Communicating When a Crisis Strikes

Communicating When a Crisis Strikes

How would you handle communication if your business or practice got into a crisis situation?

I was pleasantly surprised when my Internet service provider responded competently and quickly to a technical crisis. And, we can learn to communicate more effectively by studying its response.

The crisis occurred when hackers attacked its system at the same time that the company was upgrading its systems to meet increased customer demand. And while customers experienced no dramatic shutdowns, some customers faced delays and difficulty getting online.

In response, the company quickly sent out a newsletter containing a single article, an open letter from the president.

First, the president acknowledged there had been a problem. And, the company took responsibility for the problem. While it attributed at least some of the problems to malicious hackers, it nonetheless took responsibility for the system’s integrity.

Most of us find it refreshing when a company steps up and does those two things. It communicates self-confidence and it communicates sincere concern for customers. All too often, organizations make poor excuses or point fingers at suppliers and customers; that just makes customers more dissatisfied.

Second, the company apologized. In the first sentence of the article, the president said he was sorry for disruptions that subscribers had experienced over the preceding two weeks.

By doing that he allowed his readers to get through the rest of the letter with less resistance. They weren’t mentally concocting rebuttals – they were reading what he had to say. That’s crucial any time you want to make an important point.

Third, after taking responsibility and apologizing, the president explained what the company was doing to fix the system.

His description of the fixes also took the right tack. He made no attempt to describe the technical nature of the fixes, nor did he try to impress us with how hard he and his people had worked. He simply explained that backup and warning systems were being put into place, and should prevent further outages from the same sources.

Fourth, he promised that the affected customers would get two weeks of free service, to compensate for their inconvenience.

That’s an excellent way to communicate a company’s sincerity. While the apology and acknowledgment would satisfy many customers, the offer of compensation underlined a genuine interest in customer satisfaction.

So, this effective communication strategy had four parts: first, it acknowledged the problem and took responsibility for it; second, it offered an apology; third, it explained what it was doing to fix the problem; and fourth, it offered compensation to those who had been affected.

Of course, simply communicating in a crisis situation won the company some recognition. And having communicated well made the initiative that much effective.

In summary, crisis situations make special communication demands on organizations. This company rose to the occasion by not only fixing the problem, but also by communicating effectively with the people who were affected.