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Managing Crisis Control

Posted on 4.17.2011

Crisis can hit any business, at any time. It could be a missed shipment (affecting one customer) or a failed server (affecting thousands). It could even be one little word, as was the case when a Chrysler social media representative let an unfortunate four-letter word loose on Twitter — on behalf of Chrysler. That employee was fired while Chrysler worked to put out the flames.

In today’s hyper-connected, real-time business environment crisis can (and will) strike fast and potentially hard. One bad customer experience can be blogged, tweeted, “liked”, yelped, tumbled … you name it. And make no mistake, these emotional outbursts are indexed and displayed in search results.

What’s important is how we respond.

You can dig in and take cover, and hope the flame burns itself out before it spreads. The advantage of this approach is that it doesn’t call attention to the problem before the public eye. In some regards, not responding to an issue does something to discredit the initial problem. In reality, sometimes a person will have a problem with your company for a completely unreasonable reason. In those cases, we want to be careful not to legitimize the issue or the person — kind of like unwittingly fanning the flames. Or feeding the trolls.

But, the duck-and-cover strategy is very risky. Ignore a legitimate complaint or customer service issue and the resulting fallout can be very damaging. People are far more likely and quick to bash a company — any company — rather than praise it.

Another approach is to go on the offensive. That is, responding to the issue in a very public way through blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates or wherever your consumer base looks for news and reviews. Another part of the offense-as-defense strategy is to enlist your brand’s advocates to fight fire with fire — asking for positive reviews, while frowned upon by some, is a very effective way to ensure that you don’t lose business to one poor customer experience. Perhaps the biggest benefit to this approach is that a bad experience resolved can become a very compelling testimonial.

But again, be careful of fanning the wrong flames.

In any crisis case, the best approach is to diagnose its scope and severity immediately, as this will largely define the response strategy. Oftentimes an issue can be resolved or discounted quickly. It could be a simple misunderstanding that, once cleared up, snuffs the flame before it ever ignites.

As with every business objective, it’s a good idea to have a plan — a crisis response plan. The missed shipment will require a completely different approach than a crashed server or an embarrassing tweet. Consider potential and likely problems, formulate the plans and ensure every employee is well-versed in them.

This strategy of diagnosis and response is not limited to online business practices, either. About a month ago, I was in one of my favorite restaurants on a busy night. They were clearly having problems keeping up – drinks were late to arrive, food orders were wrong and the wait staff was all but invisible. Upon leaving I stopped the manager and told him about my bad experience in an I-thought-you-should-know way.

He said, “I’m very sorry, it’s been an off night. Thanks for telling me … instead of yelping about it.”

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