Communication During a Crisis
Keep Things Sincere, Empathetic & Transparent
May 2, 2020
Managing Expectations with Your Staff and Customers
A crisis, like the current COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent economic downturn, reminds us of the importance of a lot of things we often take for granted. As a business owner, clear communication is near the top of that list. However, communication also happens to be one of the first things that can fall apart during a crisis. For example, there was a lot of confusion early in our current crisis as businesses struggled to try to figure out if they were considered essential or not.
Luckily for storage operators, you were considered essential in nearly every state that was under a lockdown order. In states that didn’t list storage as essential, they didn’t list them as non-essential either. In short, storage operators have largely remained open across the United States.
With that hurdle cleared, a new challenge presented itself. How do you continue to successfully operate your business through this environment? One major driver to success is clear communication as it can add calm and clarity to any crisis. There are two sides to communication, internal communications, and external communications. In other words, it is important to differentiate how you communicate with your staff and how you do with your customers.
Based on our own experience and what we’ve heard from some of our customers, we’ll cover some important aspects to making sure your communication is clear and consistent.
First and foremost, you need to ensure you’re clearly communicating with your staff. This is a crisis that’s hitting people on multiple fronts. Not only are they concerned about their health, they’re also concerned about their economic security. Basically, they want to know if they still have a job or not.
Be Up Front
Regardless of whether you’re able to retain them or you’re forced to furlough them, they need to know as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly. And clear communication around this subject is paramount to them being able to do so.
A great example of this came from a guest on our webinar last week, John Manes, CEO of Pinnacle Storage Properties. One of the first things he did as their region fell under lockdown orders was to let every one of his employees know that, no matter what, they would still have a job with the company and continue to receive their paycheck. He said this resulted in an almost immediate clearing of the air with his team as it was one less thing to worry about during this crisis.
Luckily, we’ve yet to hear of any serious staff reductions across the self-storage industry. This is in large part due to the fact that, for now, business has hummed at a steady pace for many operators.
Have an Open Dialogue
Knowing that this crisis is hurting people on multiple fronts, communication can play a critical role in operators’ understanding exactly how their staff feels during this time and if there’s anything they can do to help.
Our other webinar guest from last week, Tim Springer, President of Move It Storage, said that they held a town hall-style Q&A for all of their employees. This did a lot to clear the air between him and his staff as it gave everyone a much clearer picture of everything the employees were concerned about and it received a lot of positive feedback. If your team is confident regarding job security and the health and wellbeing of themselves and their family, they’ll remain as productive as they were before the crisis, if not more so.
Lay It All Out
The next crucial area communications play a role in is setting clear expectations for your staff as you transition to working during these nationwide lockdown orders. Whether it’s laying out guidelines from anyone working from home or putting in place guidance for anyone still working on the property. Are you mandating limited contact with customers? If so, make it clear to your staff and properly inform them of what that protocol looks like in practice.
At the end of the day, timeliness and transparency should reign supreme in your internal communications. Regardless of good news or bad news, if you inform your people as soon as something changes, and from a palace of honesty and sincerity, they’ll be far more likely to understand and appreciate your leadership. Which can go a long way toward helping with retention and earning positive reviews that could lead to more customers renting from you.
You’ve nailed your internal communications, putting your staff at ease while ensuring everyone knows the game plan. The next key to success is your external communications, or, how you’re talking to your customers. After all, if you’re open for business then you need to continue to convert new customers. Plus, you’ll need to continue to inform existing customers of any changes you’ve enacted that may affect them, like not allowing personal interaction with staff when at your facility.
Get the Word Out
First things first. If you’re still open for business, and most of you are, then you need to let people know. That confusion we mentioned earlier, from all of the different orders and regulations, is common with consumers. A lot of people simply aren’t aware of which companies are open or closed. So, let them know you’re open via signs, emails, your website, and any other communications
Both John and Tim echoed this sentiment and discussed a few things they’re doing to communicate to potential customers that they’re open such as updating signage on their facility and updating their websites. Tim specifically called out web traffic remaining consistent during this time.
Explain Policy Changes
Speaking of web traffic, if your facility has the automation in place to offer online move-ins, it’s vital that you’re letting consumers know that. Especially if you’re only letting new customers move in through that process. An interesting trend we’re starting to notice is that consumers are starting to be more inclined to rent from a facility that’s only offering online move-ins versus still allowing face-to-face transactions.
John, from Pinnacle Storage Properties, has heard from operators that are still relying on face-to-face business that they’re seeing a decline in business while operators with online move-in capabilities are seeing an increase. At this point, this is all anecdotal as there’s no hard data to put to these trends. But there’s growing sentiment across multiple industries, that consumers will prefer less human interaction even after the lockdown orders have been lifted.
Provide Service With a Smile, Even Online
If you’ve shifted your business to only offer online move-ins, you need to let consumers know as it’s still possible to offer an excellent tenant experience during this crisis without the personal touch of face-to-face business that you’re used to. Especially when you position your shift as a necessary step to keeping them and your staff safe during this uncertain time. Again, relying on facility signage, your website and any online marketing or CRM capabilities you have to do so. More than that, you should clearly explain how that process works so there are fewer hiccups when new customers sign a lease and move in.
For existing customers, it’s important that you’re communicating the good news and bad news effectively, just as you would with your staff. If you’re increasing rent, needing to collect delinquent rent, or even evict a tenant, it’s important you continue to communicate as you would pre-crisis. Also, as we’ve heard some operators have if you’re offering any kind of rent relief for those affected by this outbreak, or pressing pause on evictions and auctions (the vast majority of the industry is), it’s important that you let your customers know. Or make sure your staff is responsive to any requests like that may come in, whether or not you’re offering relief.
In the end, you shouldn’t treat your external communications much differently than you did before. Sure, you may have a bit more to communicate now but so long as you strive to provide exceptional customer service and a great tenant experience, you should continue to enjoy the success that comes with satisfied customers.
Communicate Often, Communicate Honestly
Now, you don’t need us to tell you how important a communications plan is. But in times of crisis, even the best-laid plans can fall apart. And when there’s as much confusion in the marketplace as there is with this current crisis, it’s crucial that you and your staff are sticking to your communications plan, internally and externally.
Timeliness and transparency are vital to any comms plan. Not just during a crisis, but at all times. Good news. Bad news. Any news. When something changes that affects your staff or customers, the best practice is to let them know as soon as you can. Make sure your communication is sincere, empathic, and clearly understood and you are sure to achieve results.