We’re in a new era of customer feedback. Online reviews are easier than ever, meaning customers will express their opinions on your products and services. Sometimes, those reviews are not exactly flattering!
Rightly or wrongly, potential customers put a lot of stock in online reviews. You likely check reviews before buying a product or service, too. You will probably take your business elsewhere if there is one significant negative review or several mediocre ones.
Since encountering this issue is a when, not an if, you need to have a crisis management plan that addresses these reviews and other issues arising in your organization. It doesn’t matter whether you are a solo entrepreneur or a small business; all companies, large and small, benefit from effective business crisis management.
You need a crisis management plan. Here are seven tips to get you started on designing one.
What is crisis management?
Let’s start with a definition of crisis: It is any situation that threatens to harm people and property, interrupts the continuity of a business, or damages the reputation of a company/entrepreneur. While we discuss customer reviews in this article, crises can also arise from:
- Natural disasters
- Legal problems
- Economic factors, both in and out of your control
- Operational or infrastructural, e.g., whether your present storefronts or facilities meet people’s needs
Some of these items are within your control. Maintaining proper insurance for natural disasters and legal trouble is essential for all businesses. However, you can’t always control how the economy behaves or if customer preferences change dramatically.
But you can prepare for these eventualities. That is where designing a crisis management plan comes into the picture.
Ready for a Crisis Management plan? Here are some tips!
Crafting crisis management strategies depends on foresight and preparation. It’s easy to fall into panic and act before thinking, but that’s the worst way to approach a crisis. These tips will help you discern what is true regarding crisis management and how to implement good approaches.
Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst! It doesn’t sound very optimistic, but it is among life’s most valuable lessons. It applies to business and crisis management too.
It’s easy to become overconfident in your product. This fact becomes especially true after a successful launch and online sales skyrocket. But this is not the time to become complacent.
You must nurture growth, not take it for granted or neglect it. There is always a possibility that your once-popular product receives a bad review, needs a recall, or simply fails to live up to expectations. No one likes to consider these scenarios, but they are possible with every launch.
When you plan your launch and draft your business plan, ask yourself:
- What are the product’s weaknesses?
- Will it meet the interests of my target audience?
- Do I have a plan if my initial strategy fails?
Self-criticism isn’t fun, but it’s important. It is how you discover solutions before throwing your product or service into the market and possibly facing setbacks.
Many people think of sales as persuasion, but they are about empathy. You need to relate to your customer and know their concerns. Most importantly, you must be dedicated to meeting them.
For example, let’s say your product is an online course. Your customers want the course to be accessible, free of bugs, and easy to purchase. They are also likely concerned about online security and won’t complete the checkout process if it appears sketchy.
You address those concerns. You start with a reliable platform to host your material. Then you create the content and make it available. You may even test it to make sure it meets expectations.
Then there is the checkout process. You may want to make secure payment options, like PayPal, available or invest in high-level encryption. These security measures are reassuring and more likely to foster trust.
Does this sound time-consuming? It is! But it is worth the effort. Time spent in pre-production prevents you from marketing a bad product. Even if it doesn’t guarantee success, dealing with “haters” of your brand becomes easier when you have dozens of other satisfied customers. You will not avoid negative reviews, but you can make them few and far between – and handle them productively.
As mentioned above, a crisis is a when, not an if. You may produce the leading digital product in your industry, but that doesn’t take crisis management off the table.
Once you release a product, your work is never done. You must still adapt to your market and consider ways to meet your audience’s demands and ensure customers’ satisfaction with their purchases.
After all, digital products need code updates, and server outages reduce access, even if only for a short while. Your supplier may produce a defective part that affects your inventory. More serious occurrences like data breaches and natural disasters can throw a wrench into your well-laid plans.
So, make a plan. Sometimes, that means making separate crisis management plans to address server issues, data breaches, natural disasters, and other anticipated problems.
Your customers are more likely to forgive you after a crisis if you have a plan and keep them informed. However, if you are flustered, unorganized, and uncommunicative, start expecting bad reviews.
Also, check your systems. Ensure checkout works properly and securely. Ensure your digital product’s download, and your customers experience no issues accessing products or services. If a customer places a help ticket, answer it immediately and inform them if there is a delay.
You are not going to hide a problem, so it is best to confront it directly. While your first instinct may be to protect your business, don’t do that at the cost of your customers’ trust.
