With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the lives of millions all over the world, there’s never been a more important time to dig deep and empathize with your customers, clients, employees, and communities to help meet their needs. Empathy isn’t just an altruistic bullet point on a company mission statement — it’s a test of character. After all, a business, at its core, is just a team of people organized to serve other people.
Here are some tips for exercising your empathy muscle no matter what your work situation.
1. Show Gratitude
The easiest way to show empathy is to tell people how much you appreciate them. Thank your employees or coworkers for continuing to stay productive and dedicated to company goals. Thank your managers for leading. Thank your customers for their support. Thank healthcare workers and other public servants for taking care of everyone (see these examples from Southwest Airlines and Lowe’s).
You can do this one-one-one with employees and coworkers through text, email, or Slack (or a similar program). For everyone else, take to social media. Post how grateful you are to your loyal customers or clients on Instagram or Facebook. Just be aware that mass emails are becoming tiresome to most people at this stage of the pandemic. Short, sweet, and empathetic messages on social media are the way to go right now.
Showing appreciation costs you nothing, but it can mean the world to someone else. Most of the time, when folks are upset, they just want to be listened to. Snapchat launched its “Here for You” feature to help people find resources for dealing with mental health issues. Adweek created space for professionals to share their stories online. If nothing else, be sure your customer service messaging is tactful and empathic.
2. Take Care of Your Employees and Coworkers
Set aside some time to regularly check in with each of your team members — ask how they’re feeling, who they’re sharing their space with, how their home office setup is working, and what resources they have (or need). If you can help solve a problem, great, but first seek to understand what people are going through. If you’re in a leadership position, offering extra paid leave, tools and software reimbursement, or more flexible meeting and work scheduling can go a long way toward making your employees feel valued and appreciated.
At minimum, practice exercising a little patience. Forgive the late report, the grammatical error, or the tantrum-throwing toddler in the background of a conference call. Working from home is messy! Better to ask how you can help than to criticize small inconveniences. If you want extra points, offer to get employees some home-office snacks or drinks, or even a wireless mouse, to give some perks they would expect at the office.
3. Take Care of Your Customers
Find ways to help your customers deal with the additional stress of living in quarantine with simple operational changes. Target and other grocery chains have adjusted their operating hours to allow vulnerable customers to get the groceries they need while minimizing public exposure, while simultaneously protecting their own staff. Airlines like JetBlue and Southwest are offering no change or cancellation fees to make travel plans more flexible.
Maybe your product, service, or experience was already stagnant before the pandemic hit. Take some time to experiment with alternative offerings that aren’t constrained by the bottom line. With its physical gyms closed, Planet Fitness began offering free at-home “Work-Ins” to keep people active. If you’re out of ideas, ask your customers!
4. Be Sensitive in Your External Communications
A sure-fire way to lose customer loyalty is to be tone-deaf in advertising (remember this Pepsi ad?). While it might be hard to accept that your carefully crafted advertising campaign is showing hugging, handshaking, or other common behavior that’s currently discouraged, it’s better to adjust your campaign or cancel parts of it altogether in favor of messaging that reflects the current state of affairs. Hotels.com pulled advertisements showing Captain Obvious in egregious violation of social distancing in favor of ads showing the same character using an ample amount of hand sanitizer before tucking into a bowl of popcorn.
When sending out marketing emails, beware of hyperbole and tone. The sunglasses you’re selling may be cool, but they’re not “to die for.” This is the time to let conversion take a backseat to conversation and authentic language. If you’re not sure how to start, say that you’re not sure what to say! You need to be genuine right now. Don’t play a hero if you’re not one. When in doubt, it’s better to say nothing than to turn off a loyal customer.
5. Take Care of the Public Good
If your employees and customers are taken care of, pay it forward by finding ways to help healthcare workers and other public servants in the community. Dominos donated 10 million slices of pizza and Cliff Bar donated over 3 million bars to keep health care workers fed. Other companies are making production shifts to produce badly needed goods in short supply. Jameson Whiskey, Absolut Vodka, Pernod, and Bacardi are just a few of the distilleries switching to producing hand sanitizer, while Ford and Airbus have adapted their vehicle production lines to start producing ventilators. Hilton partnered with American Express to offer free hotel rooms to emergency healthcare workers.
For businesses that can’t help directly, cash can make things happen, too. McDonald’s donated 1 million masks to healthcare workers in Illinois. Twitter mogul Jack Dorsey and Apple’s Tim Cook have contributed millions of dollars earmarked for COVID-19 aid.
Promoting your efforts, especially via PSAs, is a great way to normalize behaviors — like wearing masks in public — that many Americans are having trouble adjusting to.
Empathize with your company, your customers, and the world at large, and use this crisis as an opportunity to realign your company with its deepest values.
No matter how your content and marketing plan for 2020 started, Artisan can help you find the right people to transition your strategy and weather the storm. Reach out to our team to find skilled (remote) freelancers.