10 Ways to Ride a Crisis

Last Updated Mar 17, 2010 6:11 AM EDT

As the dispute between BA and its cabin crew staff rumbles on, customers are in a state of confusion over whether flights they booked for the Easter holidays will actually take off. This uncertainty is bound to create a crisis of confidence in BA's reputation and will be potentially damaging to customer loyalty.

Whether its a disruption of service or , in the case of Toyota and Honda, the recall of a faulty product, the crisis itself is often not the biggest threat to customer relationships, but how it is managed.

If the crisis is managed well, the customer can walk away with an even better impression of the organisation than before the issue occurred. If it's bungled, the knock-on impact of negative word of mouth can be crippling. Here's a few key do's and don'ts to help you navigate your way through a customer crisis.

These are some of the things you should do:

  • Alert customers to the issue quickly: If you don't give people information, they will either make assumptions or go to other sources that you can't control. And if competitors get wind of the crisis before you have alerted customers, they're likely to take advantage of the assumptions customers can make.
  • Provide regular updates: You're standing in an airport, your plane is late and you haven't been told why. Even if you're not in a hurry this is frustrating. Give customers regular updates about what has happened, what you're doing about it and when they will receive the next update. That way they know you're working on it and they're not left wondering what you're doing.
  • Show that you care: Show your customers that if your life depended on it you couldn't be doing more for them. Show that you have all of your resource dedicated to fixing the problem for as long as it takes.
  • Use social media: Tools like Twitter and online forums are a fast and effective way to reach a very specific audience. The content is also searchable so it's easy for people to stay on top of it. When we've used social media to communicate issues to customers we've ended up in a dialogue that engages the customer on a personal level, and also allows others to chip in on our behalf. We know our customers use these channels so it's about communicating with them in a way that's convenient for them.
  • Have senior people available: Senior people must be accessible to customers in a crisis. Make sure you don't put walls around your organisation -- customers should be able to email the senior management team directly from the website and may even have their phone numbers. I give all my customers my mobile number -- I may only get a call every once in a while, but they know I'm there.
Here's some things you should avoid:
  • Delaying communication in the hope things will improve: Give bad news up-front and quickly. If you delay and things don't improve, you only undermine the moral credibility of your organisation.
  • Making the same mistake twice: People expect some level of human error from time to time. What they won't accept is the same error appearing repeatedly.
  • Embellishing or exaggerating how soon the problem will be fixed: Give customers your most accurate prediction of how long the problem will last, rather than saying it will be fixed 'soon' and hoping for the best. Tell them the truth up-front to avoid disappointing them again -- you'll find in the long run you'll gain their trust if you're honest and don't promise more than you can deliver.
  • Blaming other people or organisations: Passing the responsibility buck only frustrates customers more. Be open, transparent, accept responsibility and you will win the customer over. With this approach you're likely to win more trust, not lose it.
  • Making staff do or say anything they're not comfortable with: Don't ask staff to lie or say something they don't believe in. Customers won't buy it and eventually it will all come out in the wash.