How to Communicate With Empathy During the Coronavirus Crisis | Coronavirus Series

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that explores the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the world of ecommerce. Here are additional resources to help you navigate your marketing strategy during this time.

It’s been a tough few weeks for, well, the world as we navigate a new normal amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

From a personal standpoint, many of us are practicing social distancing by staying inside, canceling plans, and avoiding crowded spaces. 

Professionally, most of us are working from home with an indefinite timeline of when we’ll be returning to our offices. If you’re working in ecommerce, you’re likely experiencing interruptions to your day-to-day operations due to supply chain issues, changes in demand, and retail closures, to name just a few of the many challenges businesses are currently facing. 

During this time, there are many questions that arise around how you should move forward—do you continue marketing as normal? Should you address the situation at hand? Do you communicate the measures you’re taking as a brand or make yourself scarce in the inbox? Should you push off that large announcement or new product release? How much communication is enough and how much is too much?

It can all be a bit overwhelming. 

At Klaviyo, we talk a lot about having empathy—for each other, for our community, and for our customers. As you contemplate the best way to communicate with your customers and as we collectively navigate this crisis, we’ve taken a few notes on displaying empathy during this time and how to effectively and appropriately get your message across.

Communicating company updates

There are many reasons you might have to send customers critical information. But it’s also important that you remain considerate in how often you’re relaying these announcements, what information you choose to share, and the manner in which you communicate certain messages.

 

Initial responses

While many brick and mortar stores have already begun closing their doors to the public, many businesses are remaining operational because they can’t close, choose not to close, or they’re adjusting their hours or business models in light of the circumstances.

For example, grocery stores and pharmacies can’t close completely, while some retail stores may continue to welcome customers on an appointment-only basis or limit the number of people inside until government leaders mandate their closures

While it’s important to keep customers in the loop about measures of cleanliness, sanitization, and the precautions you’re taking to prevent the spread of the virus, especially if you continue to have a physical presence, think critically about how much is necessary to share. 

Everyone is being flooded with a vast amount of information and people are probably receiving more emails than usual from brands that they may not hear from on a regular basis. 

The goal of your email should be to provide helpful information to customers. If you’re simply saying that staff are being extra diligent in hand-washing, for example, perhaps it’s something you can skip. 

On the other hand, if there are questions arising around your company’s processes and procedures relating directly to your products, or if you have important company updates such as shipping delays, unavailable or out of stock products, or policy changes, it’s probably a good idea to share those updates with your customers.

Rent the Runway sent out a note outlining their cleaning processes and assuring customers that the virus cannot be transmitted through soft surfaces, like fabric or clothing.

Where Rent the Runway customers are regularly borrowing clothes and exchanging items, it’s no surprise that questions would arise surrounding sanitization. 

Rent the Runway expertly handled the emerging situation by providing fact-backed updates based on customer inquiry to inform subscribers on a need-to-know basis, rather than oversharing obvious or insignificant information. 

 

Retail closings

For many brands, the best course of action has been to close physical retail locations to limit in-person interactions between staff and other shoppers. 

While many brands have used this as an opportunity to drive customers to online stores, providing transparency on what stores are closing, why you’ve decided to close, how you’re addressing internal staffing, and how long stores are expected to close, if known, should be one of the first topics you address. 

Glossier was one of the first direct-to-consumer (DTC) companies with a retail location to announce they would be closing their storefronts. Other brands including Patagonia, Allbirds, Artizia, Everlane, Benefit, Madewell, and many others have followed suit in an effort to reduce the risk of large social gatherings. 

 

While it’s not always an easy decision to close your brick and mortar location if it’s a main source of income, communicating the decision with your customers shows you’re doing your part to encourage social distancing and shows your brand’s dedication to social responsibility.  

Providing this transparency for your customers has multiple advantages. First, it ensures customers are up-to-date on the best place to find their favorite products and won’t face any surprises if they do try to visit in person. 

Communicating your reasoning for temporary closures also ensures customers know where you stand on important issues. While the short-term implications are not ideal, the decision also creates a level of trust. Long-term, your brand will be one of the first places customers think to go the next time they shop, whether online or, eventually, in person.

Additionally, people will be very invested in the well-being of employees during store closings and other internal or operational changes. Including information on how your company is managing personnel at this time is important to provide transparency on how you’re taking care of staff. 

In Allbird’s email, they mention the fact that employees will continue to receive full pay and benefits, so customers can have confidence that the money they spend online will be helping to fund the livelihoods of people who have been directly affected and can feel proud about their decision to spend with the brand.

 

Messaging to avoid

Whether stores are closed or remain open, many brands are encouraging their customers to shop online.

While this is a great way to encourage shoppers to support businesses while practicing social distancing, there are certain messages that you may want to avoid.

For example, while you may want to give customers free shipping, making your discount code “COVID19” or “coronavirus” is not how you want to represent your brand when it comes to conveying sensitive subject matter.

Alternatively, highlight the ways you plan to give back, donate a portion of your proceeds to relief efforts, or help your community. For example, while Nuun talks about the benefits of their products, the main message of this email is that they’ll be sending free care packages to medical professionals to help keep them healthy.

Again, this is a time of much uncertainty, fear, and anxiety for people, some of whom have been personally affected by the coronavirus or have loved ones that are at high-risk. This means that we all need to be sensitive with the language we choose to use in any marketing materials.

