Consultant, Matthew Parker discusses how to effectively communicate with your customers during the coronavirus.
The last thing that anyone needs right now is another sales e-mail
Many buyers are suffering a deluge of e-mail at the moment. The majority of these communications can be divided into two broad types. The first is the “business as usual” or “we’re still open” e-mail. They have long lists of all the measures that companies are taking to ensure that they stay open but safe. And they all sound very familiar. Europe is full of printing companies that have home-based production staff, everyone in the factory working at least two metres apart and that have banned site visits.
There’s another type of e-mail as well. This is the one that refuses to acknowledge that Coronavirus has happened at all. They just carry on pushing the same products and services as though the world is carrying on as normal.
However, the world is not carrying on as normal. We are all feeling the effects of the pandemic. Nearly everyone is worrying about their business or job as well as about their loved ones. Peoples’ personal stress levels are higher and there has been a rise in depression and anxiety. In these times traditional sales messaging is simply not appropriate.
However, print companies need business: what should they do?
The last thing companies should do right now is stop contacting their customers. People will appreciate the right type of communication. They also need to know that you are open and able to help if they need you: it’s just that they do not need a list of everything that you are doing. And you need to make sure that you are maximising your chances for business at the right time.
Both the types of e-mail that I highlighted at the beginning of this article focus on the supplier and not the recipient of the e-mail. More than ever, effective communication needs to be written with the customer in mind rather than the person who is sending it. This is a time for communication with empathy.
Printing companies that communicate with their clients in the right way during these times will build a stronger rapport with their customers. The relationship can become stronger from the right communications: I have heard of much greater engagement from sympathetic communication during these times compared to normal. They will also achieve better sales when the time comes. Right now, there is not a lot of business for most companies unless they are in the health, pharmaceutical or packaging sectors. But customers will remember those who communicated with empathy when times were tough.
Printing companies that do not communicate or that send out the wrong type of e-mails risk alienating their customer base. They are unlikely to achieve sales now and their approach will be remembered in the future. Potentially, they will place their business on a worse footing for when restrictions are being eased. So how is the wrong type of communication avoided?
Here is a script that you can use when communicating with customers at the moment
The script below may seem very different to what you are used to sending (or receiving!). Typically, communications from the printing industry are focused on the supplier or on their products and services. This script is based on seeing things from the customer’s point of view.
For communication to work at the moment, it is important to think about how the customer is feeling and how they are managing their business. “We are here to help” should mean just that. It shouldn’t mean “We are keen to have an order from you”. So the script starts with the customer, not the supplier.
1. Ask how the customer is on a personal level
At this time many people are hurting on a personal level. If we want to maintain or build our relationship with people we need to acknowledge this. Any communications at the moment should start by asking about the health and wellbeing of your client and their friends and family. If you know them well, you might also ask about specific relatives or how they are coping with managing the home schooling of children.
2. Find out how the customer’s business or job is at the moment
The next stage is to enquire about their business. How to phrase this will depend on what you know about the state of their business. For instance, if your customer is a restaurant or a garage they will be closed at the moment and you should be asking how they are coping with the current situation and hope that they can weather it. On the other hand, retail businesses may still be open. However, you will probably need to ask how they are coping with a downturn in trade.
3. Ask if you can help in any way (and mean it)
The most important part of this communication is to ask is there is ANYTHING you can do to help. This isn’t about trying to win more print. This is trying to help people and businesses survive. If your client is self-isolating, can you drop off some suppliers for them? Are they struggling to get hold of some office supplies when you have plenty in stock? At times like these we should all be trying to help each other in any way we can.
4. Be there if the customer needs you
It is OK to mention that you are still open for business. Or you may be closed but want to remind customers that you will be re-opening when restrictions are eased. This is not a time to make a big announcement about it. Rather just mention that you are or will be open for business if your customer needs you.
5. Think about how your company can help their business
Some of you will have developed products specifically for the Coronavirus situation. Alternatively, your customer may be remodelling or pivoting their business. You may have ideas for signage and display or other marketing that can support a customer in rebuilding their business. So it can be appropriate to mention a product or service that a client might not be aware of that can help them.
6. Be personal again
Sign off your communication with personal best wishes. Acknowledge that it is tough at the moment. And wish your contact better times in the future.
What’s the best way to communicate this message?
If possible, contact your best customers by phone and talk to them. In this way you can really get a sense of how things are for them. If this is not possible, make the communication personal. Send a personal e-mail or, better still, a handwritten card.
This may not be possible for all your smaller customers. In this case I would send an e-mail or letter. The letter will stand out better at present. Just make sure it comes over as a personal message and not a company message.
This script can be used right now. And it will also be just as relevant a few weeks’ time when restrictions are beginning to be eased.
Take action now
- Draw up a list of people to contact
- Create a set of prompt visuals or key points to help you with the call
- If other people are making calls as well, brief them on how you want them to communicate
Remember: these are not the sales communications that people do not want. These are help conversations. They are very different. Most of your customers will welcome communication, as long as it is done in the right way.
PS Find out more ideas on how to engage with today’s buyers: download my e-book for free “Ten Common Print Selling Errors and What To Do About Them”. You’ll also receive my regular “Views from the print buyer” bulletin, full of ideas on how to sell print effectively.
Read my book “How To Stop Print Buyers Choosing On Price” where you learn how to create sales messages that win you clients not customers.
After many years buying print, Matthew set up his own consultancy. He was approached several printing companies asking him to share his secrets on how to get the best out of today’s buyers. Mathew now shares his buying experiences, good and bad, with the printing industry. Over his career Matthew received sales approaches from over 1,400 printing companies. Matthew’s shares his knowledge as he has a unique view as a commercial buyer of print. Matthew works with his clients, providing training, mentoring and e-learning to help them create profitable new business.
Over the years Matthew has worked with hundreds of printing companies. He has worked with numerous leading print industry associations including Dscoop, FESPA, BPIF and IPIA. He has also spoken at a wide range of industry gatherings all over the world for the likes of Xerox, Canon, Konica Minolta, HP, Dscoop, Antalis and FESPA. And he has regularly featured in publications such as Printing Impressions, Canvas, Printweek and Print Monthly, to name just a few.
by Matthew Parker