Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so maintaining strong relationships with them is crucial. With all the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 and the varying stages of almost global lockdown, there’s a lot that’s out of your control. But it’s always possible to build trust.

Right now you’re understandably more risk-averse, especially if you were forced to shut down or your supply chains were impacted. Chances are your customers are pretty risk averse now too.

Reassuring your existing customer base should be a high priority as lockdown begins to ease and movement returns. Taking steps to reinforce trust and reassurance is one of the easiest (and most important) ways to encourage them to return when they can.

It’s more costly to gain new customers

Right now your own budgets are probably pretty tight, so you’ll want to strip back and save where possible. Your resources need to nurture the relationships you’ve already created. You’ve got to show existing customers that you care and are tapped into their needs.

Obviously this can’t happen face-to-face but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Check our guide to networking during lockdown to see how digital socialising can benefit your bottom line.

Even if you’ve pivoted and now offer something completely different, make sure your existing customers know about this. Keep them informed via email and social media about how you’re adapting to the situation and what your business can now offer as a response. This really isn’t the time to go quiet, and seeing responsible, resourceful leadership will help build their trust in you. Doing this will make their return as easy as possible.

How to add value to your existing relationships

With a less confident customer base, it’s time to ask yourself what you can do to increase their confidence in your business. Trust is crucial to success. You want to be the first name your customers think about when budgets allow for more paid services or products. To do this, you’ve got to stay in their periphery during this instability.

A key way of staying useful when you’re unable to provide your regular service is to model yourself as an advisor rather than an expert. Advice is a commodity that you can offer and it can maintain your relationships. Personalising this as much as possible is a great way to show existing customers that you care and value them, and they’ll be more likely to reciprocate by working with you again later.

How can you tailor your advice? Start by asking yourself what kind of salesperson a particular company or individual would find useful to talk to. If you have relevant, interesting information or insight that you can share to help them then you start to become a trusted and useful contact during times of uncertainty.

Think about the market they’re operating in and what conclusions or strategies you (or others) have drawn. Take a look at competitors or emerging trends in products or technology that could prove useful too. Send tools, thought pieces or analysis their way to add value to your relationship.

Helping teams break down their problems as well as offering solutions may get them through this period stronger. As soon as your regular output is attainable, they’re more likely to come back to you rather than go to a competitor.

Set the agenda: be proactive, not reactive

Jump on a call with past customers and ask them about the specific challenges and issues they’re facing. You’ll get a good understanding of their fears and show that you have a genuine interest. You need to get yourself in the mix and help build a network of responses to build a picture you can share amongst your network.

Define your customer’s agenda by helping them work out their current priorities and goals. Talk to them about how they can get there and offer advice if you have it. There’s a lot of appetite at the moment for new ideas and divergent points of view as we all navigate the current situation.

You can’t sit around hoping they’ll return when things settle. If you don’t reach out and get talking to these contacts now, they won’t have any incentive to choose you over someone else.

Ease fear, uncertainty and doubt

Everyone is hyper aware of health and contamination at the moment. The way we’ve all been interacting with the world around us has changed dramatically, so use your communications to reassure and inform.

You’re probably doing things differently but have you made sure your customers know that? Any goods you produce or in-person services you offer will be complying with a totally new set of rules and reaching different standards. Sharing the steps you’re taking to provide the safest environment for everyone involved is a really useful way to bring back their focus to you for a moment and to show that you’re acting responsibly and safely.

Staying silent here won’t do you any favours. Use this as an opportunity to get in their inbox so they don’t forget all about you (just make sure the information you’re sharing is useful and clear).

Rise, don’t retreat

If you’ve been enjoying success or growth until COVID-19, be confident that what you’re providing is useful. Don’t be afraid to keep selling – just make sure you do it with empathy.

Can you offer flexible payment plans? Is there any free content or resources you can make available for those who can’t afford to buy right now? This is not forever, and we’re in this together. Your generosity now won’t go forgotten.

Sales may slow, but you’re investing for the future

Your business development or sales may have slowed, or even stopped. Customer relationship building, however, should not.

Think about how you can have a long-term impact on your existing customers. It’s been tricky until now to look beyond the current crisis, but if you value the service or product you offer and encourage the customers you have to succeed, you’re in a strong position to get through this.

Stay in touch, listen and understand the evolving agendas of past and current clients, and the public as a whole. Work out where you can add value with advice and what tools you can offer to help. Consider your expertise and how it can adapt to today’s needs. Spending time nurturing these contacts will benefit you in the long run if you can help businesses stay open

Visit out COVID-19 Impact Support Hub for more helpful articles like this one!