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Easing Back To Normal: How To Use CRM To Get It Right

by Ruth DeFeo

The uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis is moving into its next phase this week as governments, people and businesses take the tentative first steps to get daily life and business running again.

Here in Atlanta, leaders of our state are, rightly or wrongly, being more assertive in getting back to business. Whether here or in other parts of the country, the questions everyone has are very real. Is it too early? Will we trigger another wave of the virus and another round of quarantines?

Companies are facing the same realities. How do they get their businesses generating revenue again while keeping their people and customers safe? How do they transition back with empathy and grace?

As brands re-introduce themselves to customers who will be leaving the safety of their homes and into old-new routines, brands have a chance to get it right or get in wrong. Here’s how to get it right.

1.Build on the renewed value of CRM.

CRM programs have become the essential conduit between customers and brands during this crisis by providing vital information for essential services like grocery, food and delivery. At the same time, customers received dozens of emails, SMS and push messages from “non-essential” brands explaining what they were doing to ensure safety. In their rush to send these “Looking out for you” messages, many brands decided to include in their sends customers who stopped engaging long ago, and unintentionally triggering a consumer “unsubscribe apocalypse” for content deemed irrelevant or messages that raised anxiety instead of their original intent to calm.

Moving ahead, hit the reset button on your CRM. Use your newly cleaned database to deliver valuable content. Think in terms of the moment, conversations and relevant personalization.

2. Recognize your customers and your brand have changed.

Even though it’s only been a few months, the relationship between your customers and brand will be different as you collectively transition back. That relationship may be stronger, strained or just strange. How you take the first steps to ease customers back will help you reframe and adjust the conversations. 

  • Create a transition plan. Build an on-ramp plan before you get back into the cadence and day-to-day of your former program. In fact, be ready to throw out your old playbook if consumers are not responding. Consider adopting a new approach or even a new technology that is more personal and capable of fine-tuning.
  • Start with your metrics. What are people clicking on now vs. January 2020 or last April? Are they spending more or less time on your site? Are you seeing signals of pent up demand or continued caution because of economic uncertainty? Listen to what your consumers are telling you.
  • Adjust, adjust, adjust. Lean in to customers who are starting to respond but consider easing back with once-regular customers who are clearly less engaged at this moment.

3. Think locally. Act agilely.

We are helping clients develop brand-level strategies with the flexibility for local deployment as markets and industries come back. This is particularly relevant for brands where some foot traffic is returning or the new ability to offer curbside pick-up if their category had been previously listed as non-essential. 

National brands with big e-commerce capabilities should also monitor market-level responses and respond accordingly. Our sense is that for some people, due to health concerns or economic strains, it’s just too soon. Respect that their attention is on more important matters.

4. Know what resonates. 

The big questions: Will what has resonated with customers in the past carry on as your brand transitions back? If there is change, how big is it? Start by looking at where people are clicking within the emails. Try a new channel: test a push message instead of email to see if it may be more effective. Let your campaign metrics show you what your customers want to engage with.

Now is the time to try greater personalization and segmentation instead of just blasting out WE’RE OPEN AGAIN or ON SALE! messaging to your entire database. Use the profiles and preferences you’ve built out on your customers in the past. Even if you don’t have a robust database, try something as simple as a first name in a subject line. Personalizing and customizing your content can help you stand out more than ever before.

5. Empathize.

Before restarting your programs, take a big step back and pause. Imagine the people behind each segment. They may have lost jobs or loved ones. Their market may still have months to go before starting to reopen. Their “normal” may be different and they may not be as receptive to the constant BUY NOW messaging you’ve been used to sending. 

Recognize that many of your customers are likely to remain financially cautious at a level at or above the recession. Others may have shifted their purchasing to brands and services that came through for them during the crisis. Use empathy as your guide.

6. Be honest. 

It’s what we should have been doing all along. Some of us have been better at this. Others have to admit that we’ve been driven by the numbers game and have alienated customers who are in a different state of mind now.

Be honest with yourself. Would YOU want to get yet another message about how a brand is cleaning its store? Likely not. Customers don’t want it either (which leads to unsubscribes). What they do want is honesty. No one knows what tomorrow looks like, and that’s okay. Show customers you’re in it with them and you’re helping in your communities where you can. That’s the honesty people are looking for.

Be honest with how you want to re-engage with your customers. Perhaps you have proven invaluable to a customer base who viewed you neutrally before. Build on that. If past tactics have been persistent and blunt, take a bold move and shift your tone. What value and values do you provide as we move into these new times?

What you do first will last.

This isn’t a time to just sell. Moving forward, people will interact with your brand differently. Maybe people are reading your blog more because they’re looking for more long-form content. Maybe they want to look at your Instagram to escape. Directing people to these other channels that may have just been afterthoughts before can pay dividends now and drive deeper engagement.

To learn more about how we are modernizing CRM for brands, shoot me a note. ruth.defeo@t-3.com

Ruth DeFeo