In the current atmosphere of widespread uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic, organizations that fare best and come out intact on the other side will be those that can strike the right tone while focusing on what is most important from employees and vendors to customers. But often, as business leaders are learning daily, the situation also requires facing hard questions with no easy or concrete answers.
Knowing this, intelligent business organizations have already planned by creating crisis teams, designating spokespersons, and training those who will speak for the organization. Those organizations know that too much is at stake during a real crisis to educate frontline team members and expect them to perform optimally.
Yet, experience teaches that far too many companies tempt fate by ignoring pragmatic advice. The Institute for Crisis Management reports that when 1,500 corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies were surveyed about their preparedness to deal with a crisis, 76 percent had no formal crisis management plan, and 72 percent had no designated Crisis Response Team. Nearly 60 percent had never conducted training for those on the front line dealing with a crisis.
In this atmosphere, those who are unprepared may find themselves not only dealing with the immediate pandemic but also with long-term reputation management issues later.
The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted several crisis communication best practices that bear reiterating and immediately put in place: 1) Create a Crisis Team, if it’s not already in place; 2) Prioritize communication needs of your employees; 3) Communicate regularly with Customers.
Build Your Crisis Team
Goal: Business continuity.
This small handful should coordinate and centralize all communication while setting the right tone with employees, vendors, customers—all stakeholders. State, local, and federal government entities have designated such teams, and businesses need to do the same. Universities, school districts, and businesses large and small are all now aware of the importance of such designated voices.
Prioritize Employee Needs
Goal: They’re your ambassadors. Keep them informed.
Use employee communications to put people’s minds at ease. Workers need answers during adverse times that demystify their benefits, insurance, wages, etc. Many studies have shown that steady leadership sets the right tone for all and is a potent antidote in helping reduce employee anxiety. So, over-communicate with employees. During a crisis, if your employees are not regularly informed, they can’t function as your most effective ambassadors to the community at large.
Outreach to Customers
Goal: Stress empathy and think like a consumer.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, several companies have rethought how they do business to provide more excellent service to consumers. The airlines have waived cancellation and change fees. Walgreens, CVS, and others have eased or waived early refills on prescription drugs. Walmart, Target, and several other ‘big-box’ grocery retailers have added enhanced deep-cleaning protocols that signal consumers that it’s safe to do essential grocery shopping.
The COVID-19 crisis and those that will follow require a combination of steady leadership, plus factual and updated information regularly shared with employees, vendors, customers, and the public.
Those businesses and organizations that follow such crisis communication fundamentals in their response to the current national health pandemic will almost certainly come out the other end of it more robust, reputationally intact, and with their long-term fundamentals tested but still firmly in place.