Empathy is Key in Times of Crisis

Now is not the time for hard sales. Instead, you should be reaching out to your customers to see how they’re doing and how you can help.

In daily crisis meetings where rapid-fire business decisions are being made, sales, marketing and PR are top-of-list and top-of-mind. And there’s plenty of marketing and communication happening.

Many of us are exhausted by the flood of communication from every person we’ve ever given our email address to. And these messages range from downright tone-deaf to incredibly useful. The majority are forced, stilted and not helpful. (Josh Bernoff has a great blog on this, and if you aren’t following Without Bullshit, you’re really missing out.)

External communication is still necessary even in times of national crisis, but more than ever fundamentals require refinement. And please, I’m begging you, don’t send out a single programmed or automated thing until it has the full review of your marketing decision-maker and is adjusted appropriately. 

Find the Right Mindset and Framework: Your audience’s situation, attitude, emotions and needs are changing — possibly on a daily basis. Your customers are all struggling with problems inside and outside of work, and it’s rough.

While always important, it’s especially critical now to set a tone for engagement that’s human and appropriate. Your messages should be positioned in a way that sincerely asks the following questions: 

  • How Are You?
  • What Are You Struggling With?
  • Can I Help?
  • Can (and When) Can I Check In?

The goal here is empathy — and not the fake, salesy kind. Go right at a struggle someone is facing, even if it has nothing to do with your business. And if you can’t help, maybe you can direct people to someone who can.

Where to Start: Think in terms of concentric circles radiating out from you. Who’s closest to your company? Employees, of course. And existing customers, partners and channels across the board are the priority. It’s just good business to shore up the revenue you have — and probably more importantly, it’s good human behavior to reach out to these groups first.

Know What to Skip: Now is not the time to fling emails, newsletters and other items to random lists, especially people who haven’t opted in and don’t have a relationship with you. Now, you may have someone already in your pipeline. They’ve opted in. Don’t shut down — but you are definitely rewriting or pivoting your plans on what they get after the “How Are You?/How Can I Help?” framework.

Look for Clues: Before you reach out externally, do some research. Who’s raised their hand previously to chat, and who’s already told you no? Let that guide your initial decision-making. Do a quick scan of their social media channels — it can save you a world of embarrassment or help you determine if you can indeed help. This is particularly effective for PR, since most reporters are very active on social media, and their stories provide a trail. (TechCrunch, for example, wrote an article — actually more like a manifesto — saying to keep the funding news coming.)

Offer Authentic Help : Useful, empathetic and appropriate service offers can facilitate a relationship while giving assistance to organizations that really need it. 

One of our clients, GreatHorn, is offering 60 days of free next-generation email protection. Relevant? Yes. Phishing attempts are through the roof and remain the single most popular path for bad guys to steal credentials. There are specific COVID-19-related schemes that prey on the reduced security posture emerging from remote workforces. Mid-size businesses (think hospitals, municipalities, etc.) need simple and cost-effective help now.

Don’t have a useful offer? It’s best to find other ways of promoting help, like sharing appropriate offers from your partners and network. If you’re spinning, stretching and getting that icky feeling, don’t do it.

With No Strings Attached: A database vendor (we’ll not publicly embarrass them) said it would make a $100 donation if you shared a user story with them. That’s tone-deaf. How about polling your community and asking for suggestions for where to make a donation, have them vote and donate to all of them? If you’re doing something charitable, don’t make it conditional on anything. Not. One. Single. Thing. If you want a pat on the back, you’re helping for the wrong reasons.

There’s nothing wrong with communication that helps you maintain viability and visibility during times like these, but remember this: You’ll be long remembered for outreach that comes across as insensitive and opportunistic. In this sense, it’s best to be forgotten.

Check out my discussion with John Moran on this very topic on the Look Left @ Marketing Podcast.

crisis communication
customer relations

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