When Crises Come Knocking – Part 2: How & When to Respond

By Tim Johnson

We’ve talked about how to address issues and evaluated whether an issue is worth a response or not. Now I’d like to discuss some of the considerations of how, when, and how much to respond.

Related Post: When Crises Come Knocking – Part 1: Planning is Essential

First, it’s important to discuss context. Crisis or issues management should always be top of mind. It’s not something to deal with last minute when your inbox lights up and the phone rings like crazy.

The Importance of Branding

If an organization has built a strong brand and created strong links with its customer base (whether B2B or consumer), it is already ahead of the curve when an issue arises. An example might be Trader Joe’s (at least to me).

If an organization has earned a reputation of treating its customers poorly, then when an issue happens, the mountain is that much higher to come out of a crisis unscathed. United Airlines comes to mind, I have more stories to tell than there is space in this blog, but I digress.

Communication is Key

We advise clients to communicate early to let their customer base know they are aware of the issue. It’s important customers know you are devoting their full attention to it. Social media, of course, is a great medium for this.  However, there are situations where this is not the best advice. Much earlier in my career, we worked with one of the original online sellers of contact lenses. Contacts by law had to be shipped directly from the manufacturer to the retailer. This applied to both online and brick and mortar stores. There were rumors of a “grey market” floating around, whereby contacts were first sold to distributors and then to retailers. Our client wanted to nip this very quickly. The rumors originated from a very small number of consumers and media. They decided to communicate with these consumers and media directly and prove the grey market did not exist. Using social media to spread this message would have only created many more problems than it solved. At this point, 99% of their customers didn’t even know about the issue at hand.

Another facet of crisis management that should be part of a marketing team’s daily activities is media and social media monitoring. Through careful and ongoing monitoring, the online contact lens retailer learned about the rumors early and had strong clues as to the sources. Because the client marketing team and we had built the infrastructure to address issues sometime before, it was very easy to quickly meet, and outline and execute a course of action.

In my next blog, I’ll outline the “do’s” and “don’t’s” I’ve learned over the years from issues that include CEOs, employees, and products behaving badly.

We’re interested to hear your protocols for crisis management – feel free to share with us in a comment below.

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