5 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn About Preparing for Crisis Communications
Written by John Pilmer
Entrepreneur Consultant, Owner and CEO of PilmerPR
In a time where you can pretty much bank on cell phone cameras capturing every moment, it is more important than ever for brands to make smart decisions when it comes to delivering on promises to their customers. Those who don’t keep this at the forefront of their public relations strategy will feel the wrath of the YouTube generation.
In 2011, a FedEx driver was filmed throwing a package containing fragile electronics over a private fence instead of delivering it the door. Earlier this year, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on camera berating one of his drivers, adding to a list of PR missteps for the rideshare company. And most recently, United Airlines came under fire for forcibly removing a passenger from a flight when he refused to be involuntarily bumped — and you guessed it, the whole thing was caught, in several different angles, on cell phone cameras.
There’s a lot to be said about crisis communication and the ways United could have better handled their PR in this situation, but at the forefront of this issue are the lessons we can integrate moving forward. In another company’s misfortune, savvy entrepreneurs always find a way to capitalize. Here are just a few things that can be gleaned from United’s snafu:
1. Hope for the best, but plan for the inevitable worst-case scenario.
No one starts their company hoping that they’ll end up on the front page in the worst possible light. But the brands that successfully stay out of the negative limelight have plans in place for when a crisis does happen. In the examples cited above, only FedEX made the most of the situation, immediately reaching out to customers to them know what steps had already been taken and what future changes would be made to ensure the issue is not repeated. As in any situation, the best advice is to be open, honest and proactive.
2. Understanding your customers is the key to a successful business. Always.
In the wake of United’s gaffe, Delta Airlines has come out looking like a shining alternative with their advanced polling practice. Here’s how it works: Delta asks passengers at check-in what price they’d be willing to give up their seat for. This helps avoid involuntary bumping for customers, and it also makes good economic sense. They can buy back any overbooked seats for the lowest possible amount. That is entrepreneurial thinking.
3. Think digital.
Formal statements released over a wire service need more reinforcement than they did 20 years ago. The most obvious solution to this is social media. Now the most common online activity, social media, has changed the way people think, interact and communicate — and entrepreneurs should take note. It’s important to meet your customers where they are, not talk down to them from a podium. This means engaging on social media, posting to a company blog, sending an email to loyal customers, and coming up with other creative responses that make sense for your market and your brand.
4. Reputation management is worth the investment.
Whether or not you are paying attention, your online footprint cannot be erased. One angry customer with an unflattering photo can wreck havoc on your bottom line simply by posting to major review sites. A small social media brushfire can turn quickly into a raging reputation management inferno. Closely monitoring your online brand and responding to and interacting with consumers consistently will build up loyalty and social capital in a way that can counteract any damage before it even happens.
5. There is room for growth in the transportation industry.
If anything, the recent spotlight on United has shown some holes in the way that overbooking is handled among every major airline. An enterprising individual with a great idea for solving these problems through technology, updated systems, customer communication or another solution that hasn’t been thought of yet, will have a captive audience.