Watch the news on TV, view your favorite news channel on your smartphone or tablet, check your Twitter news feed, or pick up almost any business section of a newspaper today and you’re likely to see a headline describing some sort of business crisis.
A crisis can be a weather-related event, a financial problem, a reputation issue, or anything that can have an adverse effect on your business. These events usually occur with little to no warning. Your business needs a plan outlining the exact steps needed to minimize the damage to its financial stability, reputation, and standing in the industry.
For example, maybe you were alerted to a damaging review about your HVAC business that appeared on a service business review website. Or, maybe an employee posted something outrageous about you, your company, or a customer on social media, and your company’s phones are ringing off the hook. These situations happen, and service businesses who don’t have a crisis plan, or who have not engaged a public relations (PR) professional to manage reputation damage, can be caught off guard.
The lesson here is that, unless you have a plan in place, you won’t have much time to prepare a response or craft careful responses to customer phone calls, Twitter comments, Facebook posts, and the like. Crisis management must be handled immediately — as soon as your business is aware of the problem.
Nothing good happens when businesses fail to respond to a business crisis immediately. If you don’t, the media and Internet trolls can take over, and your business could lose control of the information being disseminated.
To maintain your reputation in the event of a major or minor crisis, here are a few tips to get your company’s crisis planning started:
No. 1: What Do You Consider a Crisis — A crisis to one business might not be a crisis to another, so it’s up to you and your staff to brainstorm and create a master crisis list. Most crises occur unexpectedly, so do some hard thinking to make sure all the potential issues that could affect your business are covered. Don’t overlook adverse weather issues, electrical interruptions, machinery breakdowns, telecommunications issues, website failures, employee problems, damaging financial information, negative social media posts, reputation attacks, and more.
No. 2: Identify a Crisis Team for Each Potential Issue — For example, if your business depends on its website to conduct business, your website crisis team should include staff or vendors who can be contacted at any time. Make sure they agree to be present any time a business emergency occurs. Your designated team members should exchange lists and contact information. Always include your marketing and/or social media staff on all crisis teams, so they are in the loop. Crisis team members should meet once or twice a year to update the master crisis list.
No. 3: List the Responsibilities/Activities for Each Crisis Team Member — If your HVAC business is located in an area that is susceptible to severe winter storms, tornadoes, floods, or other weather-related issues, your crisis plan should spell out what criteria constitutes an emergency. If school closings mean your business will close too, then your weather crisis team should have a list of responsibilities and tasks. Who will determine the business will close? How will employees be contacted? Will the website and phone message reflect the closings, and who will make the changes? Who will update the social media platforms? How will employees and customers be notified that the business is open once the crisis is over?
No. 4: Create a Long-term Contingency Crisis Blueprint — In California, the threat of wildfires is very real, and HVAC businesses in those areas should have a contingency plan in case the physical building housing the business is damaged by a wildfire. However, weather-related dangers could happen anywhere, any time. Where will employees go if the building is damaged? How will the business operate without a building? Can the phone system be transferred to another location without loss of business? Does your service business have a plan to manage service dispatch from an alternate location?
No. 5: Create PR and Social Media Protocols for Each Crisis — Once your business has finished steps 1-4, you’ll have a good idea of the potential crises that could occur and a written plan of action. One of the most important steps is creating sample social media posts and online press releases or statements that will be almost ready to go should an emergency or crisis occur. These can be easily adapted depending upon the type of crisis. Since most emergencies happen suddenly, without notice, having a master file with potential posts, telephone scripts, and media-ready information is extremely important.
Many businesses make a mistake by not communicating early and often during a crisis. Being proactive and having a plan is always better than being reactive during a crisis.
Publication date: 9/14/2015