This is How to Manage Customer Expectations in Uncertain Times

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If your brand is in the retail or restaurant space, you’ve been dealing with a double-whammy recently: supply chain issues plus a labor shortage. 

And among the many issues this is causing for businesses across these industries—and there are plenty—is a disconnect between operations and marketing. The operations team, which is tasked with fulfilling the promotions that marketing has publicized, may well be unable to fulfill those promotions.

This results in angry or dissatisfied customers or clients, the need to backtrack, and possibly the need to make costly substitutions or exchanges for the item or service a customer was promised. 

In the B2B realm, these issues can be quite serious—if a client has spent six months researching and choosing a vendor, the addition of another two or three months of unexpected wait time can sink a deal.

Now thankfully, the supply chain problems will eventually clear up, and the labor shortage likely will, as well. These problems won’t be around forever. But they do bring up some strategic adaptations that brands need to make in order to better weather uncertain times in the future—even if they’re nowhere near as uncertain as those we’ve been living in for the past two years. 

Let’s look into how brands can harness their messaging to help divert customer upset and deal more proactively with uncertainty. 

How can brand messaging help improve customer experience? 

Let’s consider this real-life example, which came to us from a colleague: 

Eighty percent of a location’s staff is out sick—a situation that didn’t even merit consideration before the pandemic. Now, it’s simply impossible to provide the service, products, or experiences that the brand has promised to its customers (often, promised days or weeks earlier). 

In order to address the issue and head off any further customer dissatisfaction, the marketing team has to pivot their messaging from what they do have to what they don’t. That can quickly erode brand equity. 

The answer to this is proactive messaging. 

Proactive messaging looks like this: 

  • Posting on social media to let customers know a shipment has been delayed, which could delay their orders
  • Creating pop-ups or banners on your website letting customers know you’ll be dealing with staffing shortages for the next couple of weeks
  • Letting customers know ahead of time which products will be substituted if the ones they’ve ordered aren’t available 

After all, operations, marketing, and customer service teams have always incorporated contingency plans—”if we’re out of X, we’ll offer Y”—into their internal messaging and behind-the-scenes planning. 

The change, now, is that those plans need to be incorporated into a brand’s external messaging as well. 

Related post: Social Media Must-Haves: Proactive and Reactive Social Strategies

Transparency is key

Letting the customer see behind the curtain into the challenges your brand is dealing with can be challenging for brand leadership to accept, especially if they haven’t completely accepted just how critical authenticity is for consumers and clients today. 

Bringing potential problems into the light can make it feel like you’re asking customers to focus on what could go wrong. Do you really want to encourage customers to think about how you might not be able to deliver what you promised? 

Here’s the truth: it’s better for customers to know beforehand that there’s a chance things may not go as planned. If things do change, they’re prepared—if not, they’re pleasantly surprised. 

Related reading: COVID Has Made Communications More Important Than Ever for B2Bs: Here’s What Every Comms and Marketing Leader Needs to Know

In addition, being transparent about the supply chain and labor issues you’re dealing with (or any issues that are impacting service, whatever they may be) is vital in building customer trust long-term. 

And customers who have that trusting relationship with your brand will be far more willing to hear how you’ve adapted and prepared for inevitable disruptions. 

Adapt, adapt, adapt

Don’t just communicate that you’re adaptable—take the steps to actually adapt, too. 

One easy way to start this is simply to think ahead and plan for problems. If there’s an experience or product that hinges on having a fully-staffed location or getting in a product that’s been back-ordered for months, it’s probably time to get creative and think of another way to get customers excited. 

In addition, it’s important to establish a strategy for building positive brand equity on an ongoing basis. This is where PR comes in. Show the human side of your brand through quality PR placements. 

A strong PR campaign can help prevent further damage from occurring and boost your reputation while also mitigating any damage that may have already built up.

Related post: Why You Need Digital PR

Establish more cross-departmental collaboration

The two departments that are generally the most concerned with these issues are marketing and operations—incidentally, departments that typically have a distant relationship. 

After all, operations’ wheelhouse is cutting costs and increasing efficiencies; marketing’s has more to do with revenue and customer experience. 

While brands may have gotten along all right in the past without much cooperation between operations and marketing teams, that model doesn’t work any longer. 

So how do marketers get a better understanding of what’s happening on the operations side? 

A good place to start is self-education—research what’s happening in your industry and how supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages are impacting it. 

Then, schedule some time to talk with your brand’s operations staff—not just the COO, but the staffers who are on the ground dealing with the delays and disruptions. 

If you can do this, you’ll be able to make more informed marketing decisions that are not only more proactive and prepared but also less likely to result in disruptions or unavailable offers. 

As hard as it can be to let customers know you may not have the product you promised them, it’s absolutely essential to set realistic customer expectations. There’s no success in pretending that things haven’t changed dramatically in the past two years. Brands have changed, and customers have too. They’re demanding more transparency and honesty, but they’re also more willing to empathize with brands that are struggling with issues outside their control. 

Related post: Here’s Why Consumers Might Not Trust You, and What You Can Do About It

By building stronger cross-departmental partnerships, prioritizing proactive messaging, and making transparency a non-negotiable, brands will stand a much better chance of keeping customers and bringing in new ones. If you don’t know where to start, give us a call.

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