As the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit bureaucracy, and global gas supplies continue to affect supply chains, there is significant uncertainty around the long-term availability of some products and services. This is, understandably, causing some concern among consumers, who fear that such problems could result in shortages in supply and a hike in prices.
Over the next few months, businesses face a difficult balancing act. On one hand, they must retain profitability and growth, while at the same time continuing to deliver a comparable service to customers – who won’t look kindly on unexpected price rises or out-of-stock items.
A measured approach is, therefore, needed to manage risk, satisfy customer requirements, and guarantee long-term business continuity. This brings us to the focus of today’s guide – we’ll be sharing essential tips on how to manage customer expectations in times of uncertainty.
The Importance of Communication in Uncertain Times
The remedy to uncertainty is reassurance. Your customers need to see and feel that you’re doing the utmost to maintain normality in terms of pricing and supply, or there’s a real danger that they’ll set aside their loyalties and shop elsewhere.
Communication is key to offering reassurance to your customers, both new and existing. Regular contact maintains the status quo and demonstrates that you’re engaging with customer concerns in a transparent and proactive way.
Here are a few things to consider for efficient customer correspondence in times of uncertainty.
Distribute regular newsletters and updates
Email newsletters are a great way to keep customers up to date with how current crises are impacting your business. Of course, there’s a balance to strike here between informing customers and avoiding over-negativity. Keep things light and informative while always including other news unrelated to the main topic of the newsletter.
Ensure social channels are well resourced to field customer enquiries
Social channels have become a primary bridging point between businesses and consumers, so it’s important to maintain an active presence and make sure you’re responding to customer enquiries. Inaction on social media sends the wrong message to customers, particularly if you’ve responded to questions in the past.
Resourcing social media may not seem like a priority in times of crisis, but it’s an important communication channel that shouldn’t be ignored.
Invest in customer support to minimise enquiries and wait times
One of the unexpected side effects of the pandemic has been a sharp rise in customer enquiries, orders, and complaints on e-commerce channels, and this is a trend that looks set to continue. From a reputational standpoint, it’s critical that you’re able to cope with this rise in demand in the long term, so investing in the appropriate customer support resource is essential.
When it comes to customer service, long hold times are frustrating for anyone, and delays have been exasperated by ongoing supply issues, absenteeism, and other factors. While adding extra resource to customer service channels may be difficult, it’s a worthy investment to combat customer aggrievance and maintain open and reliable lines of communication. It may be more cost efficient to offer a live chat service if manning phone lines becomes an issue for your business.
Essential Tips for Engaging with Customers During Uncertain Periods
As well as improving and enhancing communications, there are a whole range of other things you can do to improve customer liaison and engagement during periods of uncertainty. Below, we offer a variety of practical measures and considerations that you may wish to implement in turbulent times.
Honesty is the best policy in times of strife. Whether you’re low on stock or feel it’s time to increase regular prices, transparency and clarity will go some way to alleviate uncertainty and maintain trust between you and customers.
An open, honest approach is essential for setting customer expectations, ensuring you don’t oversell your side of the bargain. Certainly, this can be tough, but customers will appreciate openness and are more likely to stand by you if you clearly impart how the present situation will impact what you can offer. Also, try and offer customers solutions. Is there an alternate product they could try? Suggesting options builds empathy with your customers who may not buy from you this time due to out-of-stocks but are likely to return if you can demonstrate the lengths you went to in order to fulfil their requirements.
Set expectations in terms of price and delivery availability
Supply issues have a knock-on effect throughout your inventory chain, affecting price, logistics and delivery. It’s important to inform your customers of any changes to your service which could impact them, particularly when it comes to cost and delivery times.
Say, for example, you’re no longer able to offer your usual next-day delivery service or some items are delivered next-day with others on back-order. Make sure to inform your customers of this and any cost implication, rather than waiting for them to experience delays. This sets clear expectations from the outset, helping you field criticism and maintain your reputation for reliability.
Change your messaging
Customers pay attention to messaging, particularly when they have a complaint to raise and feel they can cite t’s and c’s direct from your website. That’s why it’s important to update messaging to reflect any changes to your regular service, so that you know that all bases are covered.
As an example, your e-commerce site may normally advertise free postage as a means of attracting customers. But if this isn’t a service you can feasibly continue to provide, make sure that you change or remove any mention of it to avoid a backlash and maintain a positive customer experience.
Take an empathetic approach
Remember, in times of uncertainty, it isn’t just your business that’s suffering, it’s consumers too. With economic turbulence placing a huge strain on public finances, it’s worth updating certain policies and practices to support a more empathetic approach to customer liaison and service.
What does this look like in practice? Well, you could start by reducing sales emails as a means of helping customers feel like they’re not experiencing the “hard sell”. Elsewhere, greater leniency may be needed for customers unable to pay outstanding bills in full, a courtesy you may also need to extend to partners and suppliers who may be short on their most recent invoice.
Consider adding a pre-order function to in-demand products
If you’re experiencing shortages of a popular product, you may like to consider adding a pre-order function to its corresponding product page. This gives customers the option to purchase a product in advance, which has the two-fold benefit of boosting your cashflow and helping loyal customers get the products they need.
If a pre-order function wouldn’t work for your business, there are other ways to keep customers in the loop about product availability. For example, allow customers to sign up for alerts letting them know when a particular product is back in stock, or create a queue system whereby customers register their interest and are given priority access when the products they want are back online.
There’s no getting away from the fact that we’re living in unprecedented times, and with that comes uncertainty. We only hope our guide has offered some food for thought on how you can manage customer expectations in this period of ongoing turbulence.
Whatever your business objectives and aims for the future, Intact can help deliver a better and more consistent experience for you, your staff, and your customers. Offering innovative solutions for businesses in a range of sectors, we’re here to help you achieve more, whatever the economic landscape. For more information, visit the homepage or get in touch today.