For many in the UK and beyond, COVID-19 means that from planned holidays to planned big ticket purchases, life is on hold. So how do organisations continue maintaining a customer connection and building their brands when consumer activity is in flux?

In normal times it’s easy to understand and even predict consumer behaviour. However, when routines and norms are shattered, behaviour becomes fluid. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our solid lifestyle patterns and the elements we draw on, from physical and social context, to how we frame, process and act upon information, in order to make decisions.

For big brands, it’s not business as usual

So how can consumer-facing brands adapt their own behaviour and communication strategies to meet the rapidly changing needs of consumers across the country and around the world?

A major study by GlobalWebIndex (GWI) finds that just one third of consumers globally feel that brands should be taking a business as usual approach to promotional and marketing activities.

Drilling down into the data, 37% of British consumers think that it’s ok for brands to continue running their normal marketing campaigns. When asked what they think major corporations should be doing in the face of the outbreak, 78% of U.K. respondents think companies should be offering flexible payment options to make it easier for them to risk making certain types of purchases and 65% agree that major brands that have shut down non-essential services and stores have made the right decision. What’s more, 70% of consumers in Britain think that major brands with factory production facilities should be using those facilities for the creation of essential items for fighting coronavirus.

So, if your company is actively taking any of these steps, communicating these efforts in a clear and unambiguous way, will pay dividends. There is a genuine danger of being perceived as profiting from the virus, especially as more people have more free time to spend on social media platforms sharing their disappointment.

Life is on hold

Thus far, 53% of U.K. consumers approve of how large businesses are responding to COVID-19 and those companies that are strengthening their consumer perception now will be rewarded in the future.

This is because, rather than cancelling outright, most consumers say they’re simply pausing non-essential purchases. For example, 22% of U.K. respondents have delayed a concert or theatre ticket purchase and 7% are waiting to make a home appliance – such as a TV or white good – purchase. In terms of technology, 8% have postponed a tablet, smartphone, PC or games console purchase while 8% are holding off on luxury items such as designer apparel and 38% have paused vacation planning.

So, for brands to continue connecting with their customer base in a positive way while coronavirus continues to redefine consumer behaviour, organizations must:

1/ Be where your customers are

Part of business continuity planning is concentrating on keeping the mission-critical elements of an organization functioning. But there is also real value in maintaining any processes or operations related to customer engagement and customer experience especially for your existing (and most valuable) customers. You should know their channel of choice; now’s the time to use it to articulate if you are reducing or increasing products or services in line with the outbreak and to let those customers know that you hope they’re ok and that you’re ready to pick up the relationship at the exact moment it left off, once things begin to return to normal.

2/ Prepare for a “new normal”

As more people, whether they’re your customers are not, are migrating to online channels, make sure your organization has the manpower in place to service this new behaviour. For this reason, put your social media activity into a higher gear. Globally there has been a 45% spike in social media use and a 10% jump in creating and uploading videos.

3/ Offer a voice of reason

When routines are in flux, people will look for anything that will help them fashion a “new normal” in which they can start making decisions again. So far, major organizations in particular have been praised for the way they’re responding to coronavirus. This is in stark contrast to the major social networks. Just 9% of the U.K. population truly think that they’ve responded positively to the situation – 60% of Britons think the major platforms should be actively screening and fact-checking content aimed at educating and informing users to the risks of the virus and 51% believe they should be blocking fake news to prevent the spread of misinformation.

There is an opportunity now to share information and advice that comes from reputable non-partisan sources and for communicating the steps the brand is taking to help reduce the negative impact of this virus on customers and employees. It could be very simple things such as guides or infographics about how to keep a product or device clean and virus free, how to prepare certain types of food or make grocery shopping budgets go further – anything that could potentially add value to the customer.

4/ Show you understand and empathize

When consumers in all of the 13 countries polled for the GWI study were asked what companies should do to show they understand the situation people are facing, the top answer in every territory was to offer a pay in instalments service. This is a very clear way of showing you understand how uncertainty is affecting the decision making process. Other simple and effective ways of communicating empathy are rewriting terms and conditions in plain English and putting them front and centre on digital assets. For instance, a number of airlines have moved their refunds and cancellation information to their website homepages, to give visitors more confidence in making a booking for later in the year.

Sitel Group