Here’s hoping your business doesn’t experience a crisis. EVER. But in the event that the proverbial does hit the fan, who do you turn to? What do you do?
Now, obviously the type of business you’re in and the type of crisis that hits you will largely determine what course of action you take from both a strategic and a tactical perspective.
But for the purpose of this article I’m going to talk generally.
The key, of course, is to stop an issue from becoming a crisis in the first place. Swift and decisive action is critical.
I wrote in a previous MYOB blog post what are considered ‘truisms’ when it comes to crisis management and social media. Just recapping, they are:
- Safeguard service quality. Ensure your product and—probably more importantly, your service—is up to scratch. Positive, timely and responsive customer service will circumvent most issues online (as well as off).
- Listen. Employ free tools such as Social Mention, Google Alerts and Twitter’s Search function to keep an ear to the virtual ground. Listen out for rumblings about your brand.
- Build a positive and participatory online presence. Start building a presence over time on the key social platforms relevant to your business; participate, add value, be interesting … and interested.
- Respond…quickly! Respond to issues promptly. If you need to gather more information about the issue in question, say that—and then sort the situation out pronto.
- Maintain transparency and tone of voice. When responding, show genuine empathy. Generally people complaining are not nasty, it’s just they have an issue, and all they want is for their voice to be heard.
The above still hold true. However, let’s say an issue bubbles up quickly and blows up before you can do anything about it. You’re on the back-foot and need to go into crisis management mode.
Firstly, don’t kneejerk. Stop, prop…breathe (deeply). While speed is of the essence, it’s still important to think things through with clarity.
Secondly, if you haven’t already done so, adopt a serious shot of empathy. Don’t make the mistake of going all defensive and counter-attacking straight away—this is when things can really blow up in your face because the response you give in the first instance is often more telling than the issue itself. Be empathetic; put yourself in the shoes of the aggrieved customer (or customers).
Further to the ‘don’t kneejerk’ advice above, get all the relevant background details to ensure you can make an informed decision. If you need to respond and you haven’t got all the facts at hand, say so.
Open and transparent communication is absolutely key. Be forthcoming with information. Speaking directly to those involved is important, but depending on the issue, you may want to put a page on your website that updates consumers with information as it comes to hand. This would probably only be relevant if the crisis was more ‘staggered’ rather than a one-off customer complaint; for example, you may have accidentally sold some contaminated food and you need to update people on the issue. In this case, it would be wise to seek advice from an experienced communications professional.
Also, employ social media channels to update people with relevant information and to respond to queries and comments. If you’re not already on the main social media channels, this is a problem. You should be active in advance of any issue occurring.
Eat humble pie. Seriously, if your company has made a mistake and stuffed things up with a product or customer, then say so publicly. It’s one thing to apologise privately, but if the issue has indeed become a crisis, then it’s out in the open. Get on the front foot and admit your mistake; show genuine remorse and empathy for consumers affected; say with conviction you’re seeking a remedy to the situation; and assure customers it will never happen again (and do not ever let it happen again!). Obviously, if you’re in a situation where legal issues are swirling, it would be best to get legal advice first. However, also be aware a lawyer will probably want you to stay silent, which is the worst course of action you can take. At this point, bring in a crisis management expert, and let the two thrash out the situation.
Oh, and by the way, all this communication needs to come from the top. That means you as the owner of the business needs to stand up when it’s counted.