Communicating With Customers During COVID-19
As retail brands are forced to close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are understandably concerned about the impact this is going to have on their business. In times like this, it’s still important, or maybe more important than ever, to keep the lines of communication open with customers. Despite retail locations shutting down left, right, and center, retailers need to be creative in maintaining relationships with their customer base, positioning themselves as part of their communities and offering help in any way they can. Today, we’re speaking to Scott McArthur of Statflo – a brand dedicated to helping brands communicate directly with their customers – about how to weather this storm.
Melinda: As retail brands are forced to close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, many are understandably concerned about the impact this is going to have on their business. In times like this, it’s still important, or maybe more important than ever, to keep the lines of communication open with customers. Despite retail locations shutting down left, right, and center, retailers need to be creative in maintaining relationships with their customer base, positioning themselves as part of their communities and offering help in any way they can.
Today, we’re speaking to Scott McArthur of Statflo – a brand dedicated to helping brands communicate directly with their customers – about how to weather this storm. Scott, welcome, and thank you for being with us remotely today. Can you tell us where you’re speaking to us from?
Scott: Thanks. I’m sitting in my sunroom in my house in overcast Toronto today.
Melinda: Can you start us off by telling us a little bit about your background in the world of retail?
Scott: I’ve been in telco for the last 15 years in a variety of roles. I worked at one of Canada’s largest carriers for about 10 years before joining Statflo. So, all in all, it’s been about 15 years. I was at Telus, worked in consumer retail and we actually built this whole cool thing around it, small business retail and just general dealer distribution across Telus. But one of the cooler things I worked on while I was at Telus, was actually helping launch the wireless category within Walmart Canada. So, pretty neat. Currently, I’m running all things revenue for Statflo as chief revenue officer, really, where we empower thousands of our retail locations focused on one-to-one messaging to drive engagement and build solid customer relationships.
Melinda: And by one-to-one messaging, can you just clarify what you mean by that so our listeners who might not get that right off the bat can understand what you’re talking about?
Scott: Yeah. So, I think we’ve really zeroed in on this whole concept of one-to-one. And it’s really meant to be about having a back-and-forth conversation with your customer via messaging. So, instead of having, you know, that blast message or email that all of us have gotten over the last couple of weeks, we’re really focused on enabling our customers’ front lines to have really that personal conversation with the customer, true conversation, just not a blast out with zero response from the customer.
Melinda: I just want to talk really briefly about Statflo quite specifically. If you could give us a detailed example about this one-to-one messaging. I’m thinking about a bigger brand that doesn’t have that sort of local cache. Can you describe in a little bit more detail how this one-to-one messaging might work with a bigger brand?
Scott: Our customers range from one-store wireless dealers in the Southern U.S. to large carriers that have hundreds, if not thousands, of stores, whether in the U.S. or Canada. So, we work with the small mom and pop type locations, all the way up to the big telco brands. I think what we’ve realized is even the big carrier brands, within their local stores – and I’ve been across some pretty crazy small towns in the U.S. and Canada – within those small towns, they know…I’m not saying any of these are our customers, but they know that in Wichita, Kansas, at U.S. Cellular store, Johnny in that store is their person to go to.
So, even from a big brand standpoint, those local communities still have their people that they go to. So that’s really the approach that we take with our large enterprise customers and our smaller ones of, “You have the ability, you have the footprint of stores across the country or across certain regions. Leverage that to your advantage, and make sure that your reps are armed with really cool data and really cool messages to interact with their customers on a regular basis, and have that back-and-forth text message conversation versus, you know, an offshore call center reaching out to them trying to sell something over the phone.”
Melinda: Perfect. Okay. So, as everybody retreats into their homes, and, in many places, everything other than essential services are closed, what would be your first step in communicating with consumers if you’re in the position where your doors are closing?
Scott: I think it’s really shifting focus away from, “How do I get my customers coming into my retail locations to buy more stuff?” I think in times like this, it’s really making sure that your customers see you as an extension of the community and you’re really having that interaction with them just to check in to make sure they’re in a good spot, let them know you’re still there for them in case they need anything. Again, your stores are closing, you really need to start thinking of how to do business with your customers and how to keep them engaged.
And I think a few things retailers need to think about when it comes to communications is, A, what type of message do they want to convey and how do they want to be seen by the larger population within their community, the channels that they want to use to convey that message, and, really, the frequency of messages that are being sent out. And I really look at the last probably five to seven days as a prime example of this. If I look at the channel of communication that’s been used most, it’s been that mass email, what I call “one-to-many.” I think now we really need to start looking at how can local businesses, how can retailers start to have that true one-to-one interaction as a follow-up from that mass approach.
Melinda: Right. I mean, we’ve all seen those emails and posts on social media, and they’re starting to sound a little trite even just a few days in. So, what do you think would make more successful messaging?
Scott: Yeah, I think, as I said, it’s letting your customers know that you’re going to be there for them. I think part of the message is always going to be around addressing the outbreak and proactive tracking of the situation. Explain to your customers what the impacts on the ability to serve them will be and how you will continue to serve them throughout this time, whether the store is open or closed. I think you need to be where customers are. If they’re on their phone 24 hours a day…which, you know when I speak to colleagues at work right now, everybody’s on their phone all the time now. They’re either doing video conferences like this, teleconferences, or they’re on their phone checking up on the latest news.
So, I think that really is the channel that you want to be interacting with customers on. Email is turning into just a lot of noise, and I think social…you know, I’ve looked on LinkedIn, and almost everybody under the sun has some form of post about what their company is doing to combat it. But I think now it’s all been a time of, “Let’s get local, let’s get personal with customers, and make sure they know that we’re there for them.”
Melinda: Do you have any examples of brands that are doing a really amazing job communicating with consumers during this unprecedented situation?
