COVID-19 Resource | by Becki Hemming

Digital communication during a crisis

This resource is part of "Adapt to COVID-19".

Adapt to COVID-19 is a series of publications documenting our research, advice and ideas to accelerate collaboration and sharing amidst this global turning point. We believe that by learning together in these tough situations, we can deliver the customer experience necessary to tactically get through this period of uncertainty, whilst retaining your vision for the future.

Your workforce has felt a hit and many employees are already self-isolating. With your current systems and technology set up, working from home is far from seamless. Incoming customer service queries are at an unprecedented high and the team can’t handle the sheer volume of incoming calls, emails and chats.


So you shut down functions of the business that you can, you stop taking on new business and throw more people into the customer service effort to look after the customers you already have. More of your team pick up an FAQ sheet and joins the customer service effort. Quite simply, it’s chaos.



We don’t need to ask you to picture it, you’re probably living it in one way or another. And if you are, we’re here to help. There are no doubts left that COVID-19 is throwing uncertainty and difficulties across many industries. The message is clear; adapt to digital realities or lose customers. Digital experiences have never mattered more and we’re poised to guide you through this unprecedented period. It seems what many could use right now is some practical advice on managing customer expectations and queries at scale. So let’s crack on:


Manage expectations

Customers come to your digital communication channels with certain expectations in mind. In the current situation and sheer volume of incoming queries, it’s reasonable to assume you may not meet these expectations and the resulting experiences are going to be disappointing to your customers. Whilst you absolutely should prioritise these customer experiences in light of COVID-19, it may not be possible for you to meet the desired customer experience in the immediate term. But you can shift the dial to reset their expectation by communicating the more likely experience that they will have. And this should mean more than “we’re experiencing a high volume of queries right now” on your website or automatic email response.

  • Inform people of the best channel to get in touch, where you’re most suitably equipped to handle responses.
  • Give an estimate of how long it will take for someone to respond to an incoming query. Provide this with a healthy margin so you can over-deliver.
  • Tell people when you’re there and when you’re not. Valuable digital real estate like social media feeds and profile descriptions, email signatures and website banners can be used to keep people up to date with how best to contact you and when you’ll be back online.

Provide answers before people ask

We’re not telling you to predict the future here, but rather to arm you and your team with the best possible information to stem ever increasing queries. By sharing the knowledge you have amongst the customer services team, monitoring social media and monitoring the news, there are some ways you can ebb this flow.

  • Spot frequency in certain questions and share answers proactively before more people ask the same thing. This might be using email lists, social media posts or highlighted in website FAQs, as long as the answer is suitable for public sharing.
  • Keep up to date with high profile news updates and government advice and action. If a new development is announced that is likely to drive more questions from your customers, at least you’ll know before you’re snowed under with them. You don’t actually need to know what your response is to their questions yet. You can tell them that you too are aware of this latest COVID-19 development and you will hold a company meeting at a certain time the next day. Following this meeting, you’ll send out an update to answer your customer’s questions. Then invite them to ask if they have more after that. You could save your customer service team some serious time and headaches.

🖋 Write like a human

The words we choose at times like this can be crucial. None of your customers wants to be met with a rigid response or an unfeeling tone. We seek human connection and understanding right now and customer service experiences should be no different. Look to clarify not confuse with your language choice and always lead with empathy.

  • Use simple and inclusive words instead of formal ones. Your customers are people and they don’t utilise, they use. They don’t purchase, they buy. And they certainly don’t care for jargon when a word they’re more familiar with would do fine. Research has proven that more formal or complex word choices don’t make people think you’re clever, or trust you more.
  • Start your replies with what matters to the customer. You might be tempted to begin by explaining the process your organisation is taking. Or your values and how you’re standing by them in this uncertain time. But is that what your customers really want to know? Probably not. What they want to know is how it will affect them, so that is where you should start.
  • Try not to slip into the passive voice. It’s tempting to do this when we’re delivering bad news, but it sounds like we’re not taking responsibility or purposely being ambiguous. It’s important that your customers understand who is doing what and why. The passive statement “you aren’t eligible for a refund”, becomes “we can’t give you a refund for this because…”. It’s responsible and prompts fewer questions.

Question your motivation

Do you actually need to say anything at all? What are you telling your customers that they need to know? It's important to realise that by communicating to your customers about COVID-19, you're also amplifying the worry that surrounds it. So only get in touch if you have something to say that will inform people of something worth knowing. For example, a change in service and how this can mitigate some unease your customers may be feeling is handy to know. Alternatively, your customers don't need to see a regurgitation of the news through the lens of your brand values.

  • Only get in touch with your customers if you're answering a question or sharing something useful.
  • Steer clear of unnecessary news repetition and dramatic language that will fuel worry.

Only say sorry if it’s actually your fault

It’s a legal admission of guilt if you say sorry for something. This means it’s important to understand a situation completely before you apologise for it. It doesn’t mean you have to leave out sympathy for the customers you’re trying to serve. For example, you can say that you’re sorry to hear of someone’s situation and ask more about it. Much of the COVID-19 mania is of course not the fault of organisations and businesses. 


Let technology do some heavy lifting 🦾

Your customer service team can only do so much. There comes a point where it's far more efficient to turn to digital products to alleviate and aid the customer service effort. This is our area of expertise and we are poised to help.

Here ends our checklist of immediate things to keep in mind for digital communications in the COVID-19 crisis. We can guide both you and your customers through these digital experiences if you want to support. Whether it’s a chatbot to surface answers your customers are asking or a Writing for Digital training session for your customer services team, we're ready if you are.

Stay safe, stay sane and get in touch if you think we could help you.

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