Whether you’re a business owner, manage a department or work in PR, it always helps to expect the best while preparing for the worst. It may seem negative, but even with the best intentions and high standards, mistakes do happen – you can’t control everything, after all.
In our guide to creating a crisis comms plan, we’ll cover how to be prepared for when a crisis happens and how to react when one actually does happen.
Crisis communications (often shortened to crisis comms) are notices sent to an organization’s customers, clients and employees during times of crisis. These responses aim to mitigate a crisis situation’s effect on customers and preserve an organization’s reputation.
Sending the appropriate response in the event of a crisis can be crucial to business continuity, so spending time developing a sturdy crisis management system is vital.
When establishing a crisis communications plan, there’s a lot to remember. Often, it can be challenging to foresee crises and, as much as you prepare your business, it’s hard to know what problems you’ll run up against.
So, let’s break down the process: We’ve rounded up five tips to help you curate a robust crisis management strategy.
1. Be accurate
The first rule on this list, and the most fundamental, is that effective crisis communications should be accurate. If you can, make sure your responses are fact-filled. Clients and stakeholders need to know exactly what went wrong and the times and dates of crisis incidents.
To gain a comprehensive overview of a crisis, you should consult all available human resources when writing comms. It’s essential to let everyone have their say – some departments and team members might have different perspectives and insights that others don’t.
2. Be transparent
Sharing information about current and potential crises is vital to protecting your business and clients. Even if you lay out all the facts in your crisis comms, you should ensure your message is clear and leaves no room for guesswork.
Make sure you include all the details relevant to an incident in your comms, no matter how small, and ask communications professionals to read over your crisis responses if possible. If you omit crucial information, external stakeholders might not get the complete picture or spread misinformation about an event.
3. Take responsibility
Safeguarding your brand reputation is crucial when sending crisis comms, and it’s essential to take the right amount of blame depending on the situation.
According to the Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT), crisis managers should adjust comms based on an organization’s crisis responsibility and its current reputation. These factors can help predict the general public’s attributions regarding crisis responsibility.
Hiring a public relations spokesperson is one way to prepare your organization for crises and keep your business in public favor.
4. Be quick
We live in a connected world and clients expect you to alert them when a crisis hits.
If your company has a social media presence, posting about crises as soon as possible can notify your audience in real time. Using a CRM system like Pipedrive, you can easily search for stored customer data and message people directly. Find which contacts have been affected by a crisis, then send comms to their phone numbers or email addresses.
Reacting quickly to a crisis will keep clients aware of the facts and let them know you’re in control of the situation.
5. Plan ahead
Good planning is central to any organization’s longevity – and with a robust strategy, you can surmount any crisis that comes your way.
Different businesses and industries encounter different kinds of problems. Think carefully about what might affect your business. If your organization has faced a crisis, draw on that experience to streamline your emergency response.
Building a dedicated crisis team and creating templates for potential crises, with input from communications experts, can boost your level of preparedness.
Now that you know what your crisis communications should include, it’s time to consider different crises and how your business should respond to them.
Creating a standard crisis management plan or template can be an excellent first step. However, your crisis communications teams should be able to adapt your crisis responses to any situation. Each type of crisis needs a carefully written, tailored response to put client and stakeholder minds at ease.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most common crises your business might face and given examples of how to deal with them.
Negative product reviews and review bombing
If a customer is dissatisfied with your product or service, they may leave a negative review. And if many customers are simultaneously dissatisfied, you might face a barrage of negativity that risks harming your business’s reputation. This event is called “review bombing”. Whether you’re finding the odd negative review or facing a flood of unhappy customers, it’s best to react fast.
There are a few steps businesses can take to minimize negative reviews. One solution is ensuring your customer support reps are easy to contact. Clearly display your support team’s availability on your website and how they can be contacted, whether that’s using an email address or a phone number. You can address dissatisfaction by dealing with customer concerns directly and finding a solution to suit all parties.
Of course, not receiving negative reviews is the best-case scenario, but how should you deal with existing feedback? Considering each issue a customer brings up is paramount to good customer care. If there’s a genuine problem with your product or service, take the time to fix it. If not, or if you can’t immediately improve the situation, let the reviewer know you’re aware of their concerns and are working on a solution.
Try to be calm and compassionate when dealing with negative product reviewers. Below is an example of how to respond to bad feedback:
Dear [reviewer name],
Thanks for sharing your review. We’re extremely sorry to hear about your negative experience. At Squirrel Co, we strive to be the most efficient all-in-one acorn shipping solution and want to make things right. If you’re willing to discuss the issue further, please reach out to our support team at [email protected] so that we can find the best solution moving forward.
Product or solution failure or serious fault
Users will likely be confused, worried and upset when your product or solution fails. For this reason, you should quickly inform them what’s happening so they can adapt their plans to the inconvenience. One way to keep everyone in the loop is by announcing the outage on several platforms, such as your website or key social media accounts.
Try to maintain a confident tone in your announcement. Let users know that you’re actively working on a situation. Be clear about why the issue occurred and what it means for them, and, if you can, give a time estimate for how long your solution will be down.
