Monday, March 10, 2014

Crisis Communication Plan

‘A crisis is unpredictable but not unexpected.‘ — Timothy Combs 

When an emergency occurs, the need to communicate should be immediate. If business operations are disrupted, customers will want to know how they will be impacted. An important component to any business is having a crisis communications/disaster plan ready for when a disaster happens. A business must be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently during an emergency. Without an immediate response your audience will be left in the dark with what they should be doing. Potential rumors and false information may also result. The image of the business can be positively or negatively impacted by public perceptions of the handling of the incident. 

First and foremost, understanding who your audiences is and their specific needs becomes crucial. The challenge is to identify potential audiences, determine their need for information and then identify who within the business is best able to communicate with that audience. After all, customers are the life of a business, so contact with them should be top priority. They’ll require accurate, timely and apologetic communications. Be sure to include: 
  • What products or services you won’t be able to provide at the usual times
  • What alternate accommodations they can make
  • Any compensation you plan to make
Always present communications that demonstrates your business's empathy for the disruption of services. However don't be tempted to extend promises that later you won't be able to fulfill. 

Company’s Number One Asset: 

They say organizations are only as good as their employees. Therefore your staff also needs to promptly be communicated with. In some cases employees may be the only voice to the public — making them become the face of the organization. Proper in-advance training should be implemented. In times of crisis only those employees who are being communicated with in an open, timely and truthful way are both able and willing to represent their company and actively support it’s goals inside and outside the organization. 

Develop, implement and continuously improve a crisis communication strategy and matching crisis communication plan tailored to the company’s needs. Assign responsibilities and thoroughly train the designated employees. Once your employees know the chain of command, there’s one big piece of the puzzle left: What are they supposed to communicate? 

The following questions should be addressed when a crisis occurs:
  • What is the desired outcome of the communication? This is your objective. 
  • What will be communicated?
  • Who will initiate the communication?
  • How and/or where is the communication going to happen?
  • When will the communication take place?

The following questions must be addressed both during the crisis and as part of the post-crisis evaluation and crisis preparedness planning: 
  • Was the communication objective met?
  • How can we do better?

If you do have power during a disaster, use each communication method to its full advantage: 
  • Phone — Many businesses set up and have a prepared automated system with recorded updates to reduce the number of calls you or your employees will take. It may be beneficial to set up a special number for disasters only.
  • Website — Post relevant and timely updates about your disaster-recovery progress.
  • Email — For a sample email and what to include click here.
  • Social Media — Utilize sites such as Facebook and Twitter to provide status updates about the emergency.  Turning to social media may be the best outlet to use. In many cases, especially in form of natural disasters, this may be the only means your audience has to receive updates. 

With a solid plan and informed staff, your business can spend more time recovering from the disaster and less time worrying about the communication. Keeping open communication with your consumers, media and staff will help keep things running smoothly when all else may be chaotic.