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Empathy and Communication in the Time of Coronavirus: What Organizations Can Learn

3 minute read
Janelle Estes avatar
Showing empathy during a crisis is simply the right thing for companies to do — that should be obvious.

Coronavirus is disrupting everything from travel and tourism to large events and schools. It has also had a significant impact on companies and their revenue. The International Air Transport Association has projected the airline industry will suffer a $113 billion loss as a result of precautions to avoid the virus’s spread. At the same time, brands like Clorox, Netflix and Campbell have seen sales spike

Beyond its effect on business and operations, what lessons can coronavirus teach companies about how they share information and interact with their consumers, both today and in the future? 

It’s a vital question, as customers may judge companies on how they handle the emergency for years to come. Two important themes rise to the top: the criticality of empathy and clear communication. 

Customer Empathy Is Paramount

Showing empathy during a crisis is simply the right thing for companies to do. That should be obvious. However, businesses should make sure they’re going the extra mile to anticipate customers’ circumstances, worries and questions. 

“We truly care about our customers” can’t just be a mantra right now, it needs to shine through in absolutely everything a company does during this emergency.

For example, several major airlines have decided to waive cancellation or change fees, regardless of when tickets were purchased. Airbnb has also made an effort to reward hosts who are more flexible or generous with refunds during this time. Software companies such as Microsoft, Zoom and Google have offered free licenses to public schools and education customers so classes can remain connected.

Such moves show these companies are able to truly put themselves in customers’ shoes and make a tough time easier. While, again, this is simply the right thing to do, an ancillary effect will be long-lasting customer loyalty. Who forgets an organization that is really there for them when they need them most?

Related Article: Marketing in a Time of Crisis

Learning Opportunities

Clear Communication Is Critical

Coronavirus has raised the stakes on the importance of communicating effectively with consumers. Organizations must engage in proactive, clear, regular communications that put customers’ minds at ease.

This is uniquely true for official sources of health information such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It seems they could be doing a better job though. Research by UserTesting found that only 54% of readers of the WHO’s documentation on coronavirus rated the information as “easy to understand.” Furthermore, only 58% reported that they felt confident they understood the symptoms of coronavirus.

Data pulled from the CDC showed similar lack of clarity and comprehension. Only 52% of readers noted they were confident they understood the information on what coronavirus is, and just 54% said it was easy to find information on how the virus spreads.

Since the WHO and CDC are considered go-to resources for details on coronavirus and other serious public health issues, those organizations might want to take another look at how they’re presenting information and make sure it meets the standards that the current crisis demands. This includes making information easy to find and easy to comprehend — which is extremely important in times of stress and uncertainty.

Coronavirus — all its enormous health, economic, and political ramifications aside — is also a defining moment for how brands and organizations interact with their customers and constituents.

Related Article: How CMOs Are Leading Through the COVID-19 Crisis

About the author

Janelle Estes

Janelle Estes is chief insights officer at UserTesting, a human insights platform, and the co-author with CEO Andy MacMillan of User Tested: How the World’s Top Companies Use Human Insight to Create Great Experiences. She is also co-host of the Human Insight Podcast.