Being hit by a natural disaster (tornado) and man-made disaster (fire) within a two month period will get you thinking about crisis readiness! Having survived the afore-mentioned events without more real pain than insurance company and contractor frustration, I am quite aware of how much worse things could have been for our family and for my business. This prompted me to call crisis communication expert Gerard Braud of Braud Communications to share ideas with you on how a business can plan for communication to customers in a time of crisis.
"It is human nature to deny how bad a situation can get," says Braud. "Business owners and managers can see a headline in the news and think ëOh, I'm so happy that didn't happen to me! ë Unfortunately, many business owners figure they will just roll the dice and take their chances. While organizations often have provision for interruptions in the supply chain, most do not have a concrete plan for communication in a time of crisis."
How does all this relate to my favorite topic of customer service? As Braud notes, the bottom line can be negatively impacted when your customer is getting more information from third party sources than from you. "The guy on the street with a cell phone and a YouTube account can spread misinformation at the speed of light. In a time of crisis, you have to get key information to three important groups within an hour: the media, your employees, and your customers."
Braud further suggests that what you say to one audience, you should say to all audiences. In keeping with his sunny day philosophy, he created a 50 page crisis communication plan that he helps clients put together in a two day workshop. "The subject matter can change, but the action steps to handle the crisis remain the same" notes Braud. He points out that such a plan can work not only in a catastrophic event such a hurricane or an explosion, but also in what he calls a ësmoldering crisis' such as fraud or harassment. Any of us who have read about the Penn State crisis know how such a smoldering event can negatively impact a brand and shake customer confidence.
What about you and your business? No matter the size, do you have a strategy for communication in a crisis? If not, you may want to consult Braud Communications for help with creating your own crisis communication plan. As Gerard Braud so aptly suggested, your customer trust and brand reputation may depend in the future on what you did this sunny afternoon to prepare for it!