Communication in the Time of COVID-19: Let Data Guide Your Plan


Brian Cluster, Director of Industry Strategy – CPG & Retail, Stibo Systems

In the wake of COVID-19 stay-in-place measures, today’s shoppers rely more heavily on e-commerce than ever. Many would like to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic – but even if a vaccine were found today, a return to crowded malls is unlikely to happen anytime soon. And that means communications teams have must find a way to market their product while ensuring the safety of customers and employees.

Customer and employee experience have always been critical, but today, with retail sales down for many, it’s a lifeline. Collecting and understanding data for your two most important audiences is critical to adapting to their changing needs and ensuring these relationships remain strong.

Revisit your communications with customers in the short term

Now more than ever, you need to think about how to leverage customer loyalty programs. Use your loyalty program data to determine which customers have points or rewards set to expire in the next 60-90 days and give them an extension. 

Consider offering deep discounts, such as buy one get one free, to your most loyal customers to keep the relationship strong even in a down economy – it’s better to invite them to your website with a significant discount than to lose the business period. 

When possible, focus broader email promotions on goods consumers need today – home improvement supplies, lawn and garden items and kitchen tools. Marketing around less essential items should be focused on products that will be of use in the coming months. For example, if you’re in the fashion industry, consider offering deep discounts on dress shirts and pants – as more Americans begin job hunts or start to prepare for a return to the office. 

Think, too, about how you can close the sale once customers are on your website. Email reminders to customers who have left products in their shopping cart can be the gentle push window shoppers need to complete the sale.

Consider how you’ll communicate safety measures in the long term

Keep in mind it’s not only consumers who are reluctant to go back to their old behaviors – employees are showing reluctance too. In a recent study, 54% of U.S. employees say that they are worried about COVID-19 exposure at the workplace. You’ll need to consider what measures you will put in place to demonstrate concern for the safety of both your customers and employees.

Poll your employees and ask them what you could do to make them feel more comfortable about coming back into the store. Other than supplying them with face masks and disposable gloves, what else would help them feel safe? Use this data to guide your decisions and implement your changes.  Remember, your employees are at many times the face of your brand.  If they are comfortable in the workplace and more relaxed, it will help greatly in bringing that same feeling among your customers. 

Think, too, about what safety measures will help your customers feel more comfortable about coming back in your store. Perhaps that’s having someone designated to wipe down shopping carts and self-checkout areas before and after each use or limiting the number of shoppers you allow inside at one time.

Whatever your plan, develop a message that can be emailed to customers and posted on social media channels, detailing the steps you will take to help ensure their safety. And speaking of social channels, monitor conversations to learn what other retailers are doing well or what prompts backlash from consumers. 

For instance, one pizzeria in my area posted (on the Nextdoor app) that it would not open its dining room immediately after certain restrictions were relaxed because, “It would not be in the best interest to protect your family and ours at this time.” 

Customers wrote back to say, “I commend your decision and am happy to wait to come back until we are all safe, “ or “We will continue supporting you with curbside orders, which works like a champ.”

Data leads the way

Data should guide your decision-making in the short and long terms and is key to adapting to customers’ changing needs and helping improve your marketing efforts. Rather than relying on historical buying trends, monitor changes in customer (and employee) data daily so you can meet them where they are. And by gathering better business data, you can offer increased transparency about safety measures – critical for both customer and employee confidence. 

If you’re still managing this data in separate silos, consider adopting a master data management (MDM) solution. MDM empowers you to discover key insights efficiently so you can adjust in near real-time. By gaining visibility into all of your customer and employee data through one source, you can develop greater insights into your buyers’ purchasing patterns during the pandemic, and the steps you can take to maintain your relationships with them, even in hard times.

With the right data guiding your decisions about how to keep customers and employees connected and safe, your business can weather this storm. Keep pushing forward!

About the Author: Brian Cluster is Stibo Systems’ Industry Strategy Director, specializing in the Consumer Packaged Goods and Retail industries. He has a strong 20-year track record of collaborating on strategy, building and delivering analytics, and business & digital transformation. At Stibo Systems, Brian is putting his varied industry expertise to good use, providing direction, strategy and relevant insights for our field teams and ·helping driving customer value for master data management solutions.

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