Scott: Yeah. We actually have a few examples of our existing customers as well as some cool ones that I’m seeing in the market. In Canada and the U.S., telcos are really the backbone right now. There’s two kind of key things that are propping everything up right now. One would be the banking and financial institutions, and then two is telco. You think of everybody at home right now, the pure volume that that’s putting pressure on any of the telcos for their internet, for their mobile phones.
All the carriers have stepped up and waived roaming fees, they’ve waived any late fees. They’ve really stepped up to make sure that customers are not in a bind and they are well-connected throughout this time. And that could be in Canada, Telus, Rogers, and Bell. Verizon, AT&T have done a good job. And I think, more specifically, one that’s really gone above and beyond from a communication standpoint is T-Mobile. They’ve done a great job keeping their customers informed on a daily basis, not the generic email push or social blast. They’ve really been more targeted on what they’re doing. I think they were one of the first ones to take pretty quick action compared to others. So, a lot of really neat examples that are happening. It’s cool in times of crazy pressure that some of the best ideas evolve, and you’ll probably see that in customer interactions moving forward.
Melinda: Great. Given that we can expect some changes in consumer behavior after things go back to the new normal, whatever that looks like, what can brands do in response?
Scott: I’ll say three things that I think are really important and dive a bit deeper on each of them. Be local is really important, being personal with your customers, and really knowing where customers want to buy and where they’re shopping holistically across different touchpoints. So, when I talk about being local, you know, whether it’s big brands or even the small shop that sells really cool clothing down the street from your house, everybody has to think on that local basis. You want to make sure, whether it’s a big brand or small brand, that you have your person to go to for your telco needs, your clothing needs, your food needs, you know, that butcher down the street that has killer steak. Really want to make sure that you’re creating a localized approach to your customer interactions.
Secondly is all about being personal. And I think that’s even more important now. We can’t send a mass generic message out to all customers in this time and, in general, ever. I think they don’t really stick as much. So, when you think about being personal, it’s having notes on who your customers are, especially in a service…you know, where our customers are in telco, especially in that service, you know a lot about your customers, not so much their usage patterns, but more so around…you know, they’re in your stores on a regular basis, you want to get to know them, and knowing that they just went on vacation or whatever it might be. You want get to know more about them as a person versus them just as a bill that you collect on a monthly basis.
And then, number three is all about thinking about where our customers shop a little more holistically. I’ll use an example. My wife and I have started shifting our grocery purchases to online and delivery. That’s, I think, a shifting mindset for a lot of people that are running out of time to go to the store and get stuff done. So, when you think of your staples, I think a lot of people will start shifting more online. You think of Amazon, they’ve had some crazy, crazy spikes in hand sanitizer, so they’re shipping hand sanitizer all over the world. So, just around what people are buying and how we’ll shift.
As you think about any retailer, they really have to know who their customer is, make sure they appear local, and really start to think of how their customers will buy their product. And within this next two to three-month period, retailers might start to really realize that customers are buying in different ways and they will have to adapt immediately just to cover off the next handful of months. But also, as times change, or as we get through this, those shopping behaviors may not change.
Melinda: Right. I’m thinking we may see some acceleration in adoption of new technologies that people were maybe a bit more hesitant to use previously, just out of necessity.
Scott: Absolutely. And I think the best retailers have shifted that way where it’s all been around creating that ultimate customer experience when they’re in-store, but having the technology and the knowledge to know how to interact with them when they’re not in-store, either to make sure they’re happy with their product or service or to let them know about some cool things that they have in-store to purchase.
Melinda: And, you know, just listening to the news, they’re saying there’s the possibility that we may be going back and forth with social isolation again as there’s a period of recovery, and then there may be another period during which we’re required to practice social distancing again. If that does happen, how do you think brands can be better prepared?
Scott: So, it’s really being where customers want to buy. I was talking to Alex, one of my team members, this morning about this. I think what this has really opened up a lot of people’s eyes on is…you think about social distancing, retail is not going away as much as…there’s been talk about that for the last number of years. I think retail will always have an important role to play, but it’ll be all tied to the experience. And if you talk about social distancing, it’s around how can we enable our retailers to book appointments to come in, so you don’t have 400 people waiting in line. At an Apple store, you have people coming in, waiting for their meeting or appointment, and leaving the store with what they need.
So, really make sure that it’s more structured than mass chaos. That’s point one. Point two, really starting to think of what is that omnichannel approach for a customer buying journey. So, the technology space, the telco space, anything where people want to touch and feel things. Brick and mortar retail is hugely critical, but you do have to think of what will that customer’s buying pattern be in current state, in future state, and, hopefully, four to six months after this all hopefully blows over, what are those buying patterns and how can you as a company evolve with that.
Melinda: Well, as we see what happens, I think one of the interesting things that’s happening is that people are craving interaction, so it is in some ways an opportunity for brands to be able to talk about things other than selling stuff. So, thanks so much for talking with us, and we’ll keep in touch as this rolls out.
Scott: Awesome. Thank you.
Melinda: Unprecedented times like these reverberate through cultures in unforeseen ways. For brands concerned that the repercussions will present grave challenges, it’s time to accelerate innovative thinking and put the customer first in ways you hadn’t previously considered. It’s time for us all to figure out how to get through this together, to find a way to be truly useful without adding noise. If your customers need you, be there for them in ways you’ve never been there before.
While it’s a challenging time, it’s also an opportunity to become a better communicator and a better friend. Statflo has a resource kit to help you stay in touch with your customers and employees if you need it. You can find it at get.statflo.com/covid19. I’m going link to this and to Scott’s LinkedIn in our podcast description so you can get in touch if you need to.
Thanks for listening, and, everyone, stay well.