As you navigate reopening your business or adjusting your services during the COVID-19 crisis, how you communicate those changes to your customers or clients may seem like a big challenge. Not only do you need to convey information, you need to engage customers and make them feel safe and valued, so they’ll want to come back.

Often, that value can be conveyed via the tone of your messaging. Tone encompasses how you talk to your clients (word choice and point of view) as well as frequency, style and design. Taking the right tone with customers can give you a competitive edge and help you rebuild.

To get your tone right, consider these do’s and don’ts.

Revisit any automated communications

Determining when and how often your customers want to hear from you during an ongoing crisis can be challenging. Review any automated messages by asking yourself:

  1. Is this information they need? And do they need it now?
  2. Is this information they’re expecting?
  3. Can I simplify what I communicate to make their lives easier?

For a mechanic, this might mean temporarily pausing auto alerts for oil changes since Americans are driving less and sending a message with updated hours of operation and shop safety measures instead.

  • Don’t: Cancel all communications. Sending messages creates a sense of normalcy and boosts comfort levels.
  • Do: Review your automated communications to ensure they still make sense — each message should feel relevant to current circumstances.

 

Action: Make a list of topics and things your customers may be expecting to hear from you. For instance, they probably aren’t expecting COVID updates from their local coffee shop, but they may expect updates about seating restrictions or masks.

 

Build flexibility into your communications

Reopening is a process, as is rebuilding, and it’s likely that your communications will need to change as things evolve. Matching your message to whatever phase of reopening you’re in can go a long way toward striking the right tone.

For example, as businesses reopened in June and July, many needed to shift from sharing safety logistics to more “regular” information about products or services.

For a restaurant, that could mean pivoting from emails explaining kitchen sanitation to messages outlining how you plan to open tables inside. All the while, you might work in updates about new food offerings so it feels natural when you’re able to return to menu-focused communications in the future.

  • Don’t: Be afraid to adjust your communications plan as circumstances — or the attitudes of your customers — change.
  • Do: Pay close attention to how your customers are feeling. If you live in an area that was hard-hit by COVID-19, you may need to talk about safety for much longer than a similar business in an area with fewer cases.

 

Action: Outline your rebuilding plan and decide what you’ll talk about at each stage, then make a note of it. If your rebuilding schedule changes, you can use this outline to determine how your messaging needs to change, too.

 

Adjust your tone

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it,” then you know what we’re getting at in this section.

Ensure you’re saying things in the right way by putting your customers’ needs first and basing your communications on how you interact in person. Put another way: Empathize and use a human voice.

Try to write how you speak, using contractions and casual language. And think through design elements as well. Dense text blocks may feel intimidating to readers and using all caps can be construed as yelling.

Positivity can help, too. You’ll likely still have to communicate tough news, so putting a positive spin on it can help improve how it’s received by customers. This can be as simple as word choice — shifting from “closed” to “open soon.”

  • Don’t: Lead with yourself or with negativity at the expense of your customers. For example, avoid: “We had to lay off staff and are working around the clock, so we need you to be patient.”
  • Do: Start by thinking about the challenges your customers are facing, including their needs and emotional state. Try: “We’re so happy to welcome you back into our store and are working hard to give you the best experience possible. Please be patient as we figure out the best way to serve you.”

 

Action: When in doubt, express your appreciation for your customers and their business. You don’t need to go overboard but a sincere thank you goes a long way.

 

People want to support small businesses, and many are excited to get back to normal. Hitting the right tone in your messaging can help you capitalize on your customers’ goodwill, so they feel like they’re rebuilding with you as part of a community.