Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shit Happens, Now Deal With It.

We are all familiar with the phrase “Shit Happens,”  and how it refers to the untimely, painful, unpleasant or troublesome occurrences we all deal with in our daily lives. ‘Shit’ is an unavoidable fact of life, it’s the stuff that happens to us that we all have to deal with at some time or other. Shit is inevitable, we can’t hide from it, believe me, I’ve tried, “Shit’ will find you, that you can count on.

Similarly, every organisation is also vulnerable to shit ('crises'). The days of playing ostrich and burying your head in the sand and hoping the problem goes away – are gone. You can try, but your customers will not be understanding or forgiving. Need proof just look at what happened with Volkswagen, FIFA, and Lance Armstrong.

Without being properly prepared, these crises can have a greater impact and without adequate internal and external communication:

  • Customers will not know what is happening and quickly become confused, angry, and negatively reactive. 

  • The organisation will be perceived as inept, at best, or criminally negligent, at worst. 

  • The length of time required to bring full resolution to the issue will be extended, often dramatically. 

  • The impact to the financial and reputational bottom line may be more severe.

The basic steps of effective crisis communications are not difficult, but they require advance work in order to minimise damageThe following steps will help you deal with your next crisis, many of which can be prepared long before your next crisis occurs.

Be prepared

Scar from the Lion King singing the song be prepared.
Jeremy Irons as Scar in The Lion King

In this great song from Disney's The Lion King, 'Scar' voiced by Jeremy Irons warns us to be prepared for the future and what can happen when we don't. Much like the Scout's Motto, which tells us that in order to be prepared we must adopt a state of readiness in mind and body to do what needs be done, at all times.

Be Prepared in Mind

You can become prepared in mind by having thought out beforehand any situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it.

By regularly conducting brainstorming sessions, you can help reveal almost all of the potential crises that could occur at your organisation. During this exercise, you may realise that some of the situations are preventable by simply modifying existing methods of operation.  When this session is over you should have a set of responses signed off at a senior level for each best-case/worst-case scenarios you have identified.

Be Prepared in Body

You can become prepared in body, by making yourself strong and active so that you are able to do the right thing when needed. However, it is not enough just to able to do it,  you actually need to do it.

Although, in times of crises it would be foolish to think one person could handle everything needed to resolve the situation. That's why we should all aspire to "Assemble the Avengers.

Assemble the Avengers

The Avengers have been around since the early 60's but were brought to notoriety through their film in 2012. The original concept of the team was to bring together a team of people to defend against situations, no one person/superhero could fight alone.

Much like The Avengers, were formed your organisation should also look to form a team. This team should be prepared to do what needs to be done when "shit happens". When forming this team you must consider three things for every person on the team. Does this person have;

  • The Right skills

  • The Right position

  • The Right training

The Right Skills

Not every crisis is the same and neither is every supervillain so when forming your own team of Avengers you need to ask will this person have the right skills to help the organisation when the time arises.

Everybody feels comfortable in different situations. I have met people who have been able to talk on mass and be able to captivate everyone in the room. But put them in a one-on-one situation and stick a camera in there face and they became bumbling idiots. Others I have met could write amazing documents on how to handle certain situations, but couldn't stand up and deliver them to an audience. 

Matching your teammate's skills with their assignments as a member of your own team of Avengers will be critical to ensuring your organisation survives any crisis thrown at it.

The Right Position

Not every crisis will be the same, so the decision about who should speak on behalf of the organisation can only be made after a crisis has broken – but the pool of potential spokespersons should be identified and trained in advance. Not only are spokespersons needed for media communications, but for all types and forms of communications, internal and external. This includes on-camera, at public meetings, at employee meetings, etc. You really don’t want to be making decisions about so many different types of spokespersons while “under fire.”

The Right Training

Once you have selected your team of Avengers don't forget to train and train often. Often those trying to be well meaning during times of panic and mayhem can lead to causing more stress for everyone involved.

Customers, both internal and external, are just as capable of misunderstanding or misinterpreting information about your organisation as the media. It’s your responsibility to minimise the chance of that happening.

By training in a variety of communication techniques, you will be prepared and ready to respond every crisis in a way that optimises the response for all your customers.

Remember what your granny taught you.

We have all heard the phrase, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".  Wouldn't you like to prevent as many crises as possible than having to clear up the mess they can cause?

While it is not possible to prevent every crisis, by using monitoring and notification systems we certainly can limit the number of events that reach crisis level.

Monitoring Systems

Intelligence gathering is an essential component of both crisis prevention and crisis response. There are a number of ways you can gather information prior to a crisis. Tools like Google Alerts and Hootsuite will allow you to monitor the web so you can catch a negative “trend” that, if unchecked, turns into a crisis.

Similarly,, tools like Pingdom, StillAlive and PagerDuty, can help you monitor you IT systems, even if you purchase these from a third party provider. With these systems in place, you can catch bugs in your service before your customers and prevent a crisis before it has a chance to start.

Notification Systems

When the proverbial cow pie hits the fan, one of the first things on your mind should be to notify your customers of the current situation. As there are now multiple modalities for reaching your customers, It is absolutely essential, pre-crisis, to establish a plan that will allow you to contact each stakeholder on their preferred method of communication. This way you can be sure that all your customers not only received your message but they read it too.

By setting up a status page, you can communicate clearly, concisely and effectively with your customers, notifying them about any planned and unplanned disruption to the service you provide to them. With a status page in place, your customers can choose how they wish to be updated SMS, Email, Slack, etc.

Being able to do this is akin to sitting someone down for a conversation with a coffee. It allows you to have a lot more control over the conversation; without intermediaries, without noise, to act with clarity and honesty. And the person you're communicating with appreciates it more. It has authenticity as opposed to the 'social-media-to-whom-it-may-concern' feel.

Creating a one-on-one type feel in your relationship with your customers is hugely important. We're at the point where for many online services, we've moved past a race-to-the-bottom, and as people's businesses grow, when they spend, they want not just value but service. Far too often is service looked upon as 'features' or 'usability'. Service is the human touch. Making customers feel they are included, important and kept-in-the-loop regarding the service they've decided to place trust in.

Final Thoughts

It would be great to believe organisations worldwide are finally “getting it” about crisis preparedness. Certainly, client demand for advance preparation has increased dramatically in the past decade, at least in my experience. But when 95 percent of organisations remain either completely unprepared or significantly under-prepared for crises. By choosing to be part of the prepared minority you can quickly get ahead of your competition and best of all your customers will thank you for it.

To see how a status page, can improve your relationship with your customers. Sign up for a free trial today.