Having a marketing and communications strategy in place will help your business do well, but it’s equally as important to have a plan for if something goes wrong. Documenting how you'll respond to potential issues and communicate with the people that matter to your business will help to safeguard your reputation. Here are the steps we take to help businesses prepare to respond to issues, big and small.
1. Think about the ‘what ifs?’
What are the likely issues or crisis situations that could arise in your business? Brainstorm, write them all down and then pick out the most-likely and most potentially damaging situations. These are the situations you want to plan for.
2. Plan how you will communicate
Who do you need to communicate with in the event of an issue or crisis?
Identify the groups of people that would need to hear from you in each of the situations you've chosen to plan for. Rank these groups in order of importance. Don’t forget that it’s not just your customers or clients that need to know what’s going on – think of your staff, suppliers and supporters too. Don't forget the media!
Where will you communicate with these groups?
Cover your bases. Think about what you would do if you didn't have access to your usual channels in an emergency situation.
What will you say?
A good way to start is with recognising the problem identified. Talk about what you’re doing about it. Only communicate what you know for sure, keep it simple and be aware of privacy and confidentiality! In a real crisis you may be working in with emergency groups, so find out who would take the lead in communicating in this situation.
In a crisis, you need to communicate early and clearly. It helps if you have some messages pre-written that you can use as a foundation for creating consistent updates across all your channels. Your website announcement, email out to customers, social media posts and even your auto-reply on your help-desk email should all convey the same message in the same tone and style. It’s helpful if you can post about the issue on your website and use other channels to link to this – this gives you one place to list all your updates as the situation progresses.
How often will you keep your stakeholders updated?
Let them know during your first message so that they are aware of what to expect and where they can check for news, or who they can contact with questions.
What will you do after the issue or crisis has passed?
Don’t forget to communicate the result and any lasting effects that may continue to impact people. Thank relevant groups for their support.
3. Document your processes and include communications templates
Document your processes in a simple series of steps so that any member of your team could assist if an issue was to arise. As part of this documentation, create some written communications templates you can use in practice.
If you find yourself in an emergency situation, it’s also important that you can access planning documents offline and offsite. For example, after the Christchurch earthquakes many businesses experienced problems as the result of being unable to access their data online or at their damaged business premises. The lesson: always have a backup!
4. Keep your team up-to-date on your processes
It’s no use having a great plan if you’re the only one who knows about it. You need to be able to confidently rely on your team – you never know, you could be out of action when an issue comes up and regardless it will need to be handled with speed and care.
Real business examples
Late truck drivers and a whole lot of complaints
This team had a member of staff leave without notice, which meant that the business was behind on its usual pick-up and delivery service. Customers didn’t know what was going on and were all contacting the help-desk and leaving messages asking what was happening. There were also many complaints that came in.
We implemented three, simple and proactive things:
- A website update explaining the issue
- A mail-out to all customers explaining the issue and what was being done about it, including offering them extra service for free
- An auto-responder via email explaining the issue so that customers got some response quickly, despite the overwhelmed help-desk staff.
The team now has a plan to respond to any delay in their services, which includes the above actions as well as recommendations such as a phone message on their help-line and supplying drivers with information about the issue so that they know how to respond in person.
Going public and the flip-side of the media
A public-facing business person was concerned about what would happen if a story about their past personal life was to come out. We planned a response to this situation, including writing down the key messages that would be communicated. Although still a potential issue, the business person was more confident knowing they had a plan in place for the ‘what if?’