Crises happen. A product is recalled, services are suspended, a private email goes public, an unexpected change hits top management – all these scenarios can destroy the smallest and the biggest of companies.
So how do you deal when your company is suddenly faced with a potentially disastrous crisis? There is no one roadmap to recovery, but you definitely want to react more like Jet Blue and less like Toyota. The quick answer is to always address the issue head-on.
“Toyota waited far too long to respond,” says Joe Dolce, partner in DolceGoldin, a public relations and media strategy company. “So much hysteria developed. Toyota made too many mistakes, but their major [mistake was] not responding quickly and honestly. They didn’t act to calm the external world.”
You should not only respond quickly, but also honestly. If you don’t know exactly what is going on, or nothing has been resolved, just say you’re "very involved in what is happening.”
“If your company is still figuring out the situation, then be honest and transparent and say: ‘We’re investigating... We’ll keep you up to date as we learn more and have answers,’” says Dolce.
Since every crisis is unique, it can be especially challenging for a small business with fewer resources to anticipate a situation and be prepared with the best response. Here are a few pointers on how to combat a crisis before it gets wildly out of control:
Make sure you have a solid leader in place.
Things rarely go to plan when a crisis hits. You want your company to be led by someone who can make the right decisions -- quickly, thoughtfully, and carefully. “If given the choice between a good crisis plan and a good leader, go with the leader,” says Eric Dezenhall, CEO Dezenhall Resources, Ltd., and author of Damage Control. “Plans mean little in crisis. A leader with the authority to act is critical.”
We live in a real-time world so word travels quickly on both the good and bad sides of a crisis. Dolce suggests using your social media tools to communicate updates with the public as they occur. People will voice their concerns in response, and you can tailor your responses to address those concerns.
Find out the truth.
You want to know what went wrong and then discuss it openly as best as your company can. “People want to know what is going on – tell them as honestly as possible,” says Dolce.
Stabilize and target.
There are two big questions to answer before you can really move forward, says Dezenhall. The first is: Are people going to be safe and OK? The second is: what is your company going to do about it? Once your business can answer those questions, then you can move forward. You want to work to alert the key people involved with your business as early as you can to get as much assistance in damage control as possible.
Take care of the insiders.
Talk to people within your business about what happened and the possible consequences. Communicating directly and personally with customers, clients, employees should be your priority before you address the broader audiences. “Whenever a big crisis breaks, the media pundits yammer about how they think it’s being handled,” says Dezenhall. “Not important. What matters are these close-in audiences. Person-to-person contact works wonders.” Answering questions your staff may have and addressing what you can curbs panic and rumors, and also helps you control any commentary they might be presenting to outsiders.
Include everyone in the recovery.
Offering outlets to contribute and comment gives power back to those who have been affected by the crisis and also provides them with a role in your business’ recovery. Along with posting on social media outlets and your website, set up a call number and email where people can ask additional questions. Some businesses take out ads or send out personal letters or newsletters. “When you invite people to share, you really invite them into your business and into your process,” says Dolce. “Giving them information and updating frequently goes a long way. Information prevents a lot of rumor and... misinformation. You want to connect with your customers and let them know it is in the past and your business is moving forward.”
While being honest and keeping people informed is critical, use discretion on how much people need to know to calm the situation. Too much info can spiral into a new crisis.
“There comes a time when too much talk makes people more suspicious, not less,” says Dezenhall.