As a small and medium business (SMB) owner, you probably pride yourself on running a tight ship. However, sometimes, no matter how well you know your business, you might be faced with situations you can’t always foresee – crises. Whether it is the realisation that your company’s reputation is being torn to shreds online or a natural disaster, being able to promptly and efficiently respond to what’s happening is vital. Read on for useful tips on crisis management.
We live in the digital age. While some negative feedback is unavoidable (and will not ruin your company), the occasional issue, if left unattended, can gain unexpected stickiness, spread across multiple forums and permanently stain your reputation. Mainstream media houses are also internet-first these days and may learn of the problem before you do, blowing up an avoidable situation into a full-scale crisis.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, talk to your customers regularly, even when there is no business need to be met. Put in place listening mechanisms that pick up all online mentions of your brand almost in real time. As soon as you find a negative post – whether truthful or slanderous – address it at the earliest possible. Stay alert on your own social media accounts and industry-specific forums and respond proactively to criticisms or comments.
By recognising and dealing with customer dissatisfaction as it happens, you also strengthen your customers’ trust in your company.
Have a plan
What could go wrong with your company? When it does, who should respond? How quickly and across which platforms?
Have an action plan ready that addresses all these concerns to lessen confusion in a high-pressure situation. If there is no designated person or team to respond, precious time would be lost in delegating the job.
In the event of product failure, have a plan in place that determines how speedily the faulty goods can be replaced, and whether or not you have the required cash reserves. You may not be able to anticipate every scenario, but preparation will help minimise the damage.
Late last year, Hollywood star Jessica Alba’s beauty product business The Honest Company was accused of selling sunscreen that did not work. Following a wave of disgruntled comments online, the company responded with a factual message, but it provided little relief for its customers. When things go wrong, it is important to apologise.
A humble, sincere acknowledgement that the customer has had an unpleasant experience and that your company will make amends will go a long way in mitigating negative fallout.
A company’s reputation could be questioned by its own employees, not just outsiders. This can be even more damaging since employees are the face of your company. It is crucial they share your values and have the company’s best interest at heart – if they don’t, they may vent their resentment in public. Thus, it is necessary to ensure your employees’ happiness so that such situations can be avoided. In case they can’t be, find immediate ways to address the issue.
The right connections
As one form of a safety net, try to build and maintain contacts within the media industry. Cultivate relationships with online influencers such as bloggers and forum moderators. Use a good contact management solution that can store information about birthdays and anniversaries, and use it to wish your media friends on these occasions to keep the relationship fresh.
These associations are not just a go-to during times of crises – journalists and online opinion makers have their ear to the ground, and will point out customer discontent to you before it blows up into a crisis.
Hire an expert
While SMBs may not need public relations (PR) experts on a day-to-day basis, in case of crises, it may be wise to hire one. PR professionals are trained to deal with exactly such situations and can be worth their weight in gold – always keep their contacts handy.
Being prepared for a crisis is half the problem solved. Pay attention to what your colleagues and customers are saying, and ensure that you have an action plan and a roster of professional contacts who can help you in a pinch. And while sorry may be the hardest word, delivered right, a sincere apology could earn the forgiveness, respect and loyalty of your customers.