The uncertainty during a crisis can be very stressful, especially when it comes to running a business.
Your customers' energies can become less focused on long-term business decisions and more about choices that need to be made right now: putting out fires, paying the bills, hunkering down to protect what they have.
Their decisions are made not from a powerful stance of success or significance, but from a position of instability or even worse - survival. Your customers start looking for answers, sometimes to problems they can't even identify yet.
They may need help; a fresh point of view. They may benefit from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in, or the advice of a counterpart who's navigated a similar situation.
Your customers want to know you’re thinking about them. They want your help in identifying and solving their problems, especially in times like these.
Communication is the key. It should be frequent and effective, practiced in a way that best serves your customer, using the channels they prefer.
Reach out as a consultant or advisor, as a friend would, not as a vendor or salesperson. Be honest, sincere and empathetic. Ask your customers how they're doing. Offer advice and learn of the other ways you can help.
Your customers may have something you can help with. In the past, they probably have identified problems that you’ve been able to solve. But this is a different time. They may have unusual, even more challenging problems now.
To be candid, I seldom have success when asking “how can I help you?” and even less with “may I help you?” Both of those questions suggest that I expect my client to do the legwork necessary to define a problem.
I’m much more productive when I present problems that similar businesses to theirs are having. If my clients are experiencing the same problems, we can then discuss the solutions others have implemented. And I get much more client buy-in when I can provide proof that those solutions worked.
Depending on the roles of the people you communicate with, their perception of you as an expert, and the level of trust they have in you, you’ll either want to focus on the problems and solutions associated with running their businesses, or those associated with growing their businesses. The lower your contacts are on their company’s organizational chart, the more they’ll be interested in discussing issues related to working “in” the business. The higher up the chart, the more they’ll want to focus on topics related to working “on” the business.
The point: be prepared to discuss problems and solutions when calling customers, especially in times of crisis when they're stressed and short on time. Identify potential problems, determine possible solutions, and be ready to provide proof that the solutions work. At the very least that should be a starting point. That way your customers know you’re prepared and that you won’t waste their time.
Don’t leave it up to your customer to do your job for you.