Founder and CEO of Insightful and a lifelong tech with a passion for all things startup.
The worst has happened: your organization is in crisis and you don’t know how to handle it. It’s easy to panic when you feel like you’re in free fall, especially knowing that things could potentially get even worse.
We all know global brands that come to mind and serve as cautionary tales with some important lessons to learn. How long it takes you to react is just as important as your reaction, and all actions have consequences, whether it’s your company’s inventories hitting a year-to-year low or, worse, the loss of millions before loyal customers. The way brands respond in a crisis is important. In addition, how brands communicate with and treat their customers in times of crisis is just as important.
But what about a minor crisis, even a crisis that only affects one customer? It may not feel like a real “crisis” to your business, but it probably does to that customer, which means you should treat it as such. No matter how big or small your crisis is, you need to be prepared, and luckily the preparations for both scenarios have a lot in common and don’t have to be daunting. Here are three steps to getting ahead of a crisis.
Have a strategy ready in advance.
Before a crisis hits, you need to have a good idea of how you’re going to handle it, whether it’s something small like screwing up a mission, or something big like a spokesman going rogue on a world stage. At the heart of any strategy should be a customer-centric approach. Communicate in an authentic and appropriate way how you will solve the wrong problem with your customers.
The most important thing, though, is that you’re ready when a crisis comes along, and that means thinking about it before it happens. Work with your communications and marketing teams to develop some solid “if, then” strategies, and add some rock solid “do’s and don’ts” to give you a head start on the game. For example, your social media team needs to know in real time what they should and should not respond to. If you run a software company and someone tweets angrily that their platform is crashing, what is your protocol?
Confess your mistakes.
The last thing you want to do during a crisis is to shift responsibility or blame. While I’m not advocating hanging out your organization’s dirty laundry, it’s important to honestly and clearly acknowledge what went wrong. If your team has had a hand in the crisis, don’t hide it; what matters most is how you proceed to make it right.
This is another place where your communications and marketing teams can shine. Work with them to craft messages that are authentic to your brand. If you are out of control of the crisis, such as the pandemic or global supply chain issues, focus on what you can do to remedy the situation or what special offers you can offer to ease the pain of whatever is gone wrong.
Personalize, personalize, personalize.
It doesn’t matter if the crisis affects one or all of your customers, your communication needs to be personalized for each of them. Let’s say you run a software company and a data breach has occurred. Sure, you’ll need to share extensive communications with all of your customers, probably in the form of an email, but it’s also always a good idea to have your key contacts contact customers individually. Ask if they have any questions about the situation and personally explain how the organization fixes everything that went wrong and how your company is moving forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In the aftermath of World War II, when Winston Churchill formed the United Nations, he famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” and I wholeheartedly agreed. If handled properly, a crisis can even be a springboard to better ways of doing business. At least you learn something from it. Plan ahead and keep your customers centered to weather the storm.