What you don’t want to do is be seen as taking advantage of a crisis or using it as a way to push sales. Brands must be careful that their tone matches the current climate without being flippant or disrespectful. 

If you are pushing products or messages, think about how you can do so in a way that shows some awareness of the struggles and challenges being faced by different members of our society.

Additionally, do an audit of your automated email flows. Take a look at your content calendar for the coming weeks and decide whether the automations and the content you have scheduled—whether directly related to the coronavirus or not—is fitting. 

Ask yourself whether the content is still relevant, whether it could be considered insensitive, or if there’s anything that could make it more helpful. Are your automations still appropriate, or should they be modified for the time being?

Perhaps there are certain tweaks you can make to your copy to be more empathetic to your customers’ potential situations, or maybe it means rethinking your email strategy for the upcoming weeks, but it’s important that you are smart about striking the right tone with your customers at this time.

Sharing content unrelated to the impact of COVID-19

Just because you’re communicating critical company updates or announcements doesn’t mean you have to suspend all other activities completely. 

As mentioned, it’s important to think about how you will convey these messages, but brands have already made an example of how to do this in a way that resonates with their customers.

 

Planned initiatives

Before the coronavirus became so dominant in our everyday lives, you were likely strategizing which marketing campaigns to pursue or deciding what efforts would best help you to meet your 2020 goals. 

You don’t have to put a pause on all of the progress you’ve made in the last few months, but consider how you can position your product launch or new collection in a way that feels more appropriate for the moment and acknowledges some of the challenges consumers are currently facing.

For example, Draper James sent an eloquently-worded email that they reposted on social media with a personal message from the founder, Reese Witherspoon herself. Her note addressed the current situation, but in an effort to consistently be a “source of happiness and positivity” in customers’ lives, the message also introduced their spring collection and asked their audience if it was alright to share. 

The brand handled their new collection launch with respect, understanding, and empathy for the situation, instead of ignoring the challenges their customers are currently going through. It treaded self-promotion delicately while welcoming feedback.  

 

Spreading some joy

When it comes to building deep, long-lasting relationships with your customers, even in the best of times but especially in the worst of times, it’s important to show empathy for what your customers may be dealing with personally, professionally, and as a global citizen.

But when so much of the content we’re consuming is heavy and dark, people are also welcoming distractions to get their minds off thinking about the news cycles. 

Find little ways to delight your customers if it makes sense for your brand, like how this email from Host strikes the perfect balance between lighthearted and compassionate.

The brand’s website typically allows people to hire bartenders for their events, which means they can’t currently provide their normal service. But they realized that they could still provide value to customers who are willing to make their own concoctions at home, especially if they’ve just stocked up at the liquor store.

And right now, many of us would welcome a baby Yoda-themed alcoholic beverage.

Asking your community what resonates with them

Possibly the best way to communicate with your community? Ask them exactly how they want to hear from you. 

Nobody has all the answers as to how you should be talking to your customers during these unprecedented times. Additionally, the way in which people will want to hear from you will likely differ—some customers may have a less-is-more attitude, while others will want frequent updates and communications.

To get a better read on what their customers actually want, Reformation sent out an email to subscribers addressing how they’re responding to the coronavirus (by closing all retail locations) with a note at the end asking customers what they should be talking and posting about.

 

 

The email asks, “What’s resonating with you? Do you still want to hear about new collection launches and sustainability related stuff? Or do you need a break? Please let us know.”

This small effort opens the dialogue between Reformation and their customers to ensure that whatever they’re sending out—whether it’s new arrivals or business updates—that they’re being cognizant of what people want to hear about and see during this sensitive time. 

 

Segmenting based on relevance

One question that remains when thinking about your email strategy and other marketing communications is who you should be sending your emails to.

People are overwhelmed by information coming at them from everywhere—the news, social media, their families, their peers, and the individuals and companies they follow. While it’s important to communicate information with your customers, consider doing so on a need-to-know basis by segmenting your audience.

If you’re closing your retail stores, perhaps you could only notify customers who live near those locations. For example, if you only have a physical retail presence in New York City, you could email that list directly with specific information regarding the closings and then release a more general statement to your larger list.

For other messages, you may want to consider sending to a VIP list as well as customers that have purchased in the last 90 days. Especially if you’re a large brand with a long list of subscribers, this will help ensure your message is both hitting the inbox and only being sent to your most engaged subscribers. 

If you want to segment your lists but you’re worried about greater visibility, post your updates on social media. This allows you to get your message out on a more public platform, while also ensuring you’re not adding to the anxiety of an overcrowded inbox.

Navigating a fluid situation

Just because everyone else does things a certain way doesn’t mean you have to do the same. The best advice we can share as you adjust your marketing strategies in the face of such unprecedented uncertainty is to stay true to who you are as a brand.

Be as authentic, empathetic, and transparent as possible with your customers to continue fostering the relationships you’ve already built and to nurture the new ones that will grow as a result of how you operate your business and respond during this time.

Naadam did this well in their recent email.

There’s no official guide on how to communicate with your customers, what information is the most important, or how often you should send an update because what’s best for one business might not be right for another. Many more changes are likely to unfold in the coming weeks, which means smart business owners and marketers will need to constantly adapt to the current situation and adjust marketing strategies as needed.  

While it can be a difficult course to navigate, constantly learning, adapting, and listening to your customers will provide the insights you need to move forward in the best possible way. 

Looking for more information? These resources may be helpful to you as you adjust your marketing strategies to navigate the coronavirus crisis

 

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