How to communicate with empathy post-Brexit
Editor’s note: This article features insights and perspectives on what’s happening in the ecommerce industry in the United Kingdom.
If you’re currently working on your post-Brexit marketing strategy, you might feel overwhelmed by it all. There are so many changes to make and it can be a confusing time!
Your customers might also be struggling with understanding what’s going on and how this might impact shopping with their favorite brands. One thing that may help right now is communicating with empathy.
Following Brexit, there are lots of changes for both you and your customers to get used to.
News headlines report shipping delays because of new border checks, some companies no longer sell to certain countries, and stock shortages—particularly within the food and drink industry—are rife right now.
And I haven’t even mentioned concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and its effects yet.
So while the long-anticipated Brexit trade deal was agreed upon in December, there’s still some uncertainty on what the ecommerce industry will look like going forward.
You might be wondering what your Brexit marketing strategy should look like right now—and how best to communicate with your customers.
Do you continue marketing as normal? Mention Brexit in your communications? Offer advice? Share company changes? And how often is too often when communicating with your customers at the moment?
Throughout everything, it’s important to remember that being open, honest, and transparent is vital—all of which are key to empathetic marketing.
Communicating with empathy breeds trust, which is pretty important considering 82 percent of consumers say they’ll continually buy from a brand they trust.
When you can put yourself in your customers’ shoes, it’ll be easier for you to acknowledge their pain points and come up with ideas on how to ease their struggles.
If ever there was a plan for long-term business success—especially right now—empathy plays a big part.
So, as you plan your Brexit marketing strategy, take a moment to read the following tips on using empathy within your customer communications.
Sharing important company updates
Brexit might mean big changes for your business, so consider sending specific Brexit marketing campaigns.
You might be moving to a different warehouse or increasing your prices, for instance. You may have even paused or stopped shipping to some countries because of Brexit.
Or perhaps you’ve had to adapt your shipping or returns and exchange policies—either across the board for all customers or just for customers in certain countries or regions.
While your marketing goals might normally be profit-oriented, consider how you can be helpful to your customers who might have some big questions following Brexit—either generally or specifically related to how your business will operate from now on.
Could you create a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page or some other landing page about Brexit—like Patagonia has done—for example? This way, you can skip sending every Brexit update through email without skimping on transparency.
If your customers face shipping delays, policy changes, or unavailable and out of stock products when shopping with you right now, it’s probably a good idea to share those updates with them via your website, email, or social media channels. You could even set up back-in-stock automations for customers who want to sign up to hear about product restocks.
They’ve also since updated their messaging to mention that they’ll handle all import fees for their UK-based customers. Simple, to the point, and it’s hard to miss the banner at the top of their homepage!
ScrawlrBox, an art supplies subscription box brand based out of the UK, is another company to take notes from.
When they realized they’d have to send their January subscription box out late to their customers, the team sent a proactive and informative email to explain what had happened.
They also gave an estimated timeline of when they hoped to send the boxes out and offered their customers the opportunity to adjust, skip, or change the date of their next subscription box to account for the delayed January delivery.
Here’s another example from Sous Chef, a London-based company specializing in hard-to-find cooking ingredients and professional cooking utensils and tableware.
When some parcels went missing in transit between the end of December and the beginning of January, Sous Chef sent two proactive updates.
The first email notified their customers of the issue and apologized for it, while the second—sent just one day later—informed customers they resolved the problem and the parcels were on the move again.
Proactive updates like this are not only honest and transparent, but they’ll also take some pressure off your customer service team as fewer customers will send “Where’s my order?” enquiries.
Another impact of Brexit that your customers might experience are additional costs for customs duties and imports. Is it possible for you to cover—even temporarily—some of these additional costs while remaining profitable?
This won’t always be possible, but if it’s something you’ve considered, then here’s how SPOKE, a popular menswear brand based out of London, has tackled this as part of their current Brexit digital marketing strategy.
They use help center style pages to answer customers’ FAQs—one of which is: “Will I be charged customs or import charges/duties?”
