Communicating with your customers during COVID-19

The communications required to support a crisis are best managed if split into three stages:

  1. Crisis phase
  2. Early recovery
  3. Recovery

This guide provides the elements you need to consider and address for the first of these stages: Crisis phase.

Ensure you have the latest advice

Our Business Advice Hub signposts tourism businesses to the most up to date Government advice. Ensure that your communications reflect the advice provided.

If you are a member of a local DMO (Destination Management Organisation), also stay in touch with them to understand what information they have available for local tourism businesses - make you sure you are signed up to any mailing lists to ensure you are receiving the latest updates. Please be aware the ability to respond at this time may vary between DMOs, depending on resource.

You can also sign up to the VisitBritain/VisitEngland enewsletter for all the latest industry updates.

What are your customers thinking?

The Government has announced that individuals should stop all unnecessary travel, stay at home and only go outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home).

Customers will be unsure what this means for their future travel plans. Understanding what your customers are thinking will help you communicate with them more efficiently.

Concerns can be both immediate and longer term:

  • Will I be able to cancel my booking?
  • How long will the travel restrictions last for?
  • Can I postpone my booking?
  • I was going to book for later in the year. Can I still do so?
  • Will I be able to get a refund if I need to cancel nearer the time or if travel restrictions are still in force?

What should you say?

Base your messages and responses around the guidance provided by the Government and on the VisitEngland Business Advice Hub, but tailor them to your business and customers.

We advise that you develop a factual statement about the situation. Your message might include:

  • How long you might be closed (if for the foreseeable future, then state that)
  • Your cancellation policy
  • Opportunities to postpone visits and rearrange at a future time
  • Opportunities to stay in touch with updates from your business (e.g. social channels)

If you are providing updates on your website, keep them in the same place and make them easy to find.  Make sure the links are simple (and that they work) and keep the information up to date.

It is probably better to provide your customers with too much, rather than too little, information - but make sure that you are getting your own information from a reliable source (e.g. Government and Public Health England). As this is a fast-moving situation, signpost to official information.

Using a ‘Question and Answer’ format is an easy way to order the information that you are providing to customers.

How should you say it?

Be honest and transparent: Customers expect an honest appraisal of the situation. Know the facts – be aware of the latest information and never attempt to bluff.

If you don’t know what the current situation is, let your customers know this and get back to them with the facts from a reliable source.

Be clear: Use everyday language and be clear and concise.  Don’t assume that other people have the same level of knowledge about the situation or your business/destination that you have.

Be reassuring: You may feel frustrated by the situation, but your priority now is to communicate a clear message externally.  Sharing your frustrations with your customers is not going to reassure them that they will have a positive experience when they visit you.

In all your communications it is important to stay on message, stay focused and stay authentic.

Contact your customers

The majority of customers/potential customers will be both sympathetic and understanding of your situation, as long as you maintain a dialogue. Remember that everyone across the country, and internationally, has been affected by COVID-19, on a personal and professional level.

Inform customers immediately of any issues, closures or restrictions and also as soon as normal service is resumed.  Handled sensitively, this is an opportunity to develop goodwill for your business and enhance your relationship with customers. This is where a personal approach can make all the difference.

Contact any customers (whether individuals or group operators) who have made a booking with you to let them know the facts; follow this up with a phone call if possible. 

Can you offer flexibility?

Customers are less likely to cancel if there is flexibility on rebooking to a later date. Try to provide the option to defer to later in the year, or into 2021. We would suggest encouraging customers to “Postpone don’t cancel” wherever possible.You may wish to offer an incentive to encourage customers to rebook rather than cancel.

If a customer does wish to cancel, you may wish to ask them to consider accepting their refund as gift vouchers and waiving cancellation charges for cancelled bookings during this time. For future bookings, consider allowing last minute cancellations for bookings made between certain dates, to reassure people that they can book, but change plans as required. 

The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has issued guidance on refunds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If your customers wish to re-book for later in the season, be as accommodating as possible. Being flexible now is likely to engender customer loyalty and bring in further business in the future.
Keep your website and social channels up to date, and use them to remind current customers, and potential customers, of all the reasons to visit in the future.