By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
Think of a crisis as UN-selling your customers.
Traditional crisis management and crisis communications are practiced almost the same way by every company and public relations firm. A company screws up and UN-sells their customer. Then the public relations team tries to clean up the mess. They essentially try to resell the customer.
Three television commercials have just hit the air with three high-profile companies attempting to repair their self-inflicted wounds and resell their customers.
Will it work?
Facebook lead the way with their television commercial, followed by Uber, and now followed by Wells Fargo.
As a cynic, I wonder if they would be running commercials if each crisis didn’t hurt their bottom line? That’s what happens when you un-sell. As a crisis communications expert, I question why their respective responses were so slow, which further damaged their bottom line.
Most so-called crisis communication experts want to repair reputation. My expert advice is to protect revenue by preventing the crisis from happening to begin with and by getting out ahead of the crisis if it reaches a flashpoint. I have three tips about this at the bottom of this post.
All three of these companies were initially silent and all three were much too slow to respond. Speed in crisis communications is critical. The sooner you address the crisis with one or more statements, the faster the crisis will go away.
Facebook was the first I saw on television. Imagine, the company with one of the largest advertising platforms in the world having to buy television commercials because so many of their customers were un-sold and the only way to reach them is through television.
As commercials go, it is sentimental and emotional and may cause some people to give them a second chance. It confesses the sins of the company, then boldly states, “That’s going to change.” I like that. But what is missing is the phrase, “We let you down, and for that, we are sorry.”
The second commercial I saw was from Uber. Uber portrays their new CEO as the crusader who will right the wrongs of the past and invites the customer “to move forward together,” and “to help write our next chapter.” Void again is the phrase, “In our growth we let some things fall through the cracks and for that we are sorry.”
What is also interesting about Uber, is their growth resulted from virtually every taxi driver in America un-selling people with open windows, dirty cabs, excessive speed and a lack of courtesy. Uber drivers were essentially the opposite until a handful of crises happened that were not addressed quickly enough.
Wells Fargo has the weakest of the three attempts to win customers back. Their commercials are frankly years too late, since their crisis was exposed in the Fall of 2016. The cynic in me says that a commercial this late in the game is likely the result of executive denial, portrayed by folks who thought this crisis would blow over. It didn’t. Human denial in a crisis is the thing that slows response. Regarding the commercial, the music is bad. The script is weak. The commercial is vague in alluding to the company’s actions in which reportedly two million fake accounts were opened, leading to 5,300 employees being fired and the company paying $185 million in fines. Added to the list of bad moves is the company paying almost that much in bonuses to the executives who lead the teams which led to the bad behavior. Oh, and never is there an apology.
Your crisis management and crisis communications lessons should be this:
1) When your company screws up, respond fast. If you want to know how, ask me about the 100 pre-written news releases I now provide to each of the clients who use my crisis communications plan.
2) You must apologize for something. Your lawyers don’t want you to say you are sorry as part of a confession of wrongdoing. I understand that. But I have written many phrases in the past that apologize to the offended party without confession to anything that would give ammunition to the plaintiff’s attorney. I’ve included some of those above, such as, “We are sorry for letting you down.” Remember, winning in court is a small consolation when you have lost in the court of public opinion and your customers have left you.
3) The best form of crisis management is to recognize a potential crisis before it goes public. I could have spotted all three of these crises long before they went public. My best case studies are always about potential crises that were caught in the early stages and made to go away before they ever went public.
When denial, bad behavior, and poor judgment exist in the C-suite, you will have a crisis. That crisis will un-sell your customers.