There is an expression, “The only constant is change.” That certainly appears to be true in 2020, and especially so for communicators in almost every industry. In just the first quarter of 2020, we have seen an international COVID-19 epidemic, halts in stock market trading, Brexit and an oil price war. As stewards of communication systems, responsible for the execution of communications in these critical situations, you are called on to help your organization take control of the communications surrounding situations that are out of our control. And if someone were to grade your execution in a crisis, your performance would most likely be evaluated using these three criteria: speed, effectiveness and experience.
In the past quarter, I have seen airlines, banks and insurers develop crisis-related communications in record time. I have also not seen this from some airlines, banks and insurers. As an example, some health insurers have been emailing members alerts with COVID-19 precautions. Financial services companies have sent messages to nervous 401(k) account holders about market fluctuations. Airlines and hotels have proactively shared their COVID-19 preventative measures and updated cancellations policies. Some of these messages have been sent within days or even the same day.
A passing grade for speed in this situation would be that you are able to send messages as fast as your business needs to send them. These messages must be deliverable on all desired channels within the expected timeframe, and anything slower than expectations becomes a failure of your CCM system. If communication execution is seen as the root cause of the delay, there are urgent problems that need to be addressed internally.
When the news cycle is heightened, your message takes on the same heightened importance because your customers may be on edge. Execution needs to be timely, yet it also must match the communications that have already been sent. These communications cannot have an odd or hasty tone, even though the message is of vital importance. When expressing difficult situations, your messages need to be clear, using words that evoke the desired emotion.
To earn a passing grade when communicating in a difficult situation, the message must also be consistent and coordinated. This requires that the architects of the message have a way to easily write, preview and approve it on all relevant channels. It also requires an effective approval process that serves as a capable check on errors and compliance without adding unnecessary delay. You don’t want to water down a message to avoid frustration, implement channels at different times or limit the message to a select subset of channels.
When you are communicating difficult information that may be a significant and unwelcome surprise for your customers, try to understand the experience from your customers’ perspective. Messages should link to relevant content on your website, in your app or from your representatives, so customers can easily access related content. Understanding the journey your customer is on, how this news impacts that journey and the changes that the message makes to the map going forward is important.
To earn a passing grade for experience, know how the new message impacts the prescribed and established touchpoints in your customer’s journey. In a complicated omnichannel portfolio of communications, this generally requires a great way to manage and orchestrate that journey to deliver the best possible experience. Take special care not to deliver a good message that is inconsistent with other information, an unclear message the causes confusion, or design a message that isn’t integrated to other likely customer actions.
If you think about the need for speed, effectiveness and experience when you are creating communications in a crisis, you will quickly understand the significance of your CCM system. It is probably more complex than you realize because you are used to operating it in a predictable world. But, as 2020 is proving to us, this isn’t a predictable world, and we need a customer communications infrastructure that expects the unexpected and can react quickly and effectively to it.