Best Practices for Comms During Crisis

Best Practices

Retail Communications
April 15, 2020
Zipline Staff Contribution

Best Practices for Comms During Crisis

When we were raising a glass to welcome 2020, did anyone think that March would bring a global crisis that would close all but the most essential businesses? Every retailer has a disaster plan but unfortunately no one could imagine that they would need to develop a plan to cover a global pandemic. 

The international crisis that continues to unfold each day is shining a spotlight on the importance of retail store communication. If companies can easily and efficiently convey information to their employees, wherever they are, they can ensure everyone understands new safety policies and procedures and is able to execute on HQ directives and communicate a single message to customers. 

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing stories about how specific companies are managing their communications and what they are learning in the process. While you can’t be ready for a hurricane when it’s bearing down on you, you can be ready for the next storm. Here are four best practices for communication success:

Establish a nerve center

In a retail report published by McKinsey, the company advises, “While CEOs should stay abreast of how the situation evolves, there is a clear set of actions—ideally, coordinated by a COVID-19 nerve center—that companies should implement now, without hesitation.

McKinsey explains the nerve center as “an efficient means of coordinating an organization’s active response to a major crisis. It is endowed with enterprise-wide authority and enables leaders and experts to test approaches quickly, preserve and deepen the most effective solutions, and move on ahead of the changing environment.” 

There are many people and skills that are needed to navigate a situation like COVID-19. These folks are undoubtedly already engaged in your own response. You need insight from the field about local regulations and customer sentiment. You need someone that understands your supply chain to advise on product availability. You need someone who can help set health guidelines for front-line employees and ensure compliance. You need HR to guide your people practices. And, most importantly, you need a communication leader who can package the information and communicate effectively across the organization, down to the associate level, so everyone is working from the same ‘bible’ and knows their priorities in the new normal.

Lead with empathy

One thing that we have all learned during this crisis is that everybody is suffering in their own way. We worry about the health of our friends and families. We worry about how our kids will adapt to this new world. We worry about the economy. And, of course, we worry about our health and the safety of our jobs. As a result, it has never been more important to lead with empathy and compassion and let your team know that you are aware of the burden that everyone is carrying and you appreciate their support while everyone weathers the storm together.

The CEO of Great Place to Work, a global people analytics and consulting firm, said of this period, “It’s crucial now to demonstrate our shared humanity, and to create a sense of emotional and psychological safety.” He also advised that leaders be ‘open about challenges (including personal ones); and, when possible, make empathetic offers of assistance or time off to support employees’ well-being.

Get a pulse on sentiment

During stressful times when things are changing daily, employees want to share their feelings and know that headquarters is listening. Even if you think it’s not a good time to ask for feedback, leading retailers collect employee feedback at all times, not just the good times. 

Brands should ask what store employees need to continue to work effectively, what information they’re lacking and how you can communicate with them more effectively. Store associates and managers are also your best resource for understanding local guidelines and customer sentiment so ask them what they’re seeing and what the company can be doing better to drive loyalty.

Communicate regularly with employees at all levels of the organization

During a crisis, there is no such thing as over-communicating. Employees, especially those in the field, are craving leadership and direction, not just from the CEO, but also from their managers. Employees want context as well as personal direction. They want to know why they’re being asked to work differently and how their work impacts the company’s goals. At times like these they also want to know what safety precautions are being taken to protect store associates and customers and what they can do to help.

Companies that have already standardized their communication on a single platform will be in the best position to communicate effectively because all comms will be consolidated in one place, with the most critical information easy to discern. A crisis is not the time you want employees scrambling to finally find and read your communications.

If you want to learn more about how Zipline can help establish a nerve center for communication, please reach out. We would love to chat.