How do you respond in a crisis?

How do you respond in a crisis? The answer could have a huge effect on your individual career, or on a larger scale, your company and brand. No one wishes or hopes for a crisis to occur, but it is important to be prepared and have a plan in place in the event that you find yourself in an unfavorable situation.

Take Chipotle, for example. The recent E-coli and norovirus outbreak has been a public and media frenzy that no one saw coming. A crisis like this could theoretically happen to any given restaurant or food outlet. The solution lies in how businesses respond and take action to mend the crisis. Chipotle has been working actively to implement a food safety program to reduce the risk of this happening in the future, and are about to embark on the biggest marketing campaign in the company history in order to win back concerned or deterred customers. Time will tell what the marketing campaign entails, but we can expect to see something big from this chain.

In our office, we always tease that there is no such thing as a “design emergency.” No small children have been injured; no one’s life is on the line. But crises do occur. I have had the opportunity to work in large retail corporations and as the CEO of my own company, so I have seen both perspectives.

Many people think that a crisis is only palpable in a large company, but that is a myth. Many entrepreneurs and smaller companies experience challenging and potentially business-breaking events that will affect their bottom line and their long-term brand equity. As a service provider and partner to both large and small companies, how we help support, aid and respond to a crisis is just as important.

Every crisis is different and requires specific strategies in order to fix or diffuse. However, when it comes to crisis management and the supervision of brand perception overall, a few best practices hold true. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when crafting your crisis response plan:

  • Be transparent

Throughout the entire crisis, it is most important for organizations to be transparent. This means letting consumers and the media have access to information, updates, business practices and company history. This is not easy for some companies to do, but it must be allowed in order to move past the crisis as easily as possible. The worst thing you can do during a crisis is shut your doors and ignore what is going on around you. This actually amplifies the problem and makes consumers distrust and dislike you. Be honest, authentic, and genuine in all of your communications by responding to inquiries and letting consumers and stakeholders know what is going on. Don’t try to lie or “beat around the bush” as we all know – the truth usually comes out.

  • Respond thoughtfully and in a timely manner

In the height or outbreak of the crisis, don’t panic. Take the time to meet with upper management and all necessary departments to discuss the plan of action. Everyone needs to be on the same page regarding what to say and when to say it. You don’t want to jump the gun and respond right away based off of emotion or initial reaction. Instead, you want to craft a well-thought out response in a timely manner. Don’t wait too long before providing a response – consumers and stakeholders will be left wondering where you are and what you are up to. Withholding a response will just fuel rumors and misconstrue the details of the story.

  • Show sympathy to anyone impacted by the crisis

When crafting your public or internal response plan, first and foremost you need to show sympathy to anyone affected by the crisis. They are the true victims of the situation, not your brand. Apologize for any harm or wrongdoing and take responsibility for what occurred. Failure to do so will make your brand come off as insensitive and selfish. I can’t tell you how many companies, when faced with a crisis, forget to apologize and take accountability for their actions. It makes it harder to bounce back in the long run and puts a sour taste in consumers’ mouths.

  • Get the facts straight and have a consistent message

Before responding, make sure all facts are straightened out. Nothing is worse than delivering a response to a crisis that you do not know enough about! This leads to widespread confusion and often more problems down the road. You won’t be able to answer important questions and could end up delivering the wrong information – yikes! If you do not know an answer, simply state that, and promise to get back to the person with the correct answer when it becomes available. Consistency is key in a crisis because mixed response gives the impression that something sketchy or unethical is taking place behind the scenes. This all goes back to the main point about remaining transparent and open until the problem is resolved.

  • Monitor your brand communications – especially online

After you respond to the situation, the process is far from over. You and your communications or PR team need to monitor your brand and communication across different platforms and media. You need to actively respond to consumers’ questions, especially online and on social media. Social media can act as a customer service portal during times of difficulty for brands. Customers have the ability to write posts, ask questions, and submit reviews for millions of other users to see. Your team needs to be proactively tracking these posts and responding in a timely fashion. You should never delete negative comments, or block anyone who disagrees with you on social media. Instead, the correct way to handle the situation is to address their concerns and provide a solution or further resources.

There are professional organizations that specialize in crisis management. In today’s “everyone sees and hears all” world, these providers are more important than ever. If you find yourself in a jam, be smart and get the professionals to handle it.

What other tips do you have for handling a crisis and managing brand perception? In your opinion, what companies have dealt with problems successfully? I’d love your feedback in the comments below.