Who else has been on the receiving end of shoddy customer communications – or no communications – about a change? How did it make you feel? Cheated? Angry? Immediately seeking out another supplier? Or wishing they’d just asked you what those communications looked, felt and sounded like?

One thing’s for certain: if your customers are on board, it’s far easier to keep the cash flowing and the business (as usual) going through the period of change; whether you’re changing the type of services you offer or how you deliver them, you’re relocating, restructuring or undergoing a full-on merger or acquisition.

This five-point plan will help start your customer change communications on the right foot.

Image of a starfish to represent a five-point plan for communicating change to your customers

1. Start with the end in mind

Taken straight from Dr Stephen Covey, “start with the end in mind” should be the mantra for kicking off your plans for communicating change. Come to think of it, it should the mantra for kicking off ALL plans …

In practice, it means agreeing your SMART objectives up front and being clear about the results you want (SMART = specific, measurable, achievable/assignable, relevant, time-bound).

Keep sales at 100% during the three-month merger period?

Increase customer sign-ups to online services by 30% in the first six months following a proposition redesign?

Improve customer satisfaction by 10% and cash flow by 5% within three months of introducing a new order process?

Get ‘em all written down.

2. Get input from those in the know

Who knows how best to communicate change to your customers?

(It’s not a trick question).

Your customers.

Along with employees in your customer-facing teams, of course.

Getting feedback on what works for your customers – especially the good customers you want to keep – can be worth its weight in gold. It’ll also help flag up any unforeseen challenges and identify any previously overlooked industry quirks.

Don’t we all want to feel our opinions matter?

Feedback can also be used to verify your plans and get further buy-in. Plus, forewarned is forearmed … if customers (and employees) know a change is coming, it gives them time to adjust and prepare.

3. Create a communications plan

I’m sure I’m not alone in having learnt the hard way that winging it means you’re more likely to forget something. Or annoy someone. And then have to spend your time fixing it.

On the other hand, waiting until a plan is 100% perfect is an excuse to never get round to putting it into practice.  Don’t let the fear not being perfect stop you in your tracks 🙂

If you know the results you’re aiming for (Point 1) and use customer and employee feedback to guide you (Point 2) you’ve already got a sound basis for your plan. Here’s some other pointers to consider:

  • Do any customers warrant special treatment/support? How do you segment them to focus on keeping your most valuable customers and protecting your most vulnerable?
  • How will you keep your messages simple and consistent?
  • How will you ensure customers are ready for the change? Would a pilot be beneficial to trouble-shoot any issues / get early feedback?
  • Do your employees have everything they need to serve their customers during the change? What else can help? (eg FAQs, information online).
  • Could you make it fun, so people want to make the change? Would incentives be appropriate to encourage new behaviour(s)?
  • How will you thank /reward everyone who helps along the way?
  • If things were to go wrong, how will you deal with the most likely scenarios?
  • Aside from your customers and colleagues, do you have other stakeholders, such as trade associations or regulators, who would need to be kept up to date?

Keep the plan simple to read and follow. Imagine someone new is joining your business tomorrow. Would they understand it?

4. Plan your resources

In short, “who will do it and what will it cost” is all part of your planning.

Communicating change should be a shared responsibility, and employees your customers already know and trust are invaluable in helping make it happen. Mind you, they may already be up to their eyeballs managing the operational impact of any change! Don’t be afraid to recruit temps or specialist contractors if your resources are completely stacked out or need switching around in the short-term.

If you’re not the budget-holder, I’ve found that the best way to get new spend approved is to be very clear about the costs (item by item) and results you expect. I’d also recommend having the answer to: “what’s the impact of this NOT being done?” before heading off to see the Finance Director or CEO to ask for any extra money. Learnt that last one the hard way too 🙂

5. Measure up – how did you do?

A regular sense-check of what’s working and not working communications-wise is a good habit to get into. Even when you feel it’s the last thing you’ve got time for. Customers and your customer-facing colleagues will know how it’s going, and those SMART objectives (Point 1) will come in very handy!

For example, if your plan was based around a series of e-newsletters, but only 2% of customers have opened the first one, best to know now and not waste time on any more (or try these types of e-newsletter headlines).

If registrations to migrate customers to your new online services are running 1% after one week and you were forecasting 10%, some root cause evaluation and a Plan B may be required …

And if your two direct mailings have already resulted in 99.99% of your customers using your new address for correspondence, you can save yourself the cost of that third mailing and maybe make some (cheaper) phone calls instead.

These ongoing checks and tweaks also make your end-of-project feedback and evaluation far less painful. Measuring and evaluating change communication plans is by no means my favourite task, but it’s by far one of the most useful. Otherwise, how will you learn for the next time …?

Let’s learn together … do you have a particularly brilliant (or uniquely awful) example of communicating change to customers? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.