At some point, every organization will experience some type of crisis. The crisis may be minor – like you post the wrong pricing information on social media. Or, the crisis may be major – like the one Delta Airlines is experiencing right this moment due to its a sitewide system outage (that currently has me stranded at DCA waiting to get to Atlanta and then home to Jackson).
The first and most important part of this lesson is you have to respond. It can be tempting to hope that the crisis will blow over or that maybe no one will notice, but that very rarely, if ever, is the case. Even minor crises should be responded to as quickly as possible because it shows a level of respect for and commitment to your customers.
Now that we know that we have to respond, the next thing we have to determine is how to respond. If your organization is on social media, it is a good place to start, but you have to be very careful how you proceed. You can’t solely rely on social media because it doesn’t carry the full weight of the organization (unless of course you are a digital company/online brand). For example, let’s take our current Delta case study – the only corporate communication was a single tweet stating the systems were down. When the media followed up for comment, as the media will always do, no one was available for comment.
Here’s another key point to remember – be available for comment. There is almost nothing worse that the dreaded “a representative from [your company] could not be reached for comment.” Granted, sometimes that’s lazy journalism, but more often than not, organizations do not have a crisis communications strategy in place to provide guidance on what to do when things go wrong.
So, there’s the next key point – develop a crisis communications strategy. No, seriously, go draft a strategy right this minute. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to address the most likely crises that may occur, include some boilerplate press statement starters, and indicate who will handle media contacts when a crisis occurs.
Hopefully, you already have a relationship with local, state and/or national media outlets (depending on the size of your organization). If you don’t, start developing those relationships immediately. When reporters know you, they know who to contact when something goes wrong. Also, people tend to be more understanding when they have a relationship with you. It’s hard to write a scathing story about a friend (or about a friend’s organization).
Now, that’s a lot harder for an international organization like Delta to have close ties with every media outlet in the markets it serves. Actually, tt could be virtually impossible. However, what is possible is the ability to have a solid press statement ready to go in the midst of a crisis that communicates your commitment to your customers, reassures them you are working to correct the problem, and reaffirms your position as a responsible corporate partner.
Here’s another overlooked benefit of having a comprehensive crisis communications plan. Your employees aren’t left looking like the bad guy. Frontline employees are the lifeblood of any organizations, and they tend to have the most difficult job of all – dealing with disgruntled customers. When your employees don’t have something solid to stand on, they are left to provide incomplete information that only serves to further frustrate customers and possibly drive down employee morale.
There are some great articles and resources on crisis communications here, here, and here. And of course, we’re alway here to help you develop any type of communications plan your organization might need – including crisis plans – to ensure you continue to provide a clear, consistent message to your customers that leads to deeper customer relationships and long-term sustainable growth.