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Supermarkets need to show genuine human connections with their customers and lean into kindness and understanding

This is an unprecedented time of crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has infiltrated our daily lives and is establishing unprecedented challenges for businesses across the globe. But as our communities continue to isolate, brands and consumers are increasingly looking online for connection and information, with social media becoming more important and active than ever.

On the frontline of consumer experience, retailers and fmcg brands are in the direct path of this problem. With panic buying leaving shelves and trolleys empty, infrastructure struggling under the pressure, and quests for information soaring, social platforms have become havens for venting frustrations. The wave of frustration being shown online in response emphasises just how powerful social media can be as a customer support channel and how important it is for brands to communicate back in the right way.

To do this effectively, brands need to have the right processes in place. Ensuring that there is a proper escalation plan at the ready and that it has been tested for weaknesses is key to this. An offline crisis can quickly move online and without a thorough plan establishing who should respond to what and how, it can lead to disjointed responses that can damage global customer perception. This crisis has shown that a spark can quickly turn into a social media fire and it is therefore essential that the entire brand is aligned in order to respond quickly and rationally.

Dealing with the problem at hand, however, it is important to read the room and gauge what people are saying about the brand online, and ensure empathy is the first port of call in response. All communications, from advertising to social engagement, need to be tailored to consumer sentiment. Promoting inappropriate messaging or reverting to a corporate tone of voice, as is usually a brand’s natural instinct, at a time when customers are angry, confused or inquisitive, can be as damaging as no response.

As UK grocers begin to implement rationing and delivery services continue to buckle under the pressure of increasing demand, this will only become more important. Consumers will want to connect with brands that are empathetic to their situation as they want to be understood whilst they scramble for information.

Ultimately, now more than ever supermarkets need to show genuine human connections with their customers and lean into kindness and understanding to help them in the long run. Some retailers are beginning to grasp this as an opportunity to build relationships with consumers, with grocers like Iceland and Sainsbury’s turning to social media to announce the implementation of ‘social hours’ for over-70s.

Similar measures can show supermarket brands to be actively engaging with consumer issues at a time when shoppers want reassurance that products and services will be maintained. Understanding of the real need of the consumer must inform both policies and delivery of this messaging – this will forge valuable connections for when we return to business as usual.