This is a primary concern for a lot of customers within the EU and UK right now, so they’ll appreciate you explaining the situation to them.
Here, SPOKE advises their EU customers how they can get in touch to reclaim any additional sales taxes or duties couriers might ask them to pay.
You may also want to promote offers like this to your European customers via email—either as a standalone campaign or as a footer at the bottom of your promotional emails for a few weeks.
To do this, first segment your email list by location and then make adjustments to only show this text in emails for customers who are based within certain countries.
For example, Weekend Offender, a UK-based apparel brand, is currently offering their EU-based customers a 15 percent off discount to help offset some of the additional import costs.
They’ve added a note to their website as a banner at the top of their homepage and emailed their EU-based customers to let them know about the offer.
Remember: Your automated emails might also need some tweaks if you’ve changed any critical information, such as shipping policies, since January 1st.
And if you’re simply not sure about how you’ll handle business changes just yet, there’s no harm in letting your customers know.
While an email might be overkill here, a quick social media video or a note on your delivery webpage could be enough to show your customers you’re actively trying to find solutions—even if you’re not entirely sure what they look like just yet.
Navigating sensitive business decisions
Whether it’s an unavoidable price increase, a major policy update, or changes to which countries you’ll now sell into, you may have to navigate sensitive business decisions that directly affect your customers.
If you’ve had to increase your prices drastically, for example, consider explaining your reasons.
While you may need to tell all your customers about the changes—such as if you have a subscription-based product—there may be some occasions when you only need to tell your most loyal and long-standing customers.
You could do this by segmenting your emails by subscriber engagement, such as customers who’ve purchased in the last 30, 60, or 90 days, or your VIPs.
You may also want to segment your emails by location if you’ve made any changes that only affect customers within certain countries or regions, so that you’re not emailing everyone unnecessarily.
Also, the more advance notice you can give for price increases, the better. This is especially important for subscription-based businesses, where customers might’ve gotten used to paying a certain amount for months or even years.
You might want to approach a price increase email like a “good news sandwich.”
Start by thanking your customers for shopping with you and supporting your business, and remind them of the value they get from your products and brand.
Carefully deliver the information about your price increases. Then follow this up with something you think they’ll get excited about—like a new product launch or virtual event. And then perhaps finish with another personal thank you.
Also, consider sending a couple of reminders to anyone who didn’t open your first email (you can segment this way as well), so there’s less chance of your customers getting any nasty surprises.
Although emails like this might seem scary, your customers will appreciate the insight and transparency—and the chances are that if they truly love your brand and products, they’ll continue shopping with you if they can.
Honest, transparent communications are also important if you’ve chosen to halt or stop shipments completely to certain countries following Brexit. Again, this is a great time to use location-based segmentation.
While this will always be a difficult announcement to make, your customers will appreciate the heads up, rather than only hearing about it when they try to place an order on your website.
If these changes are temporary, offer timelines—if you can—on how long you think your services might be suspended for. Or you can even share details of other shipping methods you’ll use in the interim—just like Urban Industry, an outdoor and streetwear clothing company, did.
They frequently update their shipping policy—even including a note of when the page was last updated—so customers know they’re always reading the latest information.
When Urban Industry’s courier paused shipping to the EU, they promptly switched to a different postal service and are using them while their usual courier catches up on the backlog.
If the changes are permanent, or you think it might be a long time before your services are back up and running normally again, then consider providing your customers with additional information, such as where else they might find your products.
You could even create a specific mailing list and signup form for any customers who want to be the first to know when they can start buying directly from you again—just like Brooks England, a manufacturer of bicycle saddles and parts, has done.
The more information you can provide about sensitive business changes, the more empathetic you’ll seem to your customers’ situations, and the less likely you’ll be to cause frustration and negative brand experiences.
You may have also noticed that most of the tips and examples above all have one thing in common: Stellar customer service.
Fast responses to queries when you get them, or better yet—proactive updates so you head off customer enquiries before they even come in—is a fantastic experience for your customers.
