Building a Communication Plan for Customers

Whether it’s a small product defect or a massive global shift, customers need to know when things go awry. And while crises can’t be predicted or prevented, they can be mitigated through strategic, thoughtful messaging.

Creating a communication plan for your customers ensures that you’re ready to share important news across multiple channels when disaster strikes. It also equips you to respond mindfully when customers have emotionally-charged inquiries or requests.

Here’s a look at what experts have to say about managing crises on the spot, and how businesses are leading the way with effective customer communication during a dilemma.

Develop a Crisis Communication Team

It’s much easier to respond publicly to a crisis when you know who’s responsible for doing so.

“One of the most valuable things an organization can do before a crisis strikes is to have a designated crisis team in place,” says Anne Marie Malecha, Senior Vice President and Partner at the public affairs and crisis management firm Dezenhall Resources.

She stresses the importance of keeping this team small, as decisions need to be made quickly. If you’re a small business, involving just one other leader can be enough. If you’re an entrepreneur or a small business with few or no employees, consider teaming up with a friend or trusted professional who has experience in crisis management.

This team is responsible for making important decisions regarding a future crisis, including:

  • Who will be the spokesperson addressing the public
  • Which platforms and mediums will be used to make announcements
  • Who will be informed and when they will be alerted
  • Developing internal codes for proceeding with external communication

Create Holding Statements and Key Messages

Any brand developing a crisis communication plan should consider their tone and messaging. What you say is just as important as how you say it—especially in the midst of a catastrophe.

That’s why it’s important to develop holding statements for future situations, says Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a firm with over 30 years of experience creating communication plans for the unexpected.

Bernstein explains how a holding statement can be used immediately after a crisis takes place. In the case of a natural disaster, for example, a company can have a number of go-to statements that align with their mission and support their audience. A holding statement prepares your company to respond immediately and buy time for crafting a more formal announcement, so they should be assessed often.

“The organization’s Crisis Communications Team should regularly review holding statements to determine if they require revision and/or whether statements for other scenarios should be developed,” Bernstein adds.

Next, consider how key messages will be shared across different platforms, and which platforms you’ll use. While social media can announce changes and generate discussion, email may be more appropriate for longer, detailed, more private statements reserved only for customers.

Crisis Communication Strategies in Action

It’s hard to anticipate a crisis, let alone how customers are going to feel about it. Fortunately, many small businesses and reputable brands have taken the lead in crafting thoughtful, informative communication plans during COVID-19. Here’s a look at three brands paving the way, plus what lessons you can apply to your own customer crisis response plan.

Use a Compassionate, Human-Centric Tone

Creating a communication plan for your customers is just as important as creating a plan for your employees. Still, the ways in which you communicate with these groups will have a different tone and approach.

To see what this looks like, consider the COVID-19 Facebook response from a popular restaurant in Denver.


This important announcement was approached with a serious, yet compassionate tone. The post outlined all of the information about what customers could expect, and how they can continue to support a restaurant they love while staying safe. The key elements of this tone include usage of words like “our hearts” “good vibes” and “stay safe.”

It’s not appropriate or relevant for every business to communicate in this specific way, but for Fire on the Mountain, it’s aligned with their brand tone and overall mission. Even small businesses in professional industries, like law or finance, can adopt a more compassionate tone of voice to communicate important information during crises.

Offer an Action Plan

In times of uncertainty, people rely on leaders, businesses, and brands they believe in to help guide the way. That’s why it’s helpful to offer an action plan that provides structure and motivation during times of crisis.

For example, Simon and Schuster sent an email during the peak COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. This email was a friendly, yet actionable reminder of how book lovers could support their local bookstores and put their money toward stimulating regional businesses.

In addition to offering ideas for websites and memberships, Simon and Schuster also provided detailed actions that its book lovers could take. These actions included pre-ordering books, calling local stores, buying ebooks independently, and donating to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BICF).

Help Customers Adapt to Changes

Major events that require customer communication usually come with changes. Since these shifts can come unexpectedly, they can create a sense of uncertainty (and sometimes even shock). The best way to mitigate these feelings is to prepare your customers with all of the updates and changes they can expect.

What things will shift? What new processes and operations will customers be expected to adopt? A helpful example comes from DeskPass, a membership collective of coworking spaces in cities across the United States. After the shelter in place order was passed, DeskPass issued an email regarding changes and updates.

This email is effective because it echoes the customer’s question. By leading with “what changes have occurred and what does it mean for members?”, DeskPass effectively targets the customers core concerns and offers detailed bullet points for improvement.

No matter what industry you’re in, a customer communication plan is key for managing fallout from a disaster. When you’re prepared to communicate with your customers effectively and calmly, it keeps them trusting you for years to come.


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