As the impact of Coronavirus continues to deepen, Australians are becoming increasingly anxious and uncertain – about their families; the economy; how the companies they do business with are responding, and how that will affect them. They may be wondering whether jobs in progress can be completed, how meetings will be conducted, whether they’re entitled to refunds … the list goes on.

It’s a difficult time for most businesses and many will be tempted to slow their marketing efforts and hunker down for a while. However, current consumer uncertainties actually present new opportunities for smart businesses to build customer loyalty and brand positivity.

How? By being proactive and pre-emptive in your handling of these unprecedented events; by anticipating what your customers’ concerns are likely to be; working to address those concerns; delivering positive solutions; and prioritising communication. Prompt actioning and clear positive messaging and action will go a long way towards maintaining a strong customer base.

A recent email sent out by the Hilton hotel chain is a fantastic example of this approach in action. This email was sent weeks before we started seeing more reactive emails from other companies which was a strong move. The email clearly outlined several new measures implemented by the hotel to protect its customers, including new cleaning and sanitation procedures, flexible bookings policy, and full refunds for cancellations.

By taking fast action and directly tackling their customers’ primary concerns and stressors (i.e. health/safety and money), Hilton achieved the following:

  • Created a positive customer experience which will result in customer retention. For those customers who were worried about losing money, Hilton has taken the first step to allay their fears, clearly explaining how the situation will be handled and that protocols and processes for refunds are now in place. By pre-emptively dealing with these issues with such transparency, they’ve turned a potentially bad or troublesome experience for their customers into a positive one.
  • Short-term pain for long-term gain: while rolling out a refund policy will inevitably impact the hotel’s bottom line in the short term, it’s a smart long-term strategy. Any customers they lose now due to unavoidable circumstances will eventually return, because they have been reassured that Hilton is going to look after them. If Hilton didn’t do this, and people lost their money customers would have a negative impression so that would negatively impact the Hilton brand. They have effectively leveraged this opportunity to give themselves positive branding and create stickiness with their customers.
  • Drive positive word-of-mouth: by striking early, Hilton were in a powerful position having alleviated their customers concerns before customers had time to stress about them and positioned their brand as being customer centric. By being empathetic to customers’ concerns and actively seeking to reassure them before issues arise, Hilton have instantly created a strong base of very happy customers. They’re going to tell people about their great experience and become valuable brand advocates for Hilton.

While the COVID-19 crisis is undoubtedly creating a multitude of challenges for businesses of all sizes, the opportunity to build your brand and customer loyalty should not be overlooked. Rather than reacting to changing circumstances, focusing on disaster recovery, or simply trying to ride it out, strategic companies will be thinking ahead, determining ways to deliver their services digitally or find new opportunities, anticipating their customers’ anxieties and frustrations, and using that to inform pre-emptive, proactive marketing and communication strategies.