If you're well-prepared, a crisis can in fact represent an opportunity to forge a closer relationship with your customers.
Did you know the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters - one representing threat and the other representing opportunity? This is worth remembering because every crisis, no matter how serious, allows abusiness the opportunity to enhance its reputation.
A crisis usually means you are the subject of more attention than you normally would be. Different types of media might be covering the storythan normally feature you and the news may well reach a bigger audience.If the crisis is serious enough you could even find yourself at the centre of a global media frenzy. While that might sound horrendous, it also presents a tremendous opportunity to drive home your key messages and tell people what your business is about.
The reason this works is because the public is very forgiving of a business in crisis, especially if the crisis is not of that organisation’s making. They won’t forgive you if you communicate badly – because that’s the part that is definitely in your control – but if you handle your communications well you will be more highly regarded than you were before.
So, what does good crisis communications look like?
Firstly, you need to communicate quickly. Best practice says you must communicate within 15 minutes of being alerted to a crisis. That is a lot to ask but it is possible if you are well prepared. The advent of social mediameans the news could still reach Facebook or Twitter before you get your statement out, but by acting quickly you will be able to establish your version of events before an alternative takes hold.
Secondly, any information you issue must be accurate. You must never speculate and only give out facts you are 100% sure are correct. In the first 15 minutes of a crisis you may not be able to say very much but saying something makes a huge difference. It shows you aren’t hiding, which makes it seem less likely that you have something to hide, it shows you understand and respect the need to keep your stakeholders informed, and it establishes you as the main point of contact.
Thirdly, you must be consistent. Every stakeholder, from employees toclients, needs to get the same information.
Once you have issued your first piece of information you must tell the media when they can expect an update. Then you have to stick to it. Even if you have nothing new to say tell them that. Reporters have a job to do – they have to tell the story. Remember they will tell the story with or without your input. Much better to be involved and make sure your version of events comes across strongly.
In order to get your crisis communications right you need to prepare in advance. You can’t wait until a crisis hits before you decide how to handle the communications. Spokespeople need to be chosen, briefed and trained in advance. Scenarios need to be identified and holding statements prepared. Would you know how to set up a helpline number for people to call if a major incident affecting your employees or customers occurred? If you want to avoid your switchboard being jammed by people calling for information, this is something you need to have ready to activate.
Compile a list of contact numbers and think in advance who would need to be kept informed. This list will be different depending on the type of crisis and it is better compiled when you can devote time and attention to it to make sure key stakeholders aren’t missed.
The word 'crisis' sounds scary but making the most of the opportunity to enhance your reputation is relatively simple.
Remember these simple tips:
- Be prepared.
- Communicate quickly but accurately.
- Establish yourself as the source of information.
- Be open, honest and available.
- Be consistent.
- Remember the story will be told with or without you.