Progressive Communication in Crisis

Businessman at laptop taking notes

Did you get a bit rattled over the last few weeks? It’s okay, you can be honest and say yes. I don’t know anyone who was completely prepared for the dramatic challenges we suddenly faced or the speed at which information was changing. 

From a business perspective, COVID-19 was a curveball that turned into a knuckleball then became a split-finger fastball in mid-flight. For non-baseball fans, that means the impossible worst-case scenario occurred. On top of it all, every state made individualized decisions. Your business was likely debating whether to stay open or close, reading deep into your governor’s notices or the local authorities’ recommendations, while not dislodging any common sense that remained. During this time, you continued receiving calls from customers expecting things to be business as usual, your staff likely felt uneasy and concerned, and builders were wondering why you were hesitating as they moved full steam ahead!

What a mess.

So What Should You Do Now?

If you haven’t already, you need to build a progressive communication plan for your business. When you engage in a progressive communication plan, you are better prepared for the situation, you can make sure you are conveying the same message across all channels, and you have a plan in place to throttle your message up or down as the circumstances warrant. 

What do I mean by throttling your message? Think of it as being prepared to phase your communications up to what the most extreme circumstances require, then phasing down as things move back to normal. That way, you’re thinking beyond the current moment and preparing for the next steps before any change actually happens.

For example, your progressive communication plan in response to COVID-19 might need to have 6 steps, with messages and communications strategy already mapped out for each:

  • Step 1 was recognition of the event and your immediate efforts to keep customers and staff safe.
  • Step 2 was acknowledging your local or state guidelines regarding social distancing, and communicating that you were limiting showroom visits to appointment-only.
  • Step 3 involved responding to additional local or state government guidelines by suspending showroom visits and offering video appointments.
  • Steps 4 through 6 will be a step-down process to reverse and return to some sense of normal shopping. 

By developing this type of organized plan, you can easily explain your plan to leadership, and be ready to throttle up or down as needed.  

What Does This Look Like In Practice?

Think about that moment in the future when you’re ready to reopen your showroom. You might plan to do it gradually, by quietly reopening with certain requirements or expectations in place that have been clearly communicated to your staff and to the public. Maybe you begin with limited store hours from 9 am to 3 pm for critical needs, and reserve early morning appointments for customers 65 years and older. 

You may not yet know on what date you’ll be able to reopen, but now is the time to sit down with your leadership and hammer out a plan. Handled effectively, you and your leadership team will be equipped with a new sense of calm and confidence as events continue to unfold.

As the last few weeks have reminded us, we can’t be prepared for every eventuality. Make sure you have a back-up in place for moments when you need time to regroup. If you (or leadership) are unsure of what your next steps should be, keep it simple. Have a message ready that communicates your status to customers. Maybe your home page message needs to read: Please contact us by phone at 555.555.5555 for assistance Monday through Saturday during regular business hours.

It’s not an easy road right now, but we’re all in this together. If you’d like to be part of a bigger conversation with other dealers about how to navigate this unique time, you can reach out to Chris Riley via email.

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