Heather Astbury, The Reputation People

Heather Astbury, The Reputation People

Keep communicating with your customers even if you don’t have much to say, says Heather Astbury, Managing Director and Co-founder of The Reputation People, a reputation management and communications agency.

She says: “It is really important that businesses continue to communicate. Businesses often think they can cut the communication side of things when times are tough and budgets are tight, because they view it as not essential. But it is the last thing they should cut. What businesses often don’t realise is that the conversation they want to be part of is still going to take place; it is just that they won’t be part of it. And if they aren’t in those conversations, the chances are their competitors will be.”

Heather says that if you don’t stay in touch, you have no way of knowing what your customers are thinking. “If your customer hasn’t heard from you at all during the past year, are they still your customers? Or has somebody else nipped into the space you have left empty? Unless your business is very unusual, customers will forget about you and go with the brand that is top of mind. And the brand that is top of mind is the one that has continued the conversation.”

There are several ways to get in touch with your customers but unless you have GDPR permissions to be able to email or phone them, the simplest way to communicate is via social media, she says. That way you can also talk to potential customers too.

Heather says businesses should keep talking even if they don’t feel they have much to say: “It is easy to get into the mindset of thinking, well what on earth do we say because we can’t sell anything and we don’t have anything going on, particularly if you have not been able to operate over the past year. But you need to remind your customers that you are still in business because otherwise they will think you are one of the many casualties of this situation and aren’t around anymore.”

She says that in reality it doesn’t actually matter if you are not trading at the moment and don’t have anything to sell. Indeed even posting mini conversational polls about things that have nothing to do with your product, such as asking what biscuits go best with a cup of tea, can engage your audience. She says there are all kinds of things you can talk about - what new products you are developing, or how the pandemic situation has made you view your business or the industry differently. Even redecorating your premises can be a source of communication: “You can share lots of lovely pictures of the renovation as it is happening and build up some excitement amongst your audience. If you can find ways of having a two-way conversation with your audience, that is the most powerful thing, so that you are not just talking at them but you are having a conversation. Your communications shouldn’t always be very sales focused anyway because that tends to turn people off.”

The key to getting the tone right, she says, is to simply be human.

“Honest and authentic communication is really powerful for businesses. It is all about building an emotional connection with your audience. You need to be cognisant of the fact that many people may have lost loved ones or lost their income and that some of them will have been having a really rough time- but equally, that not everyone will have. So just being human is really important. It is fine to ask people how they are doing and how they are coping. If you are authentic and human, then generally speaking, you are not going to get it wrong.”

Heather’s top tips for businesses right now

1. Just do it. Just jump in and communicate

2. Don’t overthink it – almost any communication is better than none

3. Be authentic and real

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