Three Ways to Engage Customers During COVID-19 – and One Way to Avoid

Apr 4, 2020 3:30 AM ET

The COVID-19 effect on businesses is only weeks old, but its effects are already significant. Facebook and Google are projected to lose $44 billion in 2020 advertising, Nevada tourism could lose $39 billion, and a host of companies in diverse industries are seeing jobs fall like dominoes.

Employees of these companies may suffer the most economic harm during the coronavirus crisis. However, small business owners won’t be far behind. Marriott’s CEO can give up his salary for 2020; how many start-up CEOs can do the same?

Small business owners must think creatively as clients and prospects refuse to spend money. Here are three ways to keep customers engaged so that when the economy opens again, today’s customers quickly turn into buyers.

The worst option: Direct sales outreach

I recently received the following, unsolicited message from someone I don’t know on LinkedIn:

Hi Dustin, Hope all is well, I build & facilitate LinkedIn content sharing & supporting groups. During these challenging times, I am offering free initial membership. For context visit, XYZ. If interested let’s have a call, Calendly link. 

A financial advisor I barely know also e-mailed me generic language about how this person could help me during the COVID-19 crisis. And a branding company asked me to refer them business.

This type of direct sales pitch is completely unattractive, despite its popularity. Here’s why it doesn’t work:

It’s crass and self-centered. The financial advisor’s claim to care about my needs comes across like lipstick on a pig — it’s still a pig.
It shows a complete lack of research and desire to personally connect with the message’s recipient. The person who sent the LinkedIn message clearly didn’t research my firm’s LinkedIn offerings. The financial advisor has no idea about my family’s financial situation.
It’s so common so as to be easily deleted.

Never use this option.

Better option: Earn know, like, and trust

A lot of companies which are “non-essential” have no buyers. Contracts are being cancelled. Revenue is at or approaching zero.

My friend Susan Trivers, a revenue generation strategist, recently advised these companies to engage in a personalized, other-focused customer engagement strategy. According to Susan, companies which are currently out of business can come back strong by earning “know, like, and trust” credibility with people who in normal economic circumstances would be buyers.

Susan’s strategy is simple:

Touch base with past, present, and future buyers two times per week.
Use four simple, heartfelt, and human messages to reach customers.
Use whatever mediums are most effective — text, e-mail, video, social media, etc.

Unlike the sales pitch outreach, Susan’s four suggested messages are entirely focused on the recipient:

Heartfelt appreciation for past work together.
Hope expressed for their wellbeing during the crisis.
Provision of relevant information which benefit customers now and helps them remember you later. I received a useful white paper from a PR firm about COVID-related industry changes; a landscaper could provide lawncare tips while the dry cleaner might offer ironing advice.
Earn personal and professional credibility by sharing what your company is doing to help employees adjust to the new reality.

Susan’s messaging strategy can be used by any company, anywhere, in any industry. The only question is: how can you personally connect with customers who can become buyers later?

Another good option: Offer affordable, valuable, client-focused services

If your business is remote, essential, and still open, congratulations! But if you don’t have any business, you might end up closed, anyway.

One survival tactic is to offer low-cost, high-value services or products which help clients get through the current crisis. Everyone benefits — your client receives a valuable service or products; you have more revenue to survive; and you earn long-term goodwill which may bring more business.

Here are a few examples of how this might work:

A videographer reaches out to past clients to splice short, social media-style clips from longer videos. The client benefits by receiving cost-effective marketing tools to stay in front of their customers and the videographer keeps revenue coming in by offering new value to customers who might not otherwise have become buyers.
Service consultants — like financial advisors, business consultants, and public relations practitioners — contacts clients and prospects to offer a one-hour strategy session tailored to help the client get through this difficult time.
Roofers, plumbers, and other trade companies become the emergency repair people who pro-actively inform customers of their social distancing protocols while also becoming the invaluable “go-to” person for emergency leaks, holes, and other home issues.

The keys here are to focus on your client’s needs by picking services and products which are widely needed and which are distinctly affordable — thus creating great value for clients.

Fourth and finally: Help if you can

If your company is able to help others during this time, do so. For a few national examples:

ServiceNow is donating $100,000 towards medical supplies and making four of its apps available for free through September.
U-Haul gave college students a free month of storage.
CVS is one of many retailers opening its doors to testing.

It’s not just big businesses which are kicking in. Local businesses in Jackson, Tennessee are feeding nursesNew Jersey businesses are making masks, and Las Vegas, Nevada distilleries are making hand sanitizer.

Are you able to help customers, the general public, or anyone else during the COVID-19 crisis? If so, pitch in. You’ll be doing great, you’ll feel great, and you just might earn a ton of publicity and brand credibility for when customers become buyers again.

Customers will become buyers

The world is living through unprecedented times. Health panic, economic concerns, and government edicts are putting companies out of business and people out of work. Companies which are traditionally successful are suddenly on the rocks.

We don’t know what companies will get through the wreckage alive. But companies which keep in touch with clients and prospects the right way will certainly have a leg up. This may require a complete rethinking of your business and how you connect with customers. If you’re struggling with how to offer old services and products in a new way, check out these COVID-related videos on examining your business and creating relevant content from my colleagues Peter and Rhiannon McHugh over at Learn It – Do It.

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Content Marketing, Wire, English