Every organization is vulnerable to crises. The basic steps of effective crisis communications are not difficult, but they require advance work in order to minimize damage. The slower the response, the more damage is incurred. So if you’re serious about crisis preparedness and response, read and implement these steps of crisis communications.
Listen and Be Present
In the past, companies have been accused of not responding to customers’ concerns about faulty merchandise or refund issues – simply because they were not set up to handle customer service problems through their social media channels. Unfortunately, in the digital age, not
listening to the social chatter or having presence on social communities can reflect badly on your brand. Even responding with a simple link to the correct website page is helpful – and shows your customers you take them seriously.
And listen! Sometimes social listening tools will pick up the chatter about a topic that you may not expect and will give you time to address it before it blows up within the social stratosphere. Most of the brand disasters could have been prevented just by picking up the early chatter and being prepared to address it before it escalates.
Set the Right Expectations
If you are a small business or have limited bandwidth to respond to customer inquiries in real-time, then set the right expectations upfront on the timing within which people should expect your response. 24, 48, 72 hours… Be specific and make that expectation visible to ensure it is seen. But always stick to it.
Certain companies have been guilty of removing posts they didn’t agree with, ignoring those posts, or else claiming that they had been hacked, when they clearly hadn’t. Trying to cover up or remove justified but negative comments can make you look as if you are ignoring a problem or, worse off, don’t care about the customers. It is critical to be honest and upfront about any issues you or your company may be facing. If you made a mistake, admit it, apologize, and do everything in your power to correct it. We are all human and humans make mistakes. Your customers don’t expect you and your teams to be perfect, just transparent and honest. They expect you treat them like family, a part of your tribe, and that means not betraying their trust with back-peddling and cover ups.
Warren Buffet once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
It’s worth putting some effort into writing a thoughtful reply aimed at addressing your customers’ concerns. Showing that you care about their experience and are willing to address problems (or even go above and beyond) is a great way of actually winning around critics and turning them into fans. According to The Retail Consumer Report, commissioned by RightNow and conducted online by Harris Interactive in January 2011, of those customers who received a reply in response to their negative review 33% turned around and posted a positive review, and 34% deleted their original negative review. 85% of consumers said they would be willing to pay anywhere between 5-25% over the standard price to ensure a superior customer experience.
Caring really pays off. It builds trust and allows you to further nurture relationships with your current customers. Word-of-mouth recommendation from your current satisfied customers is much more influential than your own brand messages, and they will bring new customers in.
Do Not Lose Your Cool – Ever
There may be times when you disagree with your customers. But being rude or attacking them in social forums is absolutely unacceptable. Provide the best information you can and do your best to satisfy every inquiry. If nothing helps and a customer insists on being rude and un-cooperative, just ignore him/her and move on; in those rare times, no matter what you do, nothing will probably be good enough.
And don’t take everything personally. The customer isn’t angry with you, he is frustrated with the product or a brand as a whole. Don’t take these interactions personally. Just do your best to help them out and move on.
Have a Crisis Management Team In Place
Going back to my point #1…When you pick up a digital chatter around a specific issue, you have a great opportunity to address it before it blows up in your face. But be sure you have the way to quickly escalate and resolve the issue. This process should be a part of your overall crisis management plan. I suggest forming a team consisting of team members from PR, HR, legal, marketing, and other relevant teams that can come together to quickly craft and post a response that would quite down the chatter and will help solve the issue at hand.
Manage Access To Your Social Media Accounts Carefully
There have been instances of employees posting personal updates to brand accounts not realizing that they haven’t switched to the right account. Making sure you are limiting access to only knowledgeable community managers who have appropriate training with avoid mistakes such as these.
Post Moderation Guidelines
Most sites have their own Terms and Conditions, but you can also post your own moderation guidelines on your social media pages to make it obvious what behavior will or will not be tolerated within your social communities. Being up-front about your “house rules” makes it simpler to take down offensive posts by referring to your rules and pointing out how they were violated.
Hire Experienced Community Managers
There are still some organizations that treat social media communities like an afterthought and leave it to the interns to post an occasional tweet. Your social media is every bit a part of your brand image and reputation – so hire professionals! A community manager should be experienced, know your brand in and out, understand your brand’s voice and personality, and, most importantly, love your customers. Community manager is a critical position that serves as a voice of a customer within your organization, so don’t underestimate it. Plus, a seasoned community manager will know the right way to deal with disgruntled customers, be able to deal with social media take-over attempts, and know when to take the conversation off-line.
And Remember… You Will Never Please Everybody
Sometimes, as a leader and as a brand, you will have to be willing to be misunderstood. If you strongly believe in what you are doing or in a specific point of view, but some people don’t share the same opinion, you will have to be willing to stand by your decision. In this case you will have to be prepared to be transparent and honest about it, share the reasons why you feel so strongly about the subject, and be prepared to calmly address the questions and criticism that come your way. That is where your social communities become even more important – this is the opportunity for your fans and your tribe (people who share your point of view and believe in the same vision) to chime in and help support your message/cause. In cases such as these organic brand love and advocacy are powerful allies in defending brand’s reputation and spreading brand’s message.