Running a business can be unpredictable at the best of times, and even if you’re taking strides in day-to-day operations to minimize a crisis, you simply never know when one is going to occur and why. Even if you’re doing everything right and by the book, a crisis can hit any business at any time and it’s often completely out of your control.
By now, it’s become clear to see which businesses were able to adequately manage the news of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, and which ones weren’t - those with a crisis management plan in place were able to easily switch directions and ensure that their business kept running smoothly throughout a crisis situation, while others simply ended up shutting down.
The fact is that teams are made up of humans, and making mistakes is all a natural process of being human - especially when things become stressful or intense. And when things get stressful, some brands (or the humans behind them) miss the mark completely. But, the main difference between the brands that appear to sail easily through crises and those that appear to completely fall apart is not that the first type of brands are simply lucky, but more because they had a solid plan in place for when nothing seems to be going right.
Brands with a good crisis management plan in place have protocols that are pre-agreed on when things are going well and then put into motion when a crisis does occur. As a result, when things do go wrong for any reason, employees aren’t left even more stressed and, rather, are able to shift their thinking towards an alternative way to do things, which has already been put in place for situations like these.
Even though your business has no way of knowing what kind of crisis you could be dealing with next, having a clear and comprehensive plan for dealing with whatever is thrown your way is key to survival - here’s why.
Because Crises Do Happen:
Unfortunately, the mindset that many business owners and teams tend to employ is one of preventing crises, rather than preparing for them. However, while it is, of course, important to ensure that your business isn’t actively making a crisis happen for itself, it’s also important to remember that nobody is immune to crisis situations - and they can still happen, no matter how many preventative measures you take.
For example, nobody could have prevented the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that we are currently dealing with. But a crisis doesn’t have to be a major worldwide event; it could be caused by a bad review that gets shared too many times, a product malfunction, miscommunications in advertising, breaches of security, and more - many of which fall out of the scope of your organization’s control.
Provide Your Customers with Reassurance:
Customers - especially loyal ones - expect to know what is going on with your brand. And when something happens with your business, such as an interruption in your supply chain, customers will want to know why they’re waiting longer for their product and when to expect it. If there’s a security breach and your customers’ data is stolen, they are not going to be interested in why it happens but will want to know what your business plans to do about making it right.
Even if you don’t have all the answers for your customers right away, a good crisis management plan will help you figure out what to tell your customers to keep them informed and ensure that they continue to feel valued by your brand.
Keep Your Employees in the Loop:
Some crisis events end up with your business stuck in the center of it all. For example, a miscommunication between a customer and an employee becomes a viral tweet, and suddenly everybody is looking for your brand for all the wrong reasons. Your employees are going to be waiting to see what your response will be. Also, no matter how great the company culture is that you promote, there’s nothing like complete silence in communications to send a strong and clear message across to your employees that actually, you don’t really care all that much.
For example, in the days after businesses were forced to shut down across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees were massively affected by the silence of their employers, waiting around to find out whether they actually still had a job or if they were going to continue getting paid or not.
In these situations, it’s important to be honest with your employees. Some companies told employees that they wouldn’t be laid off as a result of COVID-19, only to go back on this later and inevitably sow the seeds of contempt among their employees. If you don’t have anything concrete to tell your employees immediately after the crisis happens, tell them that - don’t leave them shut out.
You Need to Face It:
A good crisis management plan gives your business the tools that it needs to handle a major crisis event without panicking and going into shut-down mode. There are right and wrong ways to face a crisis in business, and deleting everything while hoping that it will all go away is not the way to do it.
However, businesses are run by people - and people are predisposed to deal with crisis situations in certain ways. If the business that you’ve poured so much money and effort into suddenly appears to be going under due to a misread marketing message that’s going viral overnight, it’s natural to feel scared. After all, nobody wants to lose their business. However, sadly, in these cases, many business owners don’t have a clear plan in place, so they allow the crisis to affect their emotions early on. They are already in a state of panic and worry about the developing circumstances, and trying to figure out the best thing to do in these situations often leads to even more mistakes being made.
Have you ever seen a brand go through a crisis, only to put out a half-baked ‘apology’ tweet that reads in more of a defensive tone? Or, maybe you’ve seen a brand close down all their social media pages and shut down their website mid-crisis to mitigate the damage, but end up doing more damage to their organization in the process.
If you want to be sure that you are ready to calmly handle any crisis that your business might eventually face, consider this crisis operations management and change management degree program from Kettering University Online.
You’ll Get Trust and Respect:
Remember the brand that shut down all their social media pages at the first sign of trouble? How did you feel about that brand afterward? Chances are, you had less respect for the business than you had before. Maybe this badly planned attempt at managing the crisis was the sole reason you heard about the business in the first place and shaped your views of them from the beginning.
It’s a bit like our personal relationships - if a friend or relative wronged you, you will respect them for honestly facing up to it and communicating about you with it. But if they locked themselves in their house and refused to speak to you about the issue, you’d quickly begin to lose respect for them and become even more agitated with their behavior.
And it’s the same in business. A company that has a good crisis management plan in place and is able to effectively communicate the issue and what’s being done about it to their employees and customers is going to earn more trust and respect. As humans, we all prefer to have a clear picture of what’s happening rather than being simply left to guess what’s going on, especially in uncertain times. As an organization, if you are able to offer a heartfelt and genuine apology to anybody affected by the crisis (where necessary, as some crises are simply out of your control) and demonstrate that the brand is stepping up and taking responsibility to put things right, chances are that you will still have the trust, respect, and loyalty of most of your customers by the end - and it’ll be easier to win back those that you might have lost along the way.
A good crisis management plan gives your organization a clear, level-headed strategy to follow in the event of any kind of crisis, making it easier to avoid giving into panic and stress. Left to figure out crises as and when they come, any employee can easily become overwhelmed and scared by the situation - and since those who are most likely to be affected the heaviest by a crisis are the decision-makers in business, the very people who need to make good decisions to mitigate the crisis end up being the ones who are in the most of a panic.
A crisis management plan provides you with guidance to follow when tensions run high.