I want to talk to you guys today about crisis communication. While a lot of the larger businesses have a communication plan in place and a crisis management plan in place, many smaller businesses do not.
There are 2 types of conflict: Internal and External. We are going to focus mostly on external today. Internal is team-based and external is more client-based. I’m not saying you have a conflict with your actual client. What I mean is you have something you need to communicate to them.
It really breaks down into 5 categories.
You know, like a pandemic. Who knew we’d have a pandemic? Other examples are a hurricane or tornado. Many of you Alabamians remember when massive storms tore through here a few years ago and left many people without power for a week.
In a financial crisis, you are struggling financially, whether that’s internally or externally. You know, like during a pandemic. It happens.
During a personal crisis, something happens to you or your team that you may or may not want to communicate to your client.
If something happens where you made a mistake as a company and you need to communicate that, you are in an organizational crisis. It can be real or it might be perceived.
The last type of crisis is a technological crisis. This could be a systems failure or maybe your phones are just down.
It doesn’t have to be a major obstacle to be considered a crisis. If you’re a retail location and your phones go down, that’s a big deal. That’s missed sales. So when things like that happen, you need to have a plan in place.
It all comes down to communication and how you’re going to communicate what’s happening and how you’re going to respond to what’s happening. To communicate well you need a plan. How are you going to communicate with your clients? Is it going to be email? Is it going to be social media? Is it going to be with a written letter? People still do that, right? The Post Office is still a thing, so they must. You just have to figure out what works for you. We’ve found that social media makes it so easy to communicate with your end-user because it’s one of the fastest methods of communication. Having social media as part of your plan is a good idea.
A good rule for this one is to never let the quickly cost you the accuracy. Yes, you need to respond, but take the time to craft the message you want to put out before you start talking all willy-nilly about what you’re going to do. It’s best to have all the information first and then make a well thought out announcement. Don’t make a reactive post just to get something out there.
Now is the time to let everyone know what’s happening with your business. Are you business as usual? Are you having special circumstances? Whatever is happening, you need to communicate freely and openly with your client base. You need to communicate regularly not only during a crisis, but also in the regular, non-crisis times. Communicating regularly gives you a plan so in times of crisis you already know how to do it. Also, if you aren’t communicating with your clients now, communicating during a crisis may be awkward for both you and them. Ask yourself “When was the last time I talked to my client base? When was the last time I told them what was going on with us?’’ That’s something you need to have a handle on.
However you are going to handle the crisis, tell your clients. Don’t hold back. If you’re facing hardship you need to let people know. If your staff needs help you need to let people know. Whatever problem you’re facing you need to be honest and transparent. Transparency is key. You don’t want to hide anything from your client base.
Now, if there is a positive announcement like a promotion, it’s ok to hold on to that announcement and time the release of it. You don’t have to tell it immediately. Timing is everything. Use good judgment and always make sure you are accurate.
It’s great to help and let people know that you’re helping, but don’t brag. Let’s use the pandemic as an example. If your company donated face masks to a local hospital, that’s awesome. It’s ok to tell people that you’re trying to help but you don’t want to beat it into the ground. I can’t stand when it seems like you didn’t do a good thing to do a good thing but instead did a good thing so you could tell people you did a good thing. So let people know without continuing to focus on yourself. If you donated money to a cheerleaders’ program or if you donated waters to hurricane victims, it’s ok to let people know then move on. Don’t come across as “Look at us!” but more like “Here’s a way to help!”
Many companies have a non-profit that they work with all the time. Then it becomes part of your regular communication because you have partnered with that organization. This is a great way to let people regularly know what you’re doing in the community.
If you see another business in need, share the information and help if you can. If you know a retailer that had their front window broken during a protest, I think it’s great to share information about where people can donate to get it fixed. If you know of a restaurant that has been closed for 2 months because of the pandemic and will likely go out of business if they don’t see a surge in customers, share that with your clients and send business their way. Not only is it a gracious thing to do to help your local businesses, but I also believe what goes around comes around. Help wherever you can, as often as you can, as much as you can.
Do you have to be closed down because of the pandemic? Tell them that. For example “The CDC (or governor, whoever) has shut down our business due to the pandemic, but we still want to help you, and here’s how we are going to do that.” It’s ok to share announcements and tell how they impact your business. If you’re closed to walk-in customers, pin that post to the top of the page. Give clear instructions on how you’re going to deal with that and how you’re going to help them anyway. For instance, “Hey our retail business is closed to walk-in traffic right now but you can still buy online” or “Our business is prepared to pivot and deliver items right to your door.” Whatever you are going to do, be clear and let them know how they can still use your business.
Again, we’ve never experienced anything like what we’ve been through in the last couple of months with all the Covid-19 issues where many businesses had no choice but to shut down. It’s ok. It’s not your fault that you’re closed. However, you definitely need to continue to communicate with your client base about when you’re going to come back to them.
If you need to tell your customers what steps your taking for their safety, do that. Just be careful not to spread any rumors and only use official information from official sources. What does that mean? It means if you are a medical facility and you want to make sure people are safe and you tell them you’re doing everything you can to prevent the spread of this germ, that’s fine. However, don’t say anything that guarantees safety because that isn’t possible. If you guarantee their safety then something happens to your client, you may be in a position to be sued.
Instead of focusing on how well your staff is wiping down your counters, since you can’t guarantee 100% safety from an airborne virus instead, you could focus on the positives that are happening. Did your organization, an employee, or a client do something cool for the community? What good things are happening in your area as a result of the crisis? Once you’ve got your important information out, such as if your business is closing and how you’re handling the crisis, then switch to a focus on the positive. Let the CDC give updates while you tell your clients how they can help their fellow human beings.
You have to have a plan. You have to know how to talk to your customers. Nothing will cause stress, fear, outrage, and irritation like a lack of communication. Just like when you have a complaint on your Facebook or Instagram, if you ignore it, it makes it worse. You have to let people know that you know what’s happening and you have it covered. Go ahead and take the time necessary to create your crisis communication plan. You will be glad you did.