It would be so much more convenient if disasters and emergencies came with a warning. We would know exactly what to do and how to do it. Alas, that’s not how things work.
Organisations often fail to deal with calamities due to lack of timely planning. And since crises always arrive when they’re least expected and do more harm than anticipated, crisis management and communication is vital for any business.
What Does Crisis Communication Mean?
If you wait for the crisis to hit and then strategise a communication plan, a lot can go wrong. Not only do you stand to lose important information and sensitive data, but you could also incur severe financial losses.
Not just that, your reputation also comes under scrutiny. After all, what people think of you after disaster strikes depends on how transparent and relevant your crisis communication is.
Crisis communication refers to the interaction that takes place between an organisation and its stakeholders in times of unfortunate events. No doubt, crisis situations can be highly reactive, but a firm strategy helps make the process easier.
There’s a domino effect at work here—crisis communication determines the reputation of your business which, in turn, affects customer trust. Thus, your crisis plan must focus on the company’s response and strive to maintain a strong relationship with stakeholders.
Recommended Read: Everything about Customer Retention
Moreover, you need to ensure quick dissemination of important information as well as consistency of communication across channels, both internally and externally.
Before getting into the how part of it, let’s understand different types of crises that a business might face during its lifecycle.
Though self-explanatory, this type of crisis includes an announcement of bankruptcy, bad debts, etc.
Human Resource Crisis
Change of staff or mass resignations that will impact other operations.
Any technological failure that negatively impacts other operational outcomes.
Any act of God, like an earthquake, flood or even the COVID-19 pandemic, that can disrupt the operational flow to a great extent.
Basically, anything that affects the stakeholders and business continuity needs special attention and a firm management plan.
While your communication will depend on the type of crises the business is facing, there are some strategies you can follow to effectively deliver a smart response.
The best way to mitigate risks of backlash during any crises is to apologise and own your shortcomings in the situation. Appointing a spokesperson to release an articulate statement is a good move.
They’re the ones who become the voice of your organisation and make a human connect on your business’s behalf. At the end of the day, talking to a company rep than to a group of lawyers is a more comforting thought for most.
This spokesperson can be your CEO, CFO or any senior executive—someone who is best suited to address the stakeholders on your behalf. If they are able to strike the right chord with your audience in unfortunate circumstances, they will play a key role in garnering support.
Proactive Damage Control
Regardless of how smooth and nice things might seem right now, you should always be prepared for the worst. We’re not asking for a pessimistic approach, but rather proactiveness in mitigating potential damage.
For example, backing up your company data on several servers can safeguard you from sudden data theft, data loss or any type of cyber attack. Many cloud service providers offer multiple backups at no extra cost. It’s better to opt for such providers. Moreover, properly training your employees equips you to handle any malware crisis.
Crisis and Hierarchy
Some crises can be solved on an individual level before things get out of hand. In such scenarios, having a hierarchy in place can aid crisis diffusion at a very initial stage.
Social Media Strategy
Social media and its power remain unmatched to date. It allows organisations to reach their audience across the globe. But is it a boon or a bane? This reach can be detrimental when your customers have a negative remark to make. One viral comment can make your brand look substandard in front of millions of people.
This is why social media cannot be ignored while working through a crisis. You have to make sure that your posts don’t offend anyone in any way. Furthermore, you should attend to every negative comment about your company or product in such a way that it helps the customer and does not demean them.
While some crises can be categorised under specific heads, others are more complicated. They silently affect your reputation and lead to latent customer churn. And they might catch you unaware if you lack proper feedback from your customers.
Feedback will always allow you to identify any roadblocks, and hence, deal with them with prior preparation. It is often a good practice to get immediate feedback from your customers after an interaction. You can get feedback via an automated phone call using an interactive voice response or by sending them an SMS or email.
Let us now understand the steps to create a strong crisis management plan.
Lay Down the Objective
Obvious, isn’t it? That’s the first step of every business strategy and plan there is. It can be as simple as a one-liner explaining why you want a crisis management plan. The purpose behind this is to align every task with a common goal.
Identify the Group of Stakeholders
These are the people who are directly affected by your company and its actions. When designing the plan, it’s important to identify your stakeholders and draft communication accordingly.
This group will probably include employees, customers, government officials, and the general public. Do not forget to add all relevant information for your stakeholders including contact details.
Create an Escalation Strategy
The person who identifies a crisis isn’t always the one who communicates the same to stakeholders. So, your plan should outline a clear hierarchy that is to be followed when sharing information within the organisation. This hierarchy will decide which part of the crisis information will be disclosed first and to whom.
This order totally depends on the structure of your organisation. At the top of it may be your CEO, followed by the head of public relations. The draft should include main heads like basic details about the crisis, their source, and the current scenario.
The plan should outline who will collect data and facts about the crisis. This will prevent the spread of false rumours.
The people responsible should immediately get to work and research as soon as the crisis hits to avoid any misinterpretation and backlash.
Identify and Answer FAQs
As soon as it’s obvious that your organisation is in the middle of a crisis, identify common questions and try to frame their answers. These responses should be honest, clear, specific and to the point. More often than not, companies are viewed as guilty until proven innocent publicly.
Some frequently asked questions during a crisis are
→ Is everyone safe?
→ How many people are injured?
→ After how long will the business return to normalcy?
These questions are obvious and most important to respond to as soon as you can.
Be Prepared with a Mitigation Strategy
No matter how prepared you might think you are, there are always some aspects that are unprecedented. Usually, these contingency plans are made to ensure maximum damage control and minimum costs.
Identify risks and design their respective mitigation strategies so that you’re not caught off-guard.
Create Guidelines for Specific Social Media Platforms
Being proactive when it comes to crisis communication is essential. Your spokesperson should articulate all the facts with utmost transparency for the stakeholders. Social media is powerful and hence, a separate plan should be in place to manage your company’s social media handles.
Any type of comments should be dealt with consistency and professionalism to maintain the brand reputation. Being proactive in such scenarios is the key to handle all the backlash coming your way.
To Wrap It Up
Crises are always uninvited, but preparation need not be. Crisis management is the need for every business; be it big or small. Communicating with empathy and assurance during tough times is vital to gain customer trust. Timely planning of a strong crisis management strategy can take you a long way in business sustainability.
Being 100% honest and transparent during these times will foster credibility in your stakeholder relationships and will earn you a loyal customer base. Your crisis communication should consider the needs of all stakeholders so that everyone feels connected and looked after.