TO HANDLE a crisis well, a company has to consider key crisis management factors across several levels. Yesterday’s article looked at the first level:

•  Making sure company staff are thoroughly informed of the crisis and are well-briefed about what they need to do; and

•  Managing emotions at a stressful time and avoiding four unhelpful behaviours.

Today’s article looks at the second-level key crisis management factors a company must consider:

 

Level 2: Dealing with customers

 

Face of the company

When General Motors was embroiled in a controversy in early 2014, newly minted CEO Mary Barra took centrestage, addressed inquiries and owned the problem. At the time of her appearance, General Motors’s faulty ignition switches were found to be the direct cause of 12 deaths. Ms Barra delivered a heartfelt apology and lamented the lost lives. Bloomberg later said she had established herself as a “compassionate leader”.

The CEO should be the face of the company during a crisis, but need not be the only representative. It is just not possible for one person to attend all the media conferences, give interviews and still lead the company.

The CEO should be in the limelight only when the company has breaking news to report or an important statement to make. Public relations professionals or hired experts can field the answers in the interim.

Keeping the CEO on reserve avoids media saturation. Also, in the event of a misstatement, the CEO can exercise his authority, correct it and save the day.

 

Social media never sleeps

Last month, the National Library Board (NLB) removed three alternative lifestyle-themed children’s books as they were deemed incongruous with Singapore’s pro-family norms.

Netizens against the decision changed their profile pictures to one of the three penguins with the caption “Free my library”. According to The Straits Times, the Facebook group “Singaporeans united for family” claimed that 24,000 users supported NLB’s decision.

Evidently, social media has evolved and is no longer just a source of entertainment or a tool to reconnect with old friends. The public or consumers these days will turn to online platforms to voice opinions, seek help or air grievances.

In the past, bricks-and-mortar companies were answerable only to disgruntled members of the public or consumers. Now, the whole world is watching.

Hence, while helpdesks follow standard operating hours, the same cannot be said of social media platforms. During a crisis, Twitter and Facebook accounts have to remain active even after office hours, especially if customers expect regular updates.

In the case of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT), whose trains experienced a series of breakdowns in December 2011, contributor Marina Mathews also pointed out that a parody SMRT page, titled “SMRT Ltd (Feedback)”, was set up when the crisis unfolded.

Then, many were misled into thinking the page was an official one. The administrator posted sarcastic comments when users gave feedback and many were confused by the tactless replies.

The lesson here is that social media must not be overlooked when managing a crisis. By setting up official social media accounts, a company can control the dissemination of accurate and timely information on these platforms.

It should scan popular media platforms to keep itself informed and pre-empt any potentially detrimental situations. Actively — but tactfully — dispel rumours and assure customers that the company is doing everything in its power to tackle the crisis. Such efforts will help rebuild trust.

Tomorrow: Crisis response when the world is watching

 

Article by Nicholas Goh, founder and chief executive officer of Verztec Consulting, an ISO 9001:2008 global content consulting company. For more information, visit www.verztec.com