Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Building Trust with Your Customers and Employees Through an Effective Crisis Communication Plan
In today’s unpredictable world, being prepared for the unexpected can make all the difference in your company’s reputation and future success. The best antidote to a crisis is your company’s behavior and response. If done well, an appropriate and prompt response provides your team the opportunity to build long-lasting trust with customers. Having a vetted crisis communication plan will ensure your organization is ready to respond quickly and decisively to any crisis.
What is a Crisis?
A crisis is anything that keeps your organization from fulfilling its mission. This crisis can be real or perceived; It could be caused by a global health pandemic, a natural disaster, or human error. In some cases, it is an event you should have anticipated, while in other cases, it will be beyond your control. A crisis can have a lasting impact on your organization’s reputation, brand, and profitability. With proper planning, a crisis communication plan can mitigate the crisis’ damage or avoid it altogether.
What is a Crisis Communication Plan?
A crisis communication plan is a comprehensive, detailed plan that outlines your organization’s communication strategy for responding to any crisis.
Why have a Crisis Communication Plan?
Identifying your organization’s potential vulnerabilities and preparing contingency communications will enable you to respond quickly and effectively, thereby mitigating the long-term damage of the crisis.
A well-executed crisis communication plan will enable your organization to build trust with your customers, employees, and investors.
For your employees, a crisis can create uncertainty and confusion that can have a cascade effect on your customers and ultimately, your business. By clearly communicating your organization’s crisis communication plan to employees, they can become an army of ambassadors and be your most powerful network of messengers.
Checklist for an Effective Crisis Communication Plan:
1. Know your weaknesses
Work with your organization’s leadership and key stakeholders to identify a list of potential vulnerabilities. This is called a vulnerability audit. These are potential scenarios that could affect your revenue and/or reputation. For example, if you are a financial institution, could your customer’s data be leaked? If you are a restaurant, could a customer suffer from food poisoning as a result of your food handling practices? Many crises are preventable – going through this exercise may highlight areas of opportunity for improvement and/or training. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
2. Who’s in charge?
Create a crisis management team and outline a chain of command for responding to the crisis. Employees and customers will be seeking a person of authority to provide answers and guidance.
3. Who are you trying to reach?
Identify the audiences (customer segments, distributors, investors, employees) you’ll need to reach and the best channels to reach them (phone, email, social media, press).
4. Draft proposed communications
Prepare communication and press release templates using fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice options that senior leaders can edit as needed. This will save you valuable time when an actual crisis occurs.
5. Train your employees
As part of this planning process, you should include training for your call center or customer service employees with proposed scripts on what to say and how to respond to inquiries from customers, the press, and other interested parties.
6. Get legal & management buy-in
Ensure that you have buy-in from your legal and management teams. This will help eliminate any form of miscommunication that could circle back as another crisis.
7. Communicate early and often
Respond quickly and incrementally with an ongoing, continuous flow of information. This will prevent the crisis from spiraling out of control and enable you to control the narrative in the media. Don’t underestimate the power of social media in shaping the public’s perception.
8. Ensure consistent messaging
Ensure that your organization’s messaging on your website, social media and other platforms are consistent and aligned with your crisis communication plan.
9. Establish a crisis communication command center
Depending on the situation, you may not have access to your office. Ensure your command center has readily available back-up communication access (phones, access to email, etc.)
The most effective crisis communication plan includes proactive outreach that enabled you to build trust with your customers before the crisis occurred. Then you have established trust with those customers and they are more likely to forgive any preventable errors. The longer a crisis persists, the more negative its impact on your company. If done well, your organization’s response to the crisis will serve to reinforce your organization’s stated values.
Having a clearly outlined crisis communication plan enables your organization to respond quickly and effectively, mitigating the negative long-term impact on your company’s reputation and profitability. As well, it brings your employees together and aligns them to support your mission. Most importantly, it can ensure the well being of your customers and employees.
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Illustrations by Mahalakshmi Anantharaman.
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