How to communicate during a crisis

18 Mar 2020

No one needs to be reminded that we’re in uncharted waters. And there’s no point in pretending we know what will happen next. We don’t. And nor does anyone else.


What we do know is that there are real ongoing financial difficulties for people and businesses, including many of you in the Appear Here community.

Faced with these challenges, businesses are—understandably—struggling to find the right words to use when talking to their staff, their partners and their customers. And that’s where we can help.

We’ve asked the crisis team at Woodrow Communications, a strategic communications agency, to share their best practices for communicating in a crisis.

1. Scenario plan for your business

No one can plan for every eventuality. But you can agree on precautionary measures and potential next steps, and this is a prerequisite to communicating effectively. In times like these, the businesses planning far ahead are the ones that will be most resilient as the situation unfolds.

Look at the workings of your business and ask yourself how your operations might be disrupted. You might depend on ingredients, materials or other products from abroad. Or if your business is experience-based, social distancing might be difficult or even impossible to implement. And, if you have to suspend operations, you have to ask yourself the hard question that no business owner wants to ask themselves: do I need to reduce my workforce?

Finally, you need to think about your stakeholders—your colleagues, your customers, your partners and your suppliers. What does this mean for them?


2. Map your stakeholders and prioritise

Create a map of all your stakeholders. Define, as precisely as you can, what measures you’ve put in place and what those measures mean for each stakeholder. The more detailed you are when you do this, the better.

Then prioritise your stakeholder engagement. In other words, who needs to be informed first and what do you need to tell them? In all your communications be clear in your updates, open about the consequences, if there are any, and what those that might mean for them. Given the gravity of the current situation, this is not the time to skirt around the issue or drown your update in empty words.

3. Regularly communicate with your team

The situation is developing rapidly, and with so much change and so much uncertainty comes a lot of anxiety. It’s completely natural for members of your team to be feeling unsure about what the future holds, so speak to them as human beings, not members of staff, and update them regularly on what’s going on within your business to remove as much ambiguity from the situation as possible.

Now is not the time to work in a silo or withhold knowledge from your team. This is a time for everyone to stick together, and your senior leadership has a responsibility to the wider team to keep morale high and drive the business forward.


4. Talk to your partners, suppliers and customers

Talk to your partners, suppliers and customers. And do this not just when your business or its operations are disrupted, but before, proactively, so you already have a relationship and a rapport when crisis strikes. Communicate what you’ve been doing and any precautionary measures you’ve taken, and articulate what this will mean for them in future.

Speak with a calm, clear voice to the people in your network, and keep an open line of communication. Be approachable. Be personal. Be patient. And in case of disrupted operations, refer to your stakeholder map: how will this disruption affect those stakeholders, what are your next steps, and how can that disruption be resolved?

As for operational updates—anything relating to stock or service availability—be factual and detailed. Don’t commit to any deadline that you can’t be sure you’ll meet. Circumstances can change quickly.

And log these interactions! You can do this through an app or a traditional Excel sheet: it doesn’t matter. But make sure to log your communications and take note of any follow-ups if they’re required.

5. Finally, and most importantly, show compassion

If you have customer-facing staff, remind them to be kind to the people they interact with every day. We’re all in this together, and everyone will respond differently. So respect those differences with a small commitment to give your customers the benefit of the doubt and to show compassion in the way you deal with them.

It goes a very long way at a time like this.