By Farhan Ahmad
I’ve learned a lot about communications over the years working at large banks and as an entrepreneur of tech startups. At Bento, we have the opportunity to speak with all types of businesses—from Mom & Pop shops to big name movie production houses. Regardless of the industry, company size, or revenue, almost every company is interested in knowing how to shield their business from an economic downturn—when sales may be faltering—and optimize for growth.
Here’s how I’d suggest you approach communicating with your customers ahead of a potential recession.
If the economy turns south, having empathy is paramount. The best way to be empathetic is to recognize that each customer is dealing with a unique situation. Aim for 1:1 communication over mass communication and eschew scripts in favor of dialogue. Avoid measuring the time to close a call—an industry norm—but rather, review customer satisfaction after the call ends, and reward employees for their empathy. We encourage our company’s support team to always be mindful of showing empathy, admitting fault and avoiding vague, robotic responses. Simple sentences like “I see where you’re coming from”, “I appreciate your patience”, “You are right”, “I’ll make sure to follow up as soon as we have a solution” go a long way in easing customers’ anxiety. Also, to generate empathy with your customers, practice and encourage it within your own company; your employees will not only be happier but pass on that positivity to the customers they interact with.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
In a recession, your customers are likely going to be scrutinizing the value you provide, so make your case earlier, when times are good. The key is to try to use positive, supportive language to minimize customer stress and help them understand what is happening in their world, and why, and give them tangible information about what you are going to do for them, how, and when. It’s not always easy to proactively communicate with customers, but when done properly, it’s a solid way to build trust and loyalty. One way to do this is with an opt-in email strategy, where customers can subscribe to newsletters, updates and insights from the CEO or leaders in the business. And also communicate regularly on social media, through videos, and in webinars on varying topics of interest to your customers.
Keep the Lines Open
In an always-on world, a 24/7, multi-channel approach to communication is key. With economic anxiety, your customer’s inability to reach you may add to their frustration and influence their decision-making. My company uses a blend of push-pull techniques to create a flexible environment where customers can call, chat or email us whenever they need answers. And as part of keeping those lines open, I suggest aiming to create meaningful outcomes through understanding their explicit problem, working with them to solve it, following up and highlighting that you are an ongoing resource and partner, not just their vendor.
Plan in Advance
It’s one thing to know what to say in good times. But what about when things are not so great? This is when a clearly defined customer communications plan comes to the rescue. In this plan, your employees will know how to shift their message when there is a downturn, relying on the above examples of empathy, proactive dialogue and positive words. Our in-house plan encompasses the full breadth of information needs—from how to use new features on our platform to more strategic thought pieces that illustrate new ways of approaching business problems. In a downturn, our communication emphasizes our role as a partner in our customers’ success, offering useful resources both within and outside of Bento instead of selling platform features.
In a downturn, your customers will share anxieties and have questions about how to go forward. This is where you might have data that can help them. At Bento our data lets us share with our customers what they are doing (or not doing) to protect their businesses, drive productivity, create predictable cash flow and gain profitability via controls for their spending, expenses, bookkeeping, financial alerts and reporting. You may have insights into your customers that can lead to suggestions on how to navigate a possible downturn in business.
As we all know, economies ebb and flow. You can’t control a recession, but you can control how you communicate to your customers. If you make these important distinctions along the way, you can have a lasting impact on your customers—and your business.
Farhan Ahmad is the CEO or Bento for Business.