It would not be an exaggeration to say that the events of the past month have caused us all to stop and reassess how we live our lives both personally and professionally. The global COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many notions that underpin our daily routines.

For business owners, these disruptions have been particularly impactful, with many retailers having to minimise opening hours and in some cases, shutting up shop during this period. In fact, recent research from workforce management platform, Deputy, found that local retailers scheduled 22% fewer hours on Monday 23rd March than the January average — showing just how much of an impact this global pandemic is having on local businesses.

In order to survive, business owners are finding that they need to pivot and pivot fast. We’ve seen this to some extent with restaurants and cafes offering takeaway services. Similarly, retailers, such as Mecca, which often relies on heavy in-store footfalls, has revamped its online chat capabilities — providing consumers with an additional touch point.

From my experience of working with businesses, customer communication really has never been so integral. We work closely with our customers to help ensure they continue to provide a great experience to their own customers.

Here’s a few guidelines we go by:

Maintain human connection

Communication is key to what makes us human. It’s a powerful tool that allows us to share ideas and facilitate transactions. Successful communication underpins how retailers and consumers interact — it’s the difference between a frustrated Tweet going viral and a happy customer bragging about your brand on Instagram. Being transparent with customers and keeping them informed during a stressful period is a critical part of this. Remembering that every customer is an individual, with family, friends, jobs and a life that is going to be directly impacted by this pandemic enables retailers to see the bigger picture, and stands as a reminder that we should all be mindful of how everyone is feeling during this period.

As part of this, delivering personalised and relevant content and offerings at the right time has never been so important. It’s critical that retailers remain sensitive to the current climate when considering the type of content they are delivering to customers. Look for ways you can help to support your consumers during this period. For example, knowing that the sale of beach attire is likely to decrease, but indoor gym equipment is likely to skyrocket can help to pivot the business and focus on what consumers need right now. Customers demand experiences marked by immediacy, personalisation and convenience, and this has never been so important.

Utilise technology

The customer service industry is being revolutionised by advancements in technology. Artificial intelligence within customer experience has become increasingly sophisticated, and customers today are interacting with messaging services, chatbots and virtual assistants that lift the expected standards of customer service. Businesses such as Fitness Passport are empowering consumers with user self-service; ensuring that consumers now have the information they require anytime and anywhere. Through the adoption of user self-service, Fitness Passport has witnessed a 25 – 30 per cent reduction in customer enquiries, not only freeing up agents for more pressing inquiries but also ensuring higher customer satisfaction.

Get ahead of the curve 

Customers now expect businesses to consistently have the lights on with round-the-clock support and personalised experiences — and during a global crisis this will only intensify. From website crashes to overall poor customer experience, it’s integral that consumers feel supported during this period with consistent, agile communication methods, ensuring everyone is kept up to date, and ultimately enabling you to get ahead of the curve. Often, customer support models can be disjointed with multiple support teams dealing with one shopper’s query. This can often lead to miscommunication, frustration and disconnect, and ultimately a negative customer experience. Now, with more employees and consumers working from home, finding tools that enable collaboration between remote teams is integral, both internally and externally.

During this turbulent time, it’s integral that businesses are not only able to pivot to ensure they’re supporting themselves, but also to ensure they’re supporting consumers through this difficult period. Customer experience and high quality communication enables businesses to have transparent and meaningful relationships with their customers. During this time, put your best foot forward and ensure your customers are at the heart of your operation.

Sreelesh Pillai is general manager at Freshworks Australia.