Communicate with Empathy Through this Crisis — Use a Human Voice

Today, I woke up and thought how nice it would be to go to my local cafe, grab a latte and a pastry and chat with the folks who hang out there in the morning with their dogs. Truth is, I almost never go to that cafe. I don’t drink coffee and I try not to eat pastries. And I rarely walk my dogs in the morning. But now that I am told I can’t do it, I want something I didn’t want before.

Social distancing isn’t fun. One thing you can say about it, though, is that we’re all experiencing it together. In a country where we pride ourselves on individuality, it’s rare that we’re all coping with the same thing at the same time.

But just because we’re confronting the same limitations and uncertainties together, our emotional responses to the crisis may be quite different. Some feel optimistic, seeing new market opportunities for their health app or medical device. Others on the frontlines of medicine are too focused on their jobs to think about anything else. Many are dealing with grief or fear and can’t concentrate on the rest of the day, let alone the future. Others are upset by what they are missing and angry.

So, how do you communicate effectively with an audience that, until a few weeks ago, you thought you understood? Communicating in a time of crisis takes extreme empathy. Being human is probably the most important quality we can share.

You can still engage while social distancing

This crisis is going to teach us a lot about staying connected when we are apart. To keep the channels of communication open, leave the canned content and complex thoughts for another time. Start by asking questions instead of having a one-sided conversation: What do I have that you need? How can I make this situation better for you? How can I help? The answers you confidently provided a month ago may be different today.

Use the following tips to market your services or products with empathy. While not original, they bear repeating:

  1. Keep your writing simple: Even in the best of times, you lose most of your audience when you write above an 8th grade reading level. In a crisis, people appreciate simplicity. They don’t have the bandwidth to take in complex concepts or process difficult words. But writing simple is actually not easy. For the best chance of engaging your audience, use an app like Readable to test the readability of your content and fix those spots where a reader may stumble.
  2. Listen: Ask your audience what they need from you and put your own story aside until they ask for it. This is a great time to spend in online healthcare forums, learning what people want or need to know. Read case studies and white papers that are getting attention to see what topics are popular. Maybe even do a survey with past or current clients to determine what issues concern them most.
  3. Stay positive: In a crisis, people want reassurance and constructive ideas of how they can improve their situation. Maintain a positive, confident tone—even throw in some humor where appropriate—and people will remember you for being the company that lent a helping hand.
  4. Be consistent: Keep your name in front of your customers and prospects as a reliable and dependable resource. Plan on sending some form of communication weekly, bi-weekly or monthly—not too often to be an annoyance but not too sporadically to be forgotten. Create an editorial calendar for the next quarter and make sure you have the resources to meet it.
  5. Be available: Since so many businesses have had to close their offices and send people home to work, it may be hard for your prospects to find out your hours and how to reach you. Always end your communications with a call to action that confirms your availability, your contact information and what you want them to do.

I hope it won’t be too long before the cafes reopen, workers return to the office, and we have a more predictable business climate. We have a bumpy road ahead of us, but there is some comfort in knowing, as we sit in our home offices alone, we’re in this together.

If you have questions about healthcare communications in a crisis, please reach out to me. I’m a captive audience for the duration.

Photo by Fabien Maurin

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