The impact of Covid-19 on my inbox

Early days – acknowledge, assure, advice, action and appreciation

My next few posts reflect on how businesses communicated with their customers during the coronavirus pandemic and how the messages have changed over time.  This first post focuses on the period between 28th February and the 23rd March, when lockdown was announced in the UK.

P&O Cruises is one of the first to contact me on 28th February, nearly a month before lockdown in the UK. They acknowledge that these are unsettling times and offer customers the option to transfer their bookings if they wish. P&O attempts to assure me that my safety is important to them and advise what contingencies they are putting in place.  They also remind me that they have been around for a long time so I can trust them.

On 14th March, I start to get emails of assurance from the chief executives of various retailers.  The first is Boots.  Again they refer back to their pedigree as a trusted brand and that they are doing all they can to keep us and staff safe.  Our loyalty means a lot to them, apparently. Radisson thanks me for my loyalty and trust in them and advises me that safety is also their highest priority.  They offer free cancellations – I haven’t booked anything for a while with them, but it’s nice for them to offer.

The supermarkets are the first to get the brunt of the impact of changing consumer demand. Mike, the CEO of Sainsbury’s is next to contact me. The message is different as it seeks to reassure me that they have enough food for everyone provided we don’t stockpile. There is a call to action as he asks us to think before we buy so that there is enough for everyone. He’s obviously seen my shopping trolley! Mike gets in touch again, two days later, advising of the introduction of specific shopping hours and priority delivery booking for vulnerable groups. He asks us to acknowledge and thank his staff for all that they have done to keep the food lines open. Dave, the CEO of Tesco similarly advises what his team is doing to ensure there is enough stock for everyone. Again, he asks us to only buy what we need and suggests that we thank staff when we go in store.

P&O Cruises notify that they have voluntarily suspended new cruises until 11th April (how optimistic!). They assure me that ‘Our priority is your health and wellbeing…, Do take care of yourselves and we hope to be off, sailing with you soon, just as we have for the last 180 years.’ Longevity appears to be a common thread for many organisations as M&S remind me that they have served me for over 135 years (I didn’t think I was that old!). Their email focuses on general advice about what services have changed.  We’ve always been here for you, they remind, and will continue ‘to help you and the wider community, particularly its most vulnerable members.’  ‘It’s the kindness and support that we give to each other that will help us get through these unprecedented times.’   ‘take care…’  Bless!

I start receiving emails from Boots on a regular basis now, mainly from Marc, their Chief Pharmacist. The personalisation of messages has been a significant trend during this time. Boots also have a distinct advantage over most other retailers and brands. As a pharmacy, they can advise about medical issues with some authority, so Marc is able to answer questions about Coronavirus and acts as a trusted source of information.

Businesses appear to have had no ideas as to the likely length of the disruption in these early days. Bradford Theatres initially state that venues will be closed until 13th April and Hitched offers to reprint wedding stationary free of charge for orders placed between 13th March and end of April. Perhaps no one wants to assume that the disruption is going to be long term.

As we approach the weekend before lockdown, I receive some very text heavy emails from the grocery chains, John Lewis Partnership and Volkswagen as they explain their strategy for the imminent lockdown. To be honest, I’ve stopped reading these missives by now – information overload.

I begin to receive the first emails about surviving the pandemic.  M&S advises me about what food I can freeze safely, I suspect as a response to those who have bought too much food in recent weeks. As we get even closer to lockdown, M&S suggest how I can create my own little sanctuary.  They promote loungewear and slippers but don’t mention the pandemic (and rarely do throughout the 4 month period), so it’s difficult to determine if this campaign is in response to lockdown or just serendipitous timing. I want to assume the former.

The last email I receive before the announcement of lockdown from the Prime Minister on 23rd March is from Paul, the president of P&O Cruises about the worries and stress we all have at this time. ‘P&O Cruises will look after you, our guests.  These are not just empty words. A travel company is nothing without the loyalty of its customers…’. So true.

The message ends, though, with a hint of desperation, probably felt, if not articulated, by most businesses:

 ‘P&O Cruises needs you, more than ever, to stay with us and to show us some forbearance and patience.’

These really are unprecedented times – when brands and retailers openly appeal to customers for their loyalty and patience…

What businesses, in your opinion, got their message right during this period? What themes worked for you?

Images used are from the emails referred to in this blog.

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