COVID-19 has everyone’s full attention. Vancouver-based and global companies alike are trying to figure out how to maintain business continuity amid the uncertainty of rapidly changing conditions and not knowing how customers will respond to coronavirus worries.

During wide-spread crisis situations that impact companies on a global scale, establishing a strategy on how to safely stay in contact with customers in real-time along with a proactive contingency and communication plan should be two top priorities.

Here’s where we are focusing at Vision Critical:

Listen to and Engage With Your Customers, Then Utilize their Feedback to Make Business Decisions

Tune to your social and other customer listening channels for real-time observations regarding changes in customer sentiment and expectations. If possible, reach out to customers to establish a virtual customer advisory board (CAB) as a practical, safe, fast way for your organization to get timely and useful customer feedback.

It is important for businesses to track the pulse of their customers and understand what they are thinking and feeling. There are a variety of things that companies can do to digitally engage with and listen to customers in the midst of COVID-19. Businesses that have customer insight systems are using these tools to quickly get a pulse on changing customer preferences and buying behavior due to the outbreak.

Our teams have been engaging with and listening to the insights from our own CAB, and because of their feedback, we have been able to proactively adjust our communications plans in real-time to support our customer’s needs.

Other leading global brands are using their same insight communities to repeatedly engage with customers in a safe, virtual environment to track both how their preferences are changing but also the rate at which they are changing to adapt services accordingly.

Some current examples of how companies from various industries are interacting with their customers via digital customer insights mechanisms:

– A worldwide credit card issuer and provider of travel insurance released a COVID-19 survey around future travel plans, travel insurance, and the likelihood to cancel travel.

– One of the biggest North American grocery companies is running an activity to understand how their shoppers feel about coronavirus and the expected impact on grocery shopping.

– A major travel commerce platform is sending a survey to their B2B travel customers and asking about the impact on booking.

Create business contingency plans for a variety of possible scenarios and proactively communicate with all your stakeholders

Locally, Grammarly has mandated that all Vancouver employees work from home, and has paused all business travel. Vision Critical has also implemented similar guidance for our employees.

Other Canadian businesses are asking employees to work from home and utilize remote working tools like voice-over IP, Slack, and Skype for Business, as well as implement other contingency plans such as encouraging workers to bring laptops everywhere, even on vacation, so they will still be able to work even if they get stranded somewhere.

Evaluate your remaining Q1 and upcoming Q2 plans and consider how you might need to adjust them. Be clear on the must-haves, and the items that could potentially be postponed, scaled back or canceled. This reprioritization will also help post-coronavirus as you examine the efforts that truly make the most difference to your customers and the bottom line.

From a communications perspective, consider who the stakeholders are across your business. What can you tell them to keep them abreast of the situation and build trust and confidence in you, your products and services? This helpful article outlines 10 tips to help your business communicate through the coronavirus.

With a situation as fluid as this, we need to err on the side of over-communication across all our stakeholders – from employees to customers. It’s also wise to prepare reactive communication outlines, in case the need arises.

Lead with Confidence and Optimism

While we can’t be sure how the next few weeks will unfold, we can be certain that at some point things will return to normal. And when they do, we will have all learned a lot about ourselves, our organizations, our customers, and our ability to respond to extraordinary circumstances.

With clear, deliberate, and proactive contingency plans and communications, you will be able to navigate unexpected business challenges more effectively. Continuously listening to and engaging with your customers – especially in atypical and stressful situations – will let them know you are a company they can trust.

Ross Wainwright is CEO of Vision Critical.

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