Change Communications for Customers: Turn Pain Points into Peak Points

March 22, 2024

In life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital.

Change, in life or business, is difficult to accept, process, and embrace. According to a 2019 Gartner report, 73% of change-affected employees experience moderate to high level stress. But employees aren’t the only ones impacted by change management—customers are as well.

Taking a deep dive into change communication for customers, we spoke with Audrey Van Zee—previously Senior Marketing Manager, Customer Marketing at VMware—about the importance of change communications for customers.

“Change usually makes us uncomfortable, so you can expect the same for how your customers may react. Establishing a communications strategy will help you over-communicate through change so that none of your customers are caught surprised,” shares Audrey.

Leading VMware customer community and advocacy program through significant changes, including its consolidation into and launch of one of the first B2B loyalty programs in the industry, Audrey advocates that “establishing a customer communications strategy for change management is as important as the project planning for the actual change that is occurring. A communication strategy will guide you through the pre-change, during-change and post-change phases and ensure that your customers have time to adjust and integrate the change into their workflows.”

When should you invest in change communications for your customers?

Let’s look at a few scenarios that require customer communication:

  • You and your team are taking time off during the new year holidays.
  • Your organization is doing layoffs and the customer community or advocacy program will now be supported by one (1) person instead of a team of three (3).
  • You are migrating the customer community from one platform to another.
  • Your organization has acquired/been acquired or merged with another organization.

You may think that time off during the holidays is a foregone conclusion, but others may not.

Choose communication over silence.

Time off or layoffs, for example, can be communicated through creation of a post in the community or an email for awareness. Maybe you’ll want to open space for questions, should they arise. On the other hand, a platform migration or change in ownership of your organization requires a full communications strategy.

Changing communications for customers is critical for fostering trust and nurturing relationships.

How can you build a strong change communications strategy for your customers?

There are many frameworks and models that exist for change management and customer experience communications. However, it’s the intersection of these that can sometimes create ambiguity.

Here are 6 steps you’ll want to follow for strong communications:

1. Plan.

Building your communications strategy ahead of time is key to achieving success.

  • Create the messaging you’ll be using to ensure consistency.
  • Identify barriers to change, build objection-handling talk tracks, and pen down FAQs.
  • Get the messaging approved by leadership and other relevant departments.
  • Share the approved messaging and timelines with customer-facing teams, highlighting their role in supporting communications.
  • Identify the KPIs for the project and how you’ll be tracking them.

2. Prepare.

Anticipation is often thought of as a negative when it comes to change. Though, that doesn’t have to be the case. Depending upon the change, warming up your audience to the prospect of it can be an impactful and appreciated tactic.

  • If you’re migrating your customer community, for example, including a teaser ahead of the announcement can help drum up excitement and create a positive outlook of the upcoming change.
  • If the change is in response to customer feedback, acknowledge the feedback received and share when they can expect further communications.

3. Announce.

The big milestone. Many mistake this step as the crux or ecosystem of change communications, when in reality it should be treated as the trigger. Think, take-off of a rocket. Despite being the penultimate milestone, it’s the culmination of work done before that makes it possible.

  • Consider which channel you will be using to make the announcement.
  • Coordinate with relevant stakeholders to ensure the audience is being guided to your main channel.
  • Be prepared to release the communications on supporting channels in a timely fashion.
  • Activate the engagement actions in tandem with the announcement.
  • Be specific, clear, and concise in your communications.

4. Engage.

Change brings out emotions and if you don’t create space to acknowledge, address, and resolve these emotions, it will likely lead to further anxiety and doubt.

  • Publish FAQs alongside the announcement.
  • Create a channel to exclusively address questions and concerns for change-impacted customers.
  • Recap what you’ve already shared and what can be expected next.
  • When possible, offer an opportunity to talk to a person over choosing written channels for handling escalations.
  • Offer opportunity for processing. We’re all humans behind the screens.
  • Recognize any unplanned obstacles or mistakes and address them as needed.

5. Evaluate.

Close the loop by gathering feedback. When executed well, the communications strategy will ensure customers understand the importance of change and how it aligns with your and their future goals—allowing for valuable feedback.

  • Stagger the timeline for feedback, first-impression and post-impact responses will likely vary.
  • Don’t negate all concerns as resistance to change. Evaluate all feedback to continue optimizing.

6. Build.

Follow up to ensure that you have overcome the obstacles of change and continue building the foundation for trust and partnership.

  • Show your customers that you care—and not just when you’re announcing change.
  • Leverage the channels you have available to reinforce your partnership.
Change communications for customers: Turn pain points into peak points

What should your customer communications include?

  • Awareness.
    Understand the current state — how things exist, how the setup is perceived by customers, and what has been the ongoing feedback (if any). Highlighting your awareness of the situation helps ensure that everyone is starting from the same page and there is no alienation due to misunderstanding.
  • Vision.
    Paint the picture of what the future will look like. Keep it mind, you want the communication to be simple, straightforward, and desirable. Showcase how customers will benefit from the future state of this change and how it helps achieve the organization’s overall goals. Some changes may be perceived negatively in the short-term, which is why it’s important to shine the light on the bigger picture.
  • Empathy.
    Change, good or bad, can be hard. The Kubler-Ross Change Curve for example, highlights how change can lead to shock, denial, frustration, and depression before adoption. Empower your customers to process these stages and guide them to integration.
  • Transparency.
    A part of respecting and partnering with customers is transparency. When building your messaging, it’s key that you are transparent and real about the causation for change, its impact in the short-and-long term, and the support that customers can expect during this phase.

💡Audrey’s Pro-Tip: “Communities are spaces where people come together person to person. Be as transparent as you can professionally—if you don’t have all the answers yet, say that! Balance your transparency by setting a positive and empathetic tone.”

Can change communications lead to advocacy?

When done transparently, with compassion and authenticity, change communications can cement confidence in leadership and lead to advocacy.

Audrey breaks it down by emphasizing the foundation of advocacy: “Advocacy happens when customers are comfortable, confident, and happy with your company and products. Your advocates are sharing how your organization makes their jobs easier, faster, cheaper, or more impactful.”

Despite being a potential point of friction, change creates a window to build a supportive environment for your customers and create the comfort and confidence in your partnership that serves as the root of advocacy.

“During a change, there can be confusion and questions. Your communications are an opportunity to build many of the relational elements that are the foundation of advocacy. If your communications go a step further to ask your customers about their reactions to the change, you are creating an opportunity to identify potential advocates,” shares Audrey.

On the other hand, a poor communication strategy can lead to anxiety, alienation, and potentially churn.

Change communications for customers: Turn pain points into peak points

This is a guest blog by Srishty Khullar, member of the Advocacy Mavens Coalition.

The Advocacy Mavens Coalition is an association of open for contracting customer-led professionals, each with extensive industry experience. We’re experts in building advocacy and community programs, designing experiences, running advisory boards, creating content, managing and migrating platforms, and more.

Our members are experienced advocacy marketing strategists, community and customer success managers, educators, designers, video producers, analysts, and technical consultants. Whatever your program goals, this coalition has you covered!

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