Most importantly, follow up on the initial announcement with regular updates. Even if there’s no new information to share, you’ll reassure users that you haven’t forgotten about the issue. Be supportive and add your customer care team’s contact information so that those affected can reach out with any more questions.
We’ve written an example of how to announce a product or solution fault:
We’re currently experiencing a service disruption with AcornFinders. This disruption is affecting all users. We believe the issue was caused by a power outage at Squirrel Co HQ and apologize for any inconvenience. Our team is working hard to find a solution and we expect the service to be back online by 18:00 GMT.
For any questions regarding this outage, don’t hesitate to contact our support team at [email protected]
Negative employee experiences
In the digital age, there are many online platforms to share – and read – employee reviews. So, when a former colleague posts negatively about working at your company, it can seriously damage your reputation. Not only might potential hires be discouraged from applying for roles, but too many bad reviews could tarnish your public image and lead to a PR crisis.
As tough as it can be to read these reviews, try to keep your response professional. It may be helpful to appoint someone impartial to the case to ensure you maintain a calm tone.
Keep an eye on popular employee review websites to respond quickly to bad feedback. If you need time to investigate an issue, let the reviewer know that you’re looking into the case and will follow up as soon as you have the relevant information. Both the reviewer and the wider audience should understand you’re handling the matter seriously.
Here’s an example of how to respond to negative employee reviews:
Dear [employee name],
Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback. Our talented employees are at the heart of Squirrel Co, and we sincerely apologize for your experience while working with us. We greatly value staff feedback and would like to learn more about how we could improve. Please don’t hesitate to contact our HR to discuss this matter in depth, so we can continue to make Squirrel Co the best it can be.
We wish you all the best in your future career!
Following your response, if the employee brought up any concerns you weren’t aware of, take steps to thoroughly investigate the issues with all relevant stakeholders. You can prevent negative employee feedback and safeguard your business reputation by fixing existing problems.
It’s a good idea to encourage employee feedback within your organization, be responsive to your workers’ needs and address any issues as early as possible. Ensure your staff members feel heard and that they leave your business on a high note – that way, they’ll be less likely to vent their frustrations online.
The sudden loss of a senior leader
When dealing with the loss of a senior leader, reassuring your clients and employees is vital. Perhaps a high-level executive has unexpectedly resigned. Their sudden departure may leave former team members and subordinates reeling, wondering what the future holds. Similarly, customers and external stakeholders may worry about your product offering suffering due to a change in leadership.
To put minds at ease, we recommend addressing the situation in two stages. First, on the announcement day, notify your employees about the change. You can do this in a morning meeting with your entire staff or via a company-wide email. After breaking the news within the organization, the next step is posting publicly about the loss. Update your company website with an official announcement, or post it on social media sites like LinkedIn.
Below is an example of how an official announcement might look:
It’s with great sadness that we announce the departure of our CEO, Sid Critter. In the meantime, Sandy Sea, former Squirrel Co CMO, will take on the role of interim CEO.
For the past four years, Sid has helped transform Squirrel Co into a world-leading acorn supplier. Among other accomplishments, Sid has grown Squirrel Co’s yearly revenue by over 90%, expanded the team from 3 squirrels to 300,000 and boosted squirrel employee ratings across the company. Squirrel Co will always be grateful to Sid for his incredible leadership and wishes him every success on his future journey.
Make sure to get straight to the point in your announcement. Be clear about which staff member will leave and how the company plans to move forward. If relevant, and to avoid public speculation, you can also mention who will replace the senior leader or take over their duties during the interim period.
Keep the announcement positive and avoid jabs or accusations towards the person leaving. The goal is to show that your organization will remain strong despite the circumstances.
Serious supply delays
As with service outages, it’s essential to give customers immediate information about supply delays, including details about the extent of the issue, which supplies have been affected and what actions customers can take to mitigate any damage. Be clear about whether you’re handling the situation or whether the crisis is ongoing. If the issue is likely to continue, suggest alternative solutions so customers can make alternative arrangements.
To maintain customers’ trust and confidence in your business, be transparent about how you’re working on the problem and keep them updated on any changes. Supply chain issues can cause widespread disruption, and if your client is a healthcare provider, supply delays could even be life-threatening. It’s best to keep those affected up to date with the most accurate information regarding the situation.
As this issue may only affect specific customers, we recommend reaching out privately about any delays. Your sales team can provide information about customer contact preferences.
Below is a suggested template for announcing supply delays:
Dear [customer name],
We’re sorry to inform you that your order #123456 has been delayed. This delay is due to poor weather conditions along the delivery route. Your shipment has now been diverted, and your new expected product delivery date is January 1. You can track the status of your delivery via this link: [tracking website URL].
We apologize for the inconvenience and will keep you updated about future changes. If you have any questions regarding your delivery, contact our team at [email protected]
Thank you very much for your patience.
Tip: To keep customer spirits up and prevent negative product reviews, you might want to include a discount code for future purchases.
Crises can affect all business types, regardless of company size, location and product. Unexpected global issues, like pandemics and economic crises, as well as more local issues, like natural disasters, risk bringing your operations to a standstill without a robust emergency response plan.
Building a solid crisis management team and crisis communication strategy is key to emerging post-crisis as a stronger, more prepared organization.
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