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Coronavirus: fight panic with reliable information

Best Management Practice - 13th March 2020
Wearing a medical face mask for winter viruses

The coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact are creating a challenging time for many aviation, travel and transport businesses. As we recently commented to PR Week, panic is more infectious that the virus itself and the only antidote is reliable information. We therefore offer the following checklist to help keep your customers informed and confident, and to ensure your business is ready for when the upturn comes.

1. Keep customers informed with factual and supportive information

Your customers need the reassurance that you understand the coronavirus situation and are on top of developments. Help them by directing them to the latest advice from the relevant authorities. Consider adding a prominent coronavirus section to your website where customers can obtain helpful facts and advice, including links to the latest information from the World Health Organisation and your national government.

Tell your customers and stakeholders what you are doing to look after them. For example, what steps you are taking to monitor for infected staff or visitors, extra action taken to sanitise areas that customers visit, and what you are doing to maintain service continuity. Be factual and realistic throughout and do not make the mistake of overpromising.

Showing extra flexibility and consideration to customers at this time could earn major goodwill for the future. For example, consider waiving usual charges or penalties that might apply to customers should they need to change their plans at short notice.

Keep your website advice page regularly updated and use your social media channels and other customer touchpoints to direct people to it as your central information resource.

2. Quickly clarify or correct misleading news or rumours

There have already been many instances of false coronavirus rumours creating needless alarm with the public. It is therefore important to monitor what is being said in the news and on social media about your business and industry. If you see inaccurate information gaining traction, it may be necessary to swiftly counter this with a factual update to your website and social media channels. In doing so, always look for an opportunity to put the latest situation into context, so that customers do not magnify a problem unnecessarily in their minds.

3. Keep your staff informed

Your frontline staff are your best and most important ambassadors. Make sure they are fully in the picture about the coronavirus and how your business is responding, so they can project knowledge, care and confidence to your customers. Use email, intranets and briefing meetings and let them know whenever you update your website’s coronavirus page with fresh information.

4. Listen

Good communication is always more about listening than talking. Take extra steps to find out what your customers are thinking right now, whether through direct conversations, monitoring social media or by others means. This information will help you better calibrate the messages and steps you need to use to reassure them and ride out this period successfully.

5. Be human

Anxiety about the coronavirus and its impact is widespread. At such times, people respond best to communication that is warm and sincere. Use messages and a tone of voice in your communications that are compassionate and everyday – avoid corporate-speak and, wherever possible, tailor communications to the individual.

6. Keep marketing and plan for the recovery

Governmental expectations are that the coronavirus outbreak will be fairly short-lived. It is important to keep marketing – responsibly – during this time, both to minimise sales disruption now and to help you bounce back quickly when the pandemic is over. This is also a good time to plan campaigns to launch later in the year. Time spent wisely now could help you replace any short-term revenue dips with stronger growth in subsequent months.

By handing your communications well, you can mitigate the current challenges as much as possible and prepare your business for a strong recovery.