Valley First

Crisis Communication for small businesses

Expert advice on how to weather the storm

It's not good; it's all over the internet; and it's about your small business; what do you do? In today’s digitally connected world what many small businesses used to consider minor customer complaints can quickly become public relations nightmares – with your livelihood at the center of the storm. It’s at this moment that small business owners need to take a deep breath, harness their inner public relations professional, and turn what could be a PR nightmare into an opportunity for exceptional customer service.

Leave your emotions behind

Last fall the internet and social media exploded when a small neighborhood bakery lashed back at customers who posted negative reviews on Yelp. Rather than thank them for their feedback and promise to do better next time, the owners took personal offense to the comments and began slighting their customers for “lack of character” and an “inability to tell good food when they saw it.” Their comments soon gained a LOT of attention and within less than 24 hours resulted in national media coverage. Small business owners need to remember that a negative customer experience is just that, one experience, and use it as a chance to improve for the next time. Don’t take it personally.

Acknowledge the incident

Thankfully not all crises are of our own making, but when a serious situation does arise you can’t keep quiet about it. The reality is that silence is equivalent to admission of guilt. Even if the claims are bogus, or investigation results have yet to come back, you need to acknowledge what has happened both with your customers and the public. Failing to acknowledge a crisis allows other parties to begin discussing why you won’t talk about it, and what they think “really” happened.

Show customers that you care

People don’t care what you know; they want to know that you care. Every crisis affects stakeholders outside of your company and they will want to know first and foremost that you care. We’ve all watched press conferences where the spokesperson didn’t show empathy, offer words of concern or apology. Did you feel that they cared? When there is no compassion, people immediately discount anything further you have to say. Your customers must know that you care.

Restore your customers’ confidence

A crisis puts your company under the spotlight. Use this increased attention as an opportunity to restore, and even enhance, your customers’ confidence through transparency and relationship building.

In today’s connected world transparency is non-negotiable. Your customers will want to know exactly what you’ve done to remedy the issue. Sharing the actions you’ve taken shows customers you can be trusted and that they can be confident the issue won’t happen again. And remember, if you say that you will do something but don’t follow through, it’s highly likely that it will be found out and discussed online.

Finally, don’t engage your customers and then leave them hanging. Continue providing context about the incident, acknowledging concerns, strengthening existing relationships and rebuilding trust. This is proverbial money in the bank.