What is crisis communications?
Crisis communications is dealing with a situation that has the potential to damage your reputation or disrupt your business’s normal services.
A crisis can be caused by your behaviour, that of your staff, or outside factors. Often it can happen without warning but on some occasions, you might be aware that trouble is on the horizon.
How should you deal with a crisis?
If there are issues in your industry that have the potential to affect your operation in the future, it’s always wise to be prepared before the event. A draft statement and Q&As which can be fleshed out as appropriate, plus a media-trained spokesperson, are basic requirements.
If your business is at fault, the most important message to communicate first is an apology. You should then detail how you will right any wrongs for your customers and stakeholders. Reiterate your company values and what changes you will make to avoid a similar event occurring again.
Communications during COVID-19
But what if, as with the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue in question is completely out of your control?
In this situation, it’s important to communicate how you are complying with official advice, warn customers of expected disruption and alternative ways of purchasing/using your products and services.
Below is an outline template for you to structure your communications during this challenging time.
The current situation
Remind customers of the current advice – that is, to stay home, comply with social distancing and be mindful that tougher measures may come if this guidance is not followed.
How you are responding at a practical level
Reassure the public that you and your staff are doing your utmost to comply with official guidance. Explain how your business is affected so far. Are you open or closed? Are all your services still available and will the way they are delivered, and the costs, change? How are you protecting your staff?
For example, if you run a gym, your premises might be closed to the public but you might be looking at ways to deliver fitness classes virtually. This not only keeps services going but can also help to keep staff in employment. Use this as an opportunity to engage with your customers – perhaps ask them what type of classes would be most useful to them. Maybe you could adapt them so that all the family can become involved or demonstrate how they can use household items and furniture in place of gym equipment.
Compassion for your staff, customers and other businesses will long be remembered after this crisis is over. Several large brands have already faced criticism for being seen to put profits before staff during the pandemic and there are threats from the public to boycott them in the future.
Changes to advice
The fluid situation with COVID-19 means that the government advice is frequently being updated. Be sure to keep your customers informed of how this affects your business and them.
Let them know of any further changes and of anything that’s staying the same. Will you have to refine your services? For example, if you are a florist offering home deliveries and some of your staff now have to self-isolate, could deliveries take longer than usual? How will your drivers deliver to customers while complying with social distancing (perhaps by ringing doorbells, placing flowers on the doorstep then stepping back before the front door is opened)? And is it still safe for customers to use your services? Explain why in a way that strictly adheres to government advice.
Looking to the future
If your business is still open, warn your customers of when you might close while reassuring them you are serving them to the best of your abilities in the meantime. Also, let them know of any changes you anticipate making.
Try to keep any communication short and concise. Remember, your customers will likely be receiving similar messages from several other companies. Above all, reiterate that your priority is the protection of staff and the public.
A final word
It can be tempting to try to stick to ‘business as usual’ and keep your premises or offices open as long as possible. While it’s understandable to want to protect your business and the livelihoods of staff, we strongly advise against operating in a way that goes against official advice. If your business offers a non-essential service and any element compromises the ability of the public or staff to comply with social distancing or self-isolation, it is imperative that you take appropriate steps, even if that means temporary closure. Now is not the time to look for loopholes but rather to err on the side of caution.
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