What's the best way for businesses to handle customer-facing communication during uncertain times? Having a crisis communications plan in place ahead of time will give you the tools you need to make clear and quick decisions for your business. The intention behind such a plan is to protect the brand reputation. It also supports the wellbeing of employees, customers, and all other stakeholders. It also can create a sense of calm in chaotic times by giving your team a clear outline to follow.
Don’t panic if a crisis has caught you off guard. Take a deep breath and follow these steps to create a quick communications plan that will help you navigate through any crises.
Be prepared for anything
Even if you’re already in the midst of a crisis, it’s important to streamline your communications strategy and be prepared for anything that might come your way.
Step 1: Is it a crisis?
The first point every crisis communications strategy should address is defining whether a particular situation is an issue or a crisis. Clearly defining this early will help you and your team decide on the best course of action. The easiest way to figure this out is to ask yourself if the situation will cause a few waves or if it’ll result in long-lasting damage.
For example, an angry customer review may have a short-term negative effect on your business (so this would be an issue) but a journalist from the NYT writing a widely circulated article slamming your business will likely have a longterm effect (this would be a crisis).
Step 2: Plan for different scenarios
Thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong in your business is not a fun task, but it is a necessary one. Thinking of everything allows you to prepare for everything. It’s always better to be overprepared.
Step 3: Prepare statements
Speaking of being prepared… Write templated statements that can easily be adjusted and used in the potential crisis scenarios you thought up. Having some on-brand wording preapproved will help your team prepare and get messages out quickly if a crisis does arise.
Step 4: Designate a spokesperson and crisis team
To make sure the messaging remains clear and consistent, there should be one spokesperson. In most cases, this will be the CEO or PR person. There should also be a designated crisis team established. This is who's responsible for being the main point of contact, the decision-maker, and for making sure that all messaging is properly vetted.
Step 5: Make sure the team knows what’s going on
If you have a team, make sure that they know the protocol and who they need to get in touch with if a crisis occurs. Even (and arguably, especially) in companies with flat hierarchies, having a clear contact person to get in touch with and make decisions will streamline the process and make everyone feel more comfortable in a potentially stressful situation because there will be no confusion over who to reach out to with questions.
You’ve worked hard to build your community and earn the trust of your customers. Don’t throw that away in a moment of crisis.
Step 6: Don’t lie
The cardinal rule of crisis communication is to not lie or try to hide the situation. When putting your crisis comms plan into action, be honest but also instill confidence in your customer. You don’t need to give out every gory detail of what’s happening, but being honest will help build and maintain trust.
Step 7: Address concerns quickly
Imaginations run wild and situations can get out of hand if concerns aren’t addressed quickly in a time of crisis. Even a simple “we’re working on it” can go a long way. This is especially true if you’re communicating openly and honestly with your customers and employees.
Words and consideration matter, especially during troubling times.
Step 8: Understand how other stakeholders will be affected
Is the crisis bigger than just you and your business? If an external force is causing a crisis in your business, it’s likely affecting other people as well. It’s important to be mindful of how it may also be impacting your employees, customers, etc. For example, if your customers don’t have a lot of expendable income as a result, you might want to offer some free or low-cost options that provide a lot of value and enhance your relationship with your community.
Step 9: Don’t try to capitalize on the crisis
But on that note, trying to take advantage of a crisis to promote your business is never a good look. Be mindful of your messaging to make sure it doesn’t come across as insincere or opportunistic. This is why it’s always helpful to have multiple people look at all messaging that goes out in a time of crisis.
What are your best tips for crisis communication? Share in the comments below!
Victoria is a communications strategist and content creator. She served as Public Relations Manager at InterNations and Communications Director for nonprofit The Unmentionables before successfully transitioning to a full-time freelance career. Her work ranges from travel tips for publications such as Fodor’s and Time Out to in-depth white paper content for SaaS providers.