By DAVID SABA
It can take decades for a company to build trust and credibility with its customers, but that brand confidence, carefully built over years, can disappear in a matter of days if a crisis occurs and isn’t handled properly.
To properly respond to a crisis, it is important to define it. A crisis is a reputation-defining situation that creates victims and has explosive visibility that can damage your relationship with customers.
Types of crisis scenarios include operational, nonoperational, natural disaster, insidious unethical behavior and virtual.
Once a crisis situation is identified and reported, management must act quickly with its public relations team to identify the situation, analyze its implications and threat to the company and develop options and recommendations for how best to respond in order to eliminate the threat of creating additional victims.
An effective crisis response plan produces decisions that reflect sound thinking and behavior within the first few hours of a crisis.
Readiness planning should include a process with identifiable steps that clearly articulates to employees, the media and the public what actions are being taken by the company in response to the situation.
The No. 1 goal of a crisis response is to remove any threat of creating further victims.
Victims seek validation, visibility, vindication and an apology. A crisis response should address those needs and outline what is being done to prevent the situation from ever happening again.
HOW NOT TO HANDLE A CRISIS
Sometimes, in order to avoid making mistakes in a crisis, it’s easier to use an example of how not to handle one. In 2016, it was revealed that Wells Fargo employees were pressured to create millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts, unbeknownst to customers, to boost sales figures.
Naturally, charging fees to customers for accounts they didn’t even sign up for is bad business. That’s going to create a lot of victims who need to be fully reimbursed, and changes needed to be made at the executive level to let the public know that insidious sales tactics like that are no longer acceptable or possible.
Instead of focusing on preventing future victims by changing the culture at the executive level, Wells Fargo’s response was to fire more than 5,000 employees who were pressured into creating fake accounts to meet sales goals.
That response didn’t address the culture problem at the executive level – all it did was create an additional 5,000 victims.
The backlash was swift and severe. Terminated employees filed lawsuits.
Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was lambasted by the Senate and retired within a few weeks. The stock price fell by double digits.
Those results may not have happened if the crisis had been managed properly with victims in mind.
Careful proactive planning and working with a good publicist can help your company make informed decisions that minimize the damage created by an unfortunate crisis.
David Saba is the director of public relations at Lehigh Mining & Navigation, a national award-winning advertising agency in Bethlehem. He has more than 14 years of public relations experience with a variety of clients across many industries and sectors. He can be reached at [email protected]