Keep it Human: Communicating During COVID-19

Communication with guests is always important, but during times of change, transition or challenge, it’s paramount. With so many businesses having to totally rethink their standard approach due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Paytronix team has compiled a list of communication best practices.

Exercise empathy

This is a scary time for everyone – including your guests. Make sure they know you’re a brand they can trust by being transparent about your operational changes, safety precautions, and closures or new operating hours.

Just about every brand out there is sending messages conveying what they’re doing to mitigate the virus’ spread, so ask yourself what information you really need to share. For example, everyone is washing their hands more now, so focus instead on what your brand is doing differently that will foster a sense of comfort and trust in your guests. That can be as simple as telling guests you’re closing down in the interest of their health as HuHot Mongolian Grill did.

As a rule of thumb show an awareness of the struggle many people are going through, welcome feedback from your guests, even if it means asking for it, and above all, stay true to your brand.

Keep your guests informed 

If you’ve shut down operations, make sure your guests know about it, and be sure to explain why. Consider adding a footer to your emails or a banner on your website to keep them updated about closures and plans to reopen.

If you’re still open, remind your guests of your hours, which locations are in operation, and how they can place an order. Prioritize online ordering with hyperlinks or banners on your site. Make sure they are in a bold, obvious place, and consider giving discounts or double rewards points for takeout and delivery orders.

Be sure to let guests know about any additional services you’ve added to minimize contact, like contactless delivery or curbside pick-up. If you have a dynamic concept, consider how you can continue to provide value in nontraditional ways. Host, a company that offers bartenders for hire, has pivoted to sending regular “Drink of the Week” cocktail recipes to its subscribers via email. They’re still providing a service while tailoring their approach to fit within social distancing guidelines. 

Practice and promote social responsibility 

Guests want to support businesses they consider socially responsible – a trend demonstrated through the rise of farm-to-table restaurants. At a time when many are struggling, guests will appreciate – and remember – the brands that supported their employees, communities, and guests when it mattered most.

Charitable donations are also a great way to support the community while simultaneously promoting your own brand, without appearing tone-deaf. For example, New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees announced he would donate $5 million through partnerships with restaurants like Jimmy John’s and Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux to prepare and deliver over 10,000 meals per day to children on meal programs, seniors and families in need.

That said, be careful not to appear you’re taking advantage of the crisis. If you’re going to offer a discount, don’t make the coupon code “COVID” or “coronavirus.” Keep in mind that your guests are struggling too – provide comfort, service, or distraction from the daily anxiety, but don’t pretend it’s not happening.

Suspend or tweak untimely campaigns

Email and marketing campaigns are often set to recur or are planned in advance. Don’t forget to review the campaigns you had scheduled to avoid awkward messages, like visit challenges, missed visit campaigns, and We-Miss-You reengagements. These messages can be postponed until they are appropriate to send.

Campaigns that will still be relevant – like birthday rewards – can be adapted by including accommodations for guests who cannot redeem them now. Let them know you’ve remembered them and are working on ways to provide their reward at the appropriate time.

Extend reward expirations and reevaluate tier structures

It’s important that guests don’t feel penalized for not visiting during the pandemic. Communicate to guests that their points and rewards won’t expire during the shutdown.

Dunkin’ Brands did this with a simple email to its guests, assuring them that yes, their free drink rewards will be available later, while maintaining a supportive and friendly tone: “We’ve got your back.”

For programs that reward guests in tiers based on their annual spending, consider adjusting tier definitions, extending status or giving guests a boost to make up for lost time.

The Author

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