Besides destroying trust, your denial can get your business into legal trouble. Data breaches, for example, must follow a transparent process that includes informing affected customers and offering remedies. If you try to hide a data breach, you risk liability, including lawsuits and fines.
LinkedIn, for example, experienced data breaches in 2016 and 2021. Each time, it acknowledged the breach and took steps to secure its systems and inform consumers. They admitted that the breaches violated their terms of service and offered remedies. Despite these incidents, LinkedIn remains one of the largest networks for career development and job hunting.
When crises occur, keep customers informed through social media and your blog. Post updates as items resolve or delays occur.
When you try to cover up a crisis with deception, you only create a new crisis – one involving credibility. It is far more difficult to regain trust than to admit the problem and take steps to solve it. People are much more forgiving when you keep them in the loop. Short-term frustration is a better alternative to feeling deceived.
You must foster a company culture of communication. Don’t leave employees thinking all criticism is bad and leave them fearful of speaking up about issues.
You must have a good relationship with everyone in your organization, from leadership to your workforce. Even if you are running your business alone, you still need to build relationships with suppliers and vendors. If these connections see you as a difficult tyrant, you are unlikely to encourage confidence in your product or services.
You must be transparent, whether you manage employees or multiple connections with suppliers or vendors. Encourage people to bring problems to you to find solutions. Don’t react defensively. See it as an opportunity to improve and avoid crises.
Your business doesn’t exist in a bubble. People likely discuss your product or service on Google, Yelp, or social media. Your employees and vendors may discuss your leadership and whether your company comes off credibly.
Monitoring these conversations can give you a heads-up before concerns become crises. Sure, some customers are never happy with anything and go out of their way to give you a bad review. But your goal should be to reduce the number of “haters” through good service, so you minimize their impact.
But as your business grows, this monitoring becomes more difficult. Find a good social media monitoring tool to help you keep track. This software tracks mentions on social media and brings content to your attention. You can see when negative talk overtakes the positive and plan accordingly.
You can start with basic plans and upgrade as needed. Most monitoring tool providers are willing to grow their packages with your business, so you don’t have to cough up too much money at once.
Another option is to set up Google Alerts. Many people use this tool to highlight their favorite news articles, but you can also use it for business. The alerts will inform you when a social media discussion, online forum, or news site mentions your business, product, or service.
Finally, find the online forums involving your product. These forums are often uncensored feedback about your business and its offerings. Join and start monitoring these discussions, so you can find complaints and start crisis management early. Many of these forums can give you a heads-up on product defects, slow servers, and other issues that annoy customers.
A crisis is unavoidable. But you can learn from it.
Once you resolve the crisis and meet all legal obligations arising from it, debrief all relevant parties within your business. You will need a detailed report about the crisis and its impacts. This report should cover the following areas.
Most crises cause financial loss. People may stop buying your products or services. Advertisers may be less willing to run your ads. Platforms are less likely to market your products or present them as options.
Facing financial impacts is difficult, both emotionally and mentally. Sometimes, the impacts are immense, and you may have to shut down. Other times, you may have to enact cost-saving measures affecting executives and employees.
You can reduce financial impact in two ways. One, hire professionals who can estimate possible financial losses, so you can prepare for them. These services allow you to account for losses in your business budgets, so their impacts are less severe.
Second, diversify your business, so there are multiple cash flow options. For example, if you create gaming apps, also develop apps for productivity and organization. That way, a product is always bringing in revenue even when one faces challenging times.
Financial planning should be part of every business formation. Your backup plans need backup plans. Implement these plans into your crisis management plan as well.
Continue to monitor forums and social media after you resolve a crisis. You require this feedback to see if your crisis management approach worked or if you need to continue adjusting it.
You also want to see what customers still think of you. If they appreciate your forthright approach and are ready for a new start, that measures your success and indicates a lower credibility impact.
Social media follows and website traffic also offers insight into your credibility. You can use Google Analytics to give you these numbers. If an incident greatly reduces your “likes” or traffic, you likely need to focus on remedies for the longer term.
Once you know your situation, you can make better plans to re-attract lost customers.
Crisis management is a proactive approach
Crisis management must be proactive. Knowing how to act before the crisis occurs is a matter of survival. If you approach a crisis in a panicked manner, your customers will remember it. They are less likely to come back to you when the incident is resolved.
But if you plan now for the worst-case scenarios, you’ll be prepared when they happen. You’ll face less damage to your reputation and control the crisis a lot faster.
What about learning more about how to take full advantage of social media to grow your business? Then check out our article on how to build a social media community right away!