By now we all know that bad news travels fast, especially when it comes to tracking negative business incidents. So, it’s fair to ask why it takes so long to deal with them when they occur?

In today’s fast-paced, always connected world, customers are less forgiving and more demanding than before. Businesses cannot afford to be reactive. During time-sensitive incidents, they need to behave and communicate as proactively and as quickly as possible while solving their particular business issue.

Take the Volkswagen (VW) scandal, where VW rigged its emissions testing results. This, no doubt, would have triggered a series of communications across the business. It would have included dealing with the problem operationally/logistically, as well as reputationally, with investors and customers. It, no doubt, would have kicked VW’s crisis communication plan into full effect.

However, this scenario does raise another question. What is the best way to handle communications during time sensitive incidents (positive/negative)? How do you communicate with customers and stakeholders effectively? What should organisations consider as they deal with this type of challenge; because, like it or not, they will be exposed to an incident in the future?

1. Use message templates

Although foreseeing the future is not possible – at least not for the non-superstitious – businesses can prepare in advance. They should take a look at the type of incidents that have occurred in the past, analyse how they have dealt with them and how the industry has dealt with similar challenges. This way, contingency plans can be prepared in advance as much as is possible, even if it is only in the broadest sense.

During the middle of a major incident, wasting time on crafting prose is the last thing needed. So, developing communication templates is key, and they can save time by providing a set of pre-defined messaging and response options, which can be rapidly tailored for the right audience/recipients.

2. Integrate and automate

Using communication messaging templates becomes even better when they can be integrated with monitoring systems, a sthis allows for relevant details to be auto-populated into templates.

For instance, tight integration between a business’s communication, problem ticketing & monitoring systems allows messages to be automatically sent without taking the resolution and ops teams off the tasks of restoring services. Furthermore, typically, enterprise-grade systems will allow for multiple messages to be triggered for different audiences with different messages.

3. Synchronise to optimise

Recipient contact information should be synchronised via data sync from record systems, and businesses should also augment basic contact information with contextual information, such as on-call schedules, groups and skill sets. This will streamline communications.

Take any incident, usually managers rarely look for a specific person, but – rather – for a role or skill set: it’s not about finding ‘Joan’, but accurately reaching the ‘call centre manager on duty’.

4. Empower stakeholders

It’s important not to forget to communicate to stakeholders beyond resolution teams. This includes partners, utilities, PR, corporate communications, and more – all of whom probably have specific needs and interests.

Allow stakeholders to subscribe to communications too. This enables them to control the frequency of alerts, mode of communication and subject matter which they would like to be notified about.

5. Trigger collaboration through communication

When a major incident occurs, resolution teams need to act quickly. And, in today’s distributed, heterogeneous technology environments, this often requires collaboration. Something as simple as setting up a conference call for a team representing a dozen skill sets can turn into a seven-headed monster, taking over an hour to assemble.

One of the main reasons for this is due to the complex nature of roster management and task management systems. Often these systems are used to manage staff shifts according to tasks that need to be implemented.

When an incident occurs, though, this creates a new business issue: not only ensuring existing day-to-day activities take place smoothly, but that the current incident is dealt with efficiently. This usually results in a mismatch of skills against the current situation, triggering confusion around jobs that need to be done by key individuals within teams.

Usually this sort of process is carried out manually and it is slow. However, by automating notifications to people via their mobiles, a team can be assembled within just 3-5 minutes, drastically reducing resolution times and increasing efficiency.

6. Get a communication team on board

Most people usually feel relieved once their first set of communication goes out. And this next part is the key: it is all about transparency and honesty – this is crucial for keeping stakeholders and customers happy.

Therefore, it is advisable to solicit support from a qualified and experienced professional to assist your team with crafting the exact working and messaging to support your team during the incident.

Another tip, which some businesses implement, is to proactively arrange meetings with clients/ corporate communications teams to create high quality templates and messages which can be ready for use in the event of a major incident. This way they can, at the very least, try their best to work out what type of language works well during any sort of incident.

7. When communicating, give but don’t be shy to take

Don’t take for granted the information that can be gathered from individuals impacted by a major incident. By using proactive communications businesses have a chance to gather data points which may help with troubleshooting or with conducting an investigation.

After a major incident, customers want to be reassured that the business has learnt from the experience and that the same lightening won’t strike a second time. Therefore, including customer input as part of that process gives them a sense of partnership in improving services. As part of this, it is important to include a feedback loop at the end of the entire process.

A survey conducted by international law firm Fresh Fields, found that more than one-quarter of crises reach international media within 1 hour and more than two-thirds within 24 hours.

Further to this, and as also highlighted by the VW scandal we know only too well that when things go wrong, businesses can get flooded with thousands of complaints.

As if this isn’t bad enough, another report conducted by SQM Group found that customer satisfaction drops by 15 percent every time a customer has to call back about the same issue.

Not getting the message across in good timing is not only temperamental externally but also internally, as executives kept in the dark will take longer to respond to inquiries, cause damage to business reputation and subsequently, financial loss.

Therefore, if businesses plan to limit the severity of negative outcomes during incidents, they need to re-evaluate the way that they plan to deal with communications surrounding critical, time-sensitive incidents.

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