Ultimately, they’ll see your brand as customer-first or customer-centric, which most agree is the key to post-Brexit success.
Messaging to avoid
While there’s no official guide to how you can and cannot communicate with your customers, there are some types of messaging and copy you might want to stay away from.
Avoid bringing politics into your customer communications, for example—unless this forms a key part of your brand voice.
While you personally might not like the impact of Brexit on your marketing and business strategies, you can’t be sure what your customers think, so it might be best to err on the side of caution.
Also, consider how you’re promoting your products and sales right now. Avoid using any wordplay on the situation, for example, and avoid poking fun out of the event, such as holding a “Brexit sale” or some other Brexit celebration.
Brexit, the recent Capitol riots, and coronavirus pandemic are all playing on consumers’ minds—as is the global economic downturn and possible price increases for both essential products and non-essentials—so your marketing campaigns might also need an extra dose of sensitivity right now.
Teapigs, a popular whole leaf tea brand, sent several marketing campaigns throughout January—some of which included a small nod to how their customers might be feeling, which is a fantastic example of empathetic marketing in action.
Even their newsletter introduction acknowledged that 2021 might not quite have started off the way their customers may have hoped.
While both emails were empathetic, Teapigs still included product links and “Buy Now” calls-to-action (CTAs), suggesting a balance between empathy and sales is possible—even when times are hard.
Another brand that’s caught my attention recently is Skinnydip London, a trendy British lifestyle brand.
On “Blue Monday,” often described as the most depressing day of the year, Skinnydip London sent their subscribers a thoughtful email focused on improving happiness and sharing mental health resources for anyone who needs them.
Ultimately, the brand put a focus on product sales to one side for a moment, so they could focus on helping their community through hard times.
Sharing non-Brexit-related content
While you might have critical company updates, announcements, and other Brexit marketing campaigns to share with your customers right now, this doesn’t mean you have to suspend all other marketing activities completely in order for your customers and subscribers to see your brand as empathetic.
Sometimes a nod to an event—like Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, or even Pancake Day—that your customers might look forward to is a great way to encourage sales and recognizes that your customers are still looking for great deals, interesting products, and a bit of excitement in their daily lives.
You can also include a nod to empathy by commenting on something else that your customers might have noticed lately or have been thinking about, like the weather—which always seems to be a good conversation topic. Natural Baby Shower, specialists in natural baby products, did this in their recent rain-themed email.
Finally, if there’s a good cause you’re also currently supporting—or are planning to support—then sharing this will not only drive awareness for the cause, but it’ll also help foster a strong feeling of empathy among your customer base.
London Sock Company recently updated their subscribers about their “Sock Amnesty” campaign, which involves customers donating their old socks to provide fingerless gloves and neck warmers for the homeless.
Segmenting your audience
How many emails do you get on any given day? If your inbox is as busy as mine, then it’s probably upwards of 50 to 100. Is this the same for your customers? Most likely.
By segmenting your audience, you’re recognizing that your customers are busy people with crowded inboxes.
While there might be rare occasions when you want or need to tell them all the same thing, this won’t usually be the case.
If you’ve changed some of your shipping policies or have stopped shipping to certain countries, for example, then you probably only need to tell subscribers in the affected countries. So, you’ll want to segment your audience based on location.
For other messages—especially if you have a larger list—you may only want to send emails to your VIP list or customers who’ve bought from you recently. These groups are likely your most engaged subscribers, so emailing them also helps your message to hit the inbox rather than get flagged as spam.
Plus, this way you’re only communicating with the customers and subscribers who are most likely to be affected, rather than those who haven’t bought from your brand, opened your emails, or visited your website in the last year.
Empathy breeds trust
Your business is unique, so there’s no official rulebook for your Brexit marketing strategy and how best to communicate with your customers right now.
What works for you might not work for the business next door—and vice versa.
But putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and using empathy to guide your communications while staying true to your brand will help you foster long-term customer loyalty and trust—both immediately post-Brexit and beyond.