Working with clients in times of crisis
What you need for clear communication
when your clients are facing change.

by Zhenya Globazh

As a strategic marketing agency, contracted to produce a set of deliverables within a specified timeframe for a client, we have clear-cut objectives for what needs to be done to reach our goals.

At Shiba500, we work (mostly) with startups and scaleups at a delicate point in their business development journey. The point we come in is when a company is first looking at their branding or their re-branding.

There can be several reasons for needing brand discovery, or rediscovery, whether that be exploration of a product or service in a new market or indeed a big business change like a merger. This is a challenging time. And these challenges are magnified when faced with an unprecedented situation.

What strategies do we and our clients need to have in place to get through a tough business period, like a PR crisis, a political event, or a global pandemic?

Here's what we have learned from helping our clients through big transitions.

Know your client and how they work

Our team needs to get to know the client well during the collaboration process. One of our initial tasks (regardless of the scope of work) is stakeholder interviews. Here we have a great opportunity to meet and understand our clients and learn what really makes them tick.

Here are some questions we ask our clients to inform our workflows:

  • What communication channels would you prefer? Do you prefer phone, or video conferencing, or communicating via email?
  • What timezone/s are your team in and what are your regular working hours?
  • Who are your important points of contact for us and for what purpose?

Show your client how you like to work

As important as it is to know how your client likes to work, it's also important to communicate to them how you and your team like to work. If you have some tried and tested processes in place it's important to find a happy compromise between your client's communication methods and working patterns and that of your team.

Have a contingency plan in place

Not everything can be planned for, and in this current global situation, everyone can attest to that. There are some situations, however, where you can do some forward-thinking, and start planning for best and worst-case scenarios.

As a startup, this task may seem daunting, but there are simple strategies that even a new business can put in place to ensure longevity when the road ahead seems unclear.

Hope for the best and plan for the worst.

This may be the first crisis your company faces, but it won't be the last. So rather than sticking your head in the sand, make a plan.

As you plan, leave room for flexibility. Even in your roadmap.

Consider the Lean Strategy approach to starting a business. When you follow this way of thinking, you take the perspective of considering what it is your customer wants and needs right now, at this moment.

This is a strategy that allows your startup to pivot should your product or service and your positioning not fit market needs right now.

Be ready in case you need to pivot

Your agency and your client may have an epic roadmap all laid out but what if suddenly that positioning doesn't work for you anymore?

Do you try to force the triangle into the square? Or do you change your shape?

A strategic pivot in planning and positioning means getting back to the drawing board for a late-night brainstorm with a ready and open mind. It means thinking outside the box. It means letting go of something not particularly useful right now to make room for something great that is of benefit to the customer and market.

Be flexible with changes to deliverables

A change in your client's plan will likely mean a change to your agency's plan too.

In our case, it might mean changes to:

  • The type of research that needs to be done.
  • The assets that need to be created.
  • The number of assets needed by the client.
  • Timelines and delivery dates.
  • The types of services we offer.
  • Even pricing, potentially.
Flexibility is key.

This doesn't mean a complete overhaul to our long term goals by any means, we still want to continue to offer quality strategic marketing services to our clients. But the point is that how those services look might not be exactly the same as they were a month ago, and may not be how they will look a month or two from now.

We are always considering the smaller and the bigger picture, for us and our clients. We are looking at what needs to be done right now while keeping in mind the long-term objectives for a client's product or service, and our own.

We are listening to the market and to our clients. And we are at the drawing board.

Communication: oversharing versus under sharing

When it comes to communication in times of crisis, being clear, brief and consistent is key.

This goes for our communication with our own clients and for their own communication with their customers. Transparency is vital, as is directly connecting with the customer, but so is having everyone on the same page.

If a business you collaborate with does deal directly with customers, having a handbook might be something to plan ahead with and prepare. This is especially important if you have communication managers in direct contact with your business's customers on social media or other channels.

Know what you can say to a customer and what you can't.

And know what that customer really needs to know and doesn't.

The majority of our team have worked as community managers in chat apps for our clients, and we quickly learned how to be prepared for customers by putting together a list of frequently asked questions we could take our answers from.

Consideration of others' situations, and kindness

This is a delicate time for all involved and flexibility goes a long way.

Ask your clients what they need right now.

Do they need a couple of days to take stock of the situation?

Do they need immediate advice on how to move forward?

Be a team with your client and their company and make this a joint effort. Set up a to-do list and share the load.

Know what's important to look at today and what can be left till tomorrow. Don't sweat the small stuff unless it needs sweating over.

No more than old friends versus new acquaintances, your conversations with older clients will be a lot different from those with new clients. This will be relevant in your communication. Your new client may need a little more time to process this.

But with time, empathy, and an open mind, it is possible to get through a big change.

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