How to Adapt Business Communications to the New Normal

The rapid pace of change in response to COVID-19 left many business leaders bewildered. They felt like they had so much to get done, not to mention the challenges of communicating with staff, clients, stakeholders, and other valuable members of the company team. What's more, all of this is happening in a newfound era of social distancing. At the time when teams need each other the most, they're suddenly the furthest away.

Handling business communications during these difficult times requires smart strategizing and new ideas. It is entirely possible to ensure that every member of your team, however important or however distant, is kept in the loop about developments as you communicate them. Here are some of the key audiences to keep in mind as your business evolves to meet the needs of not only the present situation but also future challenges.

Make Employee Awareness the Priority

How your business moves forward from now on depends greatly on your company size, industry, and mission. Moreover, even if the content of your messaging is consistent, you'll want to have a different strategy for communicating with employees, stakeholders, customers, and anyone else involved in your business who deserves a specified approach.

Start with your employees. The pace of this crisis is moving fast. You'll need to have a prepared response in place ahead of likely changes. You can add detail to boilerplate text as time goes on, but don't subject your resources to endless editing. Be clear with where you are and where you expect to be, working closely with HR to make sure the right information is provided through the proper channels.

Receptiveness to feedback is now more important than ever. Many of your employees might not be aware of how to bring concerns and issues to their managers, particularly when working remotely. Your solution to this issue can include specific channels on team messengers like Slack or Microsoft Teams, regularly-scheduled office hours for managers and executives, or a range of communication strategies that fit the working styles of your team. Again, putting the plan in place and implementing it quickly is key. When employees have a channel for feedback, you're better able to implement their ideas into a restructure later.

Meet Customers Where They Are

Your customers will need extra guidance and support as well. In times of crisis, normal customer support channels can be overwhelmed quickly due to the increased demand. With the shift to telecommuting, this surge comes at a time when personnel are likely adapting to workflow changes of their own. Whether you're B2B or B2C, a call answering service can act as a primary or additional method of responding to customer queries 24/7 with a promptness you wouldn';t have otherwise.

If you haven't taken stock of where and how your customers are communicating with you, now is the time to do so. For example, you might have received feedback regularly on Twitter, and have a team in place to respond on social media. If this is your dominant channel of customer interaction, expect to invest more resources in meeting an upsurge of direct messages and tweet mentions that cannot go unnoticed. The more your customers see you're listening and interacting, the more at ease they'll be continuing to support your company.

Your employees should be given daily or near-daily reports on how your company is handling the most pressing issues. Yet for customers, this kind of repeated communication can feel like pestering. Depending on the nature of your business, you might only need one How we're responding keystone document that can act as a social media post, direct email, press release, and even be adapted to video or audio formats. By widely disseminating your statement, you increase reach and ensure customers are truly informed.

Who Else Is Listening?

You likely expect suppliers to keep in touch with changes to their supply chains. This need not be a one-way street. Keep suppliers updated with upcoming changes and potential events that could affect your business relationships. With a heads up, you'll both be better equipped to adapt should these events come to pass. As with all crisis communications, you need not make a statement about every potential issue. This is where employee feedback and customer demand data become necessary to guide forecasting.

Company management and executives might be making these communication decisions, yet internal channels are just as important to ensuring consistent, clear messaging throughout. Your investors will need updates from the top to help them assess their potential role in addressing issues. Don't feel as though you can simply leave someone out of the loop because they've been hands-off or silent in previous years: Now is the perfect time to start an all-hands-on-deck approach, particularly when you're just starting out. A skilled communicator or key asset in your strategy might already be available, but you need to keep them connected to amplify your message.

Situations like the COVID-19 pandemic created new relationships in response to the rapidly evolving situation. Your interactions with the news media and government officials might have been rare to non-existent. While more active cooperation between these institutions and your business isn't inevitable, being prepared to make a statement or collaborate on a topic puts you at an advantage, compared to slower-moving competitors.

Nearly seven in 10 leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the past five years. Your previous experiences handling communications in difficult times can inform your decisions going forward. However, the black-swan nature of this pandemic means your approach must be creative to meet the upcoming needs of your company. By highlighting a strategy for each individual stakeholder in your company, from employees to customers and beyond, you'll not only create an responsive action plan, but also better customize your business needs for the long term as well.

Eric Schurke is vice president of operations at VoiceNation.