Management can turn crisis into opportunity

Even with the best planning and a highly trained staff, crises occur at every business. It’s how you approach and manage the situation that determines whether or not it will turn into a detriment for your company or a wonderful opportunity for growth.

Large companies experience crises on a national level and it’s visible that what is going on is, indeed, crisis management. Smaller businesses encounter the need for crisis management regularly as well —whether it’s an unhappy customer, a disgruntled employee or defective product.

Having a crisis management plan is important for the owner and staff of every company. Having a written crisis management plan can be as important as having a written business plan. When the unexpected occurs, it usually involves quite a bit of emotion and often we aren’t thinking clearly about the entire situation. Rather, we’re acting on our emotions at a micro level, blocking out an important vision of the future and management of the situation on a larger scale.

When faced with a crisis, step back and take a deep breath. Realize that nearly every situation, no matter how dire, can be managed effectively and used to create a stronger brand.

In the 1980s, Johnson & Johnson was a victim of an act of violence against its customers. Cyanide capsules were slipped inside bottles of Tylenol in Chicago. The company didn’t have a direct hand in what happened, but they way it managed the situation set a precedent for future crisis management because it worked. Out of this “crisis” came the creation of tamper-resistant bottles. Tylenol immediately set up a method of clear communication, apologized, accepted responsibility and set up a plan for the future.

A less successful crisis management situation involved the Ford/Firestone tire recall in 2000. Instead of clearly communicating with consumers, Ford and Firestone pointed fingers and tried to distract away from themselves and the actual issue of the defective tires and their installation.

When your company experiences a crisis, it’s rarely of these proportions. Nonetheless, feelings of hopelessness, anger and frustration offer clear signs it’s time to implement your crisis management plan.

The first step is to apologize when you’re able. There are some cases in which there are legal implications to a rash apology. So this step needs to be well thought out. If there could be legal implications for your company, consult with your attorney and find out what you can say without getting into trouble.

Consider, for example, a client who’s angry with your company for a reason out of your control. The knee-jerk reaction is to be angry because it’s not your fault. A more effective response is to begin with an apology for the miscommunication that caused the decline in client relations. An apology that the situation has gotten to the point of client dissatisfaction is also effective.

The second step is to take responsibility. The buck has to stop with you. Whether you were directly responsible or not, as a manager in the situation you do have responsibility. After you apologize, take responsibility for what you can. In the above example, you could apologize for the situation and then let the client know you accept responsibility for the decline in the relationship. One of the most ineffective things that can be done in this situation is to tell the client, “It’s just not my fault.” Instead, take this as an opportunity to let the client know he or she is important to your company and you will personally take responsibility to ensure fences are mended.

The third step is to set out the plan for correction and the future. This is the most detailed step and requires quite a lot of thought. In the above example, you would explain your plan to mend fences and ensure the client is happy.

In this step, one of the most effective questions that can be asked is this: What can I personally do to make this situation better? And then listen. Do your best to implement requests into your plan of action. Repeat back to clients what they’re asking to ensure everyone is clear about the requests.

You’ll find that most of the time, the second party doesn’t really know what they want. So you take the opportunity to offer a refund, partial refund or credit for future service. Let them know you’ll be following all communications from here on out and that you’re always available to handle any situation before it becomes an issue.

These steps seem intuitive. But in the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to remember to let go of the anger and frustration so the situation can be resolved and active communication restored.

Marketing is all about communication and conversation. With appropriate crisis management, conversation can be restored quickly and painlessly. And out of many crises arise an opportunity to strengthen your brand.