Comment: How to communicate in a crisis

Founder and managing director of travel communications agency White Tiger PR Cass Helstrip says talking to customers, being open, informed and innovative is key for businesses during the pandemic.

Keep the conversation with your customers going and be innovative; the very worst thing to do right now is not communicate with your clients. Over the past few days many consumers received candid emails from the heads of major supermarkets, food delivery chains and high street stores impressing an ‘open for business’ message (now wash your hands). That’s unprecedented but the standard has been set.

If you haven’t already reached out to your existing and previous customers, do so – and continue to do so. This is the new normal and people, even – or perhaps especially – those in self-isolation, will be dreaming of travelling, when they can. They need escapism! For most potential customers TV, radio and online media will form part of their daily routine. You should maximise on that opportunity.

Do your research. Being well briefed is key to communicating effectively with consumers at a time like this, whether it’s over the phone or by email. Provide accurate information about a fluid situation and inspire confidence that things will get better. Customers will be coming to you with a mix of emotions including confusion, disappointment, frustration and hope so it’s vital to have the most up to date official statements to hand, whether that’s the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice or accommodation partners’ latest cleaning protocols. That way, you can navigate them towards a positive result.

Be open and transparent and above all, be human. Show your customers through your actions as well as your words that you and your company are putting people before revenue. Whether that’s by deferring their booking, waiving rebooking fees or finding ways for them to use their deposit to keep their holiday dream alive. Consumers will remember those who went the extra mile – in new and intuitive ways – at a difficult time and when the recovery comes and that’s when you can really benefit from customer loyalty.

Avoid repeating stories you’ve seen in the media and instead steer towards the source of the story: quality media like Travel Weekly will always credit their official sources such as the government, travel companies or the NHS. Make sure you relate the hard facts to their personal situation with sensitivity and choose the right words with care – use ‘travel pause’ rather than ‘travel ban’ if you’re speaking to a particularly nervous client.

Flex. If you haven’t already opened up your 2021 bookings, do so. It may be tricky given the way airlines work – and the current status of aviation – but if the message is ‘rebook’ then we need to find a way to allow consumers to do this. Talk to the airlines – lobby. Something needs to be done to create a rebooking system.

For suppliers, it’s key to keep agents bang up to date with revised terms and conditions and updates on cleaning regimes. Communicate in a concise manner: agents will receive dozens if not hundreds of emails and bulletins, so ensure yours are clearly dated and relevant.

Again, flex to keep your custom, whether that’s by accepting rebookings and deferred travel or rethinking an itinerary from scratch. Remember, this too will pass – and when it does there is the potential for a bounceback.  Starting conversations now with those most likely to be your future loyal customers – will pay dividends and prove rewarding in many ways.

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