering, raising funds for charity, or helping other businesses, let your clients know. This says more about your business than any advertising.
TIP: A good client isn’t just one who is spending money. Stay engaged with your customers so you can anticipate their needs. This may be a full contract review, cost-savings, access to new products and services, or an incentive to thank them for their custom.
I can’t finish without talking about marketing and public relations. Thinking about the points above inspired me to write this article. We have seen huge change in every sector we work in, with some businesses forced to pause all activity, and others pivoting to online service and product delivery.
My advice? We can’t just step back into the world we knew. Now is the time for a full audit of your customer profile, what and how you can deliver, your marketing activities, and the real engagement impact of lockdown on your business. We have a great opportunity here to create positive change from the new normal, and we would love to help you.
As Captain Jean-Luc Picard says,
“Things are only impossible until they’re not.”
Kate Everett, Managing Partner at TWI