By: NATALIE TOPALIAN Brand Apr 30, 2020 Strengthening Customer Relationships During the COVID-19 Crisis We can hardly believe that our webinar series, Branding & Marketing Best Practices Amidst COVID-19, has already come to an end! It's been a jam-packed five weeks of awesome content, tips, tricks and advice from our hosts, Aaron Wolowiec, CEO of Event Garde, Rob McCarty, CEO of The Image Shoppe, and our many wonderful guests. This week, Aaron and Rob spoke in-depth about customer relationships: specifically, how to strengthen them during the COVID-19 crisis, and how to continue doing so as society starts inching its way closer to the previous "norm." Catch the replay below or read on to get the highlights of this episode. Strategies to Consider for Direct Contact with Customers Rob and Aaron kicked off the conversation by discussing strategies to consider when making direct contact with customers. Note: these aren't the only or best ideas out there—they are simply meant to trigger your thinking! Also keep in mind that the phrase "direct contact" doesn't necessarily mean face-to-face interaction. Lean on technology It's very likely you've been doing this already—and it's also probably safe to assume that this could be the standard form of communication moving forward. There are plenty of options out there for digital connection: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, GoTo Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Slack, traditional phone calls... the list goes on. What's more important is the platform that your customers or clients are most comfortable with—which will likely vary from person to person. Be mindful of where your customers or clients are at. What technology are they used to? Might they want to use a different platform as a "break" from the new norm? Value-added programming on your topic of specialization As a professional in your industry, you have knowledge and expertise to share. Create something of value specifically for your audience that can be useful to them. It doesn't have to be a webinar, blog or extensive guide; even things like checklists and consultations can pose high value. Additionally, it will benefit both you and your audience to break away from the pack by offering a unique spin on a popular offering. For example, you've probably seen (or been a part of) several virtual Happy Hours during the Stay at Home order. If you're interested in offering something similar, brainstorm ways to make this a more innovative, appealing event for your audience. Event Garde has put their own fun spin on Happy Hour, calling it "Grapes & ____," allowing for flexibility in topic and format every week. Thoughtful touches This is always of high value, but especially so right now. Making personal touch points with your audience will have a lasting impact on strengthening your customer relationships. Sending individual, personalized email messages versus bulk email communication may take extra time, but it will resonate stronger with your customers and stand out against other brands. Additionally, sending e-cards for holidays or accomplishments, LinkedIn messages, or special deliveries show that you care more about them than their business. If you're unsure of where to send a special gift, we recommend asking, "Where is the best place to send this?" Informal opportunities to virtually hangout Not all customer interaction has to be business-focused; now is an opportune time to get to know your customers on a personal level. Scheduling virtual events like game nights, Happy Hours, studio/home tours, etc. are all great ways to connect outside of your office hours. Reinforcing Brand Loyalty & Connection Much of this area of focus can be related back to Episode 1 and Episode 4 of our webinar series—but Rob and Aaron shared some new perspectives, as well. Be adaptable. This may look like offering flexibility with your hours of availability and/or your approach to business. Take a loot at breweries and distilleries across the world, for example, many of which have pivoted their production to hand sanitizer. Be transparent. Yes, even when you don't have all of the answers, and even in vulnerable moments. There's much more to consider than just your bottom line. Transparency allows for you to be good stewards to your employees, customers, community and planet. Be thoughtful. As we mentioned in the previous section, offer unique content and give personalized touch points when you can. But, remember what we discussed in Episode 1 and Episode 3: before you hit 'Send' or 'Publish,' ask yourself, "Is this content/communication really adding value?" Now is not the time to inundate your audience with unnecessary messaging. Be a leader. Another point we touched on earlier: Use your expertise to help others. Better yet, exemplify leadership by taking your audience's needs/wants into consideration. Be proactive by asking them questions like, "What could we do to make you feel safe upon reopening? What types of modified services or offerings would be of value to you?" Be your brand. This point goes back to living out your Mission, Vision and Values (MVV). To stay true to your MVV is to be authentic to your brand, which will naturally retain and attract the kind of customers you seek. How to Approach New Potential Leads Use technology as the top of the funnel Leverage tools like your customer relationship software (CRM), email platforms like MailChimp and social media (think LinkedIn messages, or wherever your customers are at!) to begin to form new relationships. (Virtually) meet them where they’re at Once you've established a connection, utilize that person's preferred method virtual meeting tool—whether it be Zoom, Google Hangouts, phone, email, etc.—to connect further. Show empathy—everyone is in a different place right now Remember that everyone is processing this crisis differently—personally and professionally. Ask yourself, "How can I provide value to improve their current situation?" and do what you can to make that happen. "Business as usual" is paused and, more likely, irrelevant. The world pre-COVID-19 will likely never be the same. Moving forward, we predict much more flexibility, adaptability and collaboration needed to get the job done. Keep this in mind moving forward. Have a topic you'd like to hear from us? If you have questions about another topic related to branding and marketing amidst/post-COVID-19, or would like us to expand on an already-covered topic, our teams are happy to help! 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