Crisis communication plans

Tips for communicating with cautious customers

The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down and Jackrabbit clients were definitely at the forefront of impact. The huge effect on life and work as we know it goes far beyond the sudden shift to virtual classes, small group lessons and six-foot-spacing between equipment in your gymnastics and cheer gym.

When the shock of extended closures hit, we were all forced to put great crisis communication plans in place. 

With reopening happening all over the country you’re likely facing two unique sets of parents – the first is raring and ready to go, lined up out front the first day of classes and smiling ear to ear. The second, and topic of this post, are a little more concerned about whether a return to classes is safe and if it’s the right thing for their family to do.

5 ways your team can communicate with cautious customers

In January you were communicating like a customer service rockstar to super-fan parents throughout your program. Then came March and April, and communicating the best that you knew how to in a crisis to super-worried-super-tired-super fans throughout the gym. Now, in the heat of summer, you’ve got a new hybrid approach to communicating with both of these groups of parents and managing to double down on super-fandom.

Bridge the gap with these 5 ways your team can communicate with cautious customers.

Communicate Early

Sometimes our instincts to wait until we have all the details together to communicate actually make us look more unprepared than we really are. Perfectionism is going to hurt more than help in times like these. 

Your cautious customers will appreciate you being upfront and honest – letting them know that while you may not have all the details just yet, here’s what you do know. Follow that with your plans to keep them informed, and you’ll have the crowd cheering you on in no time.

Communicate Often

In the same way that you start communication early, you’ll want to have a plan in place to keep communication consistent and frequent. Make the communication a series or even a newsletter event to watch for. Think of a ‘What’s Happening Wednesdays’ email series. 

When cautious customers get in a routine with you or know when to look for information next, chances are they’ll be less likely to call you directly or email out of the blue.

Transparency is Key

You built your business on the core values of your organization. Here at Jackrabbit, one of our driving principals is the idea of Owning It. When we say we are going to do something, we do it. We’re accountable to our teammates and clients. We don’t always have the answer and we don’t always get it right the first time, but that’s never a secret to anyone who works with us. 

I’d challenge you to try that same approach – let your families know what’s going well and what you’re still working to overcome. I’d bet they give you a little more grace and even offer to lend a helping hand when you need it. 

Make sure your team is on the same page

Be honest. Is there much worse than when you have a grueling customer service call or email, work through challenges directly with the parent, and put all the pieces back together again just for an instructor, coach, or office admin to unravel all the work in the blink of an eye? 

Most of the time, that error isn’t really on the instructor, coach, or admin to own – it’s on you. You navigate a difficult exchange in customer service and you executive perfectly. But then, you forget to take that plan of action and communicate it with anyone on your team who might be interacting with that family.

Now is certainly not the time to let any of your best-laid plans or good intentions fall through the communication cracks. Hold same-page meetings as often as you can, copy your entire admin (BCC, if you must) on email communication, and hold each other accountable to having each other’s backs on customer service.

Include a confirmation step or a call-to-action

Sheesh. I feel a little like a broken record right now. Every time you guys hear from me, I’m yelling into a megaphone: “USE A CALL-TO-ACTION! MAKE THEM DO SOMETHING! BE A BOSS!” 

But for real this time guys. Now is not the time for your cautious customers to be ignoring your emails or skimming them. You need to make sure they’ve heard what you have to say and are ready to take action with you. 

Using action calls or confirmation within your emails will be key as you move forward. You can go as far as having them fill out a form (check out a few of your options for contactless communication here) or as easy as them replying “YES” to your communication. 

Collect all the information you’ll need to create your facilities reopening plan

Crisis communication (yes, that’s what we’re doing now) is not a new concept, but it may not be something you ever thought you’d be using in your youth activity center. Crisis communication is just a way of saying that you and your team have a guiding set of processes and principles during challenging times, emergencies or unexpected events *cough, COVID, cough*.

Crisis communication plans often include things like:

  • The steps your team will take when the crisis first occurs
  • How you will be communicating with your students, staff, families, and community
  • Preventative steps you will be taking in the future in light of the crisis

With a good crisis plan in place, you and your team are less likely to act out of knee-jerk reaction or emotions. You want to put together a plan that helps everyone make rational decisions.

When you start putting your communication together, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the most up-to-date details from your state, county, and other governing bodies. You’ll also want to let these cautious customers know what items your team is prioritizing and what you’ll need from them, in return. Responding to a crisis is not done in a vacuum and is definitely a two-way commitment between your business and your customers.

Prepare your team

Remember that time we talked about keeping everyone on the same page? Yeah, now’s the time to make sure that happens with as little effort as possible. You don’t have the extra time on your hands you used to (HAH! Just kidding!) when coordinating staff meetings, writing memos, and keeping everyone up-to-date.

By now you’ve probably written your reopening plan or you’ve nearly completed it. Make sure every staff member has access to it and knows it in and out. It’s not a terrible time to create a Reopening Certification Quiz or even role-play different scenarios together to make sure your team is prepared for anything. This also opens a great dialogue on how you’ve developed this plan and why you need everyone bought into it.

Reopening Guide

Create customer service tools

So you know how you’re going to communicate with cautious customers, you’ve put your crisis and reopening plans together and you’ve even held a day-long in-service training with your staff. All set, right? Ehhh, not so fast. How are you getting all this information in the hands (or inboxes) of these customers?

The first step is to figure out which methods of communication you’ve already trained them to use. I’m highly in favor of a one-stop-shop communication tool like the Jackrabbit Parent Portal or your gym’s custom mobile app.

If you need to branch outside of those tools don’t forget to set a plan in place to keep your website and social profiles updated. Remember that there are eyes on those pages that aren’t your parents so consider tailoring the tone of the messaging on those platforms to speak to people who are just learning about your brand, as well as those long-term clients that frequent your feeds.

When this pandemic is behind us and life as we know it is almost back to normal, your customers will remember how you treated them, what you said, and most importantly how you made them feel.

But, what about you? Once this immediate rush is over and you’re settled into your new normal, take some time to review what you and your business just went through. 

What resources did you have in place that really helped and what seemed to be missing? Which of your communication responses were well received and which ones actually made more work for you? 

It may not be another COVID-19 but there will almost always be another event or unplanned issue on the horizon. Now is the time to reflect, take a deep breath, and then begin preparing for your next important decision as a business owner or manager.

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