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5 tips for responding to a crisis in real-time

5 tips for responding to a crisis in real-time Allison Canty

When your company is faced with a crisis and your customers take to social media to voice their grievances, how you respond is of the utmost importance. Whether it's an outage or some negative publicity, bad news travels fast. No company ever sets out with the goal of angering and disappointing their customers, but these things happen.

When your brand's reputation is on the line, it's important to make sure you acknowledge and address the issue at hand. Letting these types of things run their course is the worst thing you can do as a company. Just ask these companies.

You need to have a communication plan in place. Without a crisis communication plan ready, it's hard to know how to respond to your customers on the fly.

  • How do you know what tone to use?

  • How do you minimize the effects of the crisis has on your brand?

  • How should you handle the critics?

These are all things your business should approach in a well thought out manner, as one misstep in your response could prolong and further enrage your customers.

No one ever wants to plan for a crisis to happen, but when one does, here are five things your business can't afford to overlook:

Be open and honest
This is one of the most important aspects of responding to a crisis in real-time. During a crisis, your customers are undoubtedly going to be upset, so make sure you address them in a genuine manner. Simply put, just be human -- nothing will irritate them more than corporate jargon.

Give your customers the information you have. If you don't have any updates, tell them that too. Your customers will appreciate the honesty --even if they don't seem like they do.

Respond in a timely manner
As you know, bad news travels fast, so be prepared to act fast. With the presence of social media, conversations happen faster and, even worse, conversations can take a turn for the worst faster.  When an issue arises, address it and address it as soon as possible.

At Grasshopper, we recently experienced an outage and lost access to our customer database, leaving us unable to alert our customers that their phone systems weren't working. Our only option was to use social media to get the word out. We used our blog to announce updates and then spread the word through Facebook and Twitter. Without social media, we would've been dead in the water. Although we weren't able to reach all of our customers, many were still able to find and connect with us via social media.

With that said, it's important to make sure you are out there in the trenches and responding to and updating your customers in a timely manner. What your company considers timely is up to you, but keep in mind the longer you wait to respond, the harder it will be to defuse the situation. Responding to and updating your customers every step of the way will help put your customer's minds at ease. If for nothing else, your customers will at least know you care and are there listening.

Address the critics head on
During a crisis, you will be faced with people who are angrier than you could've ever imagined. This is something you'll need to be prepared to deal with. Some criticisms or comments will be warranted but others will be completely out of line. At that point, you will need to step in and take action.

Whether you direct the critic to your community guidelines, or explain what types of behavior won't be tolerated on your page, something needs to be said. You don't necessarily have to respond to the comment, but you should let the critic know that their attacks won't be tolerated.

Something to make sure you're cautious of is deleting comments. There is a very fine line between when it is acceptable to delete a comment and when it is not. Here's a great post covering the do's and don'ts of removing comments.

Lastly, when possible, it's best to try and take these types of conversations offline. By taking the conversations offline, you will be better able to address this person's concerns. Speaking to the person one on one can help you get to the bottom of things faster, and without an audience.

This tip should go without saying. Don't forget to apologize. Take ownership of what happened. Your customers will appreciate this.

Turn a negative situation into a positive one
Don't just stop at an apology -- take this situation as an opportunity to show your customers what kind of company you are. Make sure once your customers know how sorry you are that they know what you're doing to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Turn the crisis into an opportunity to engage with and establish a relationship with your customers. Make sure you thank those who gave you feedback, and also those who gave you support. Follow up with them after; it never hurts to over-communicate in a time like this.

Doing these five things can go a long way to impress your current and future customers. When something goes wrong and your customers turn to social media to vent their frustrations, make sure your company is there and listening. Take ownership of the issue, apologize, and be open and honest with your fans or followers. These things happen -- it's how you respond that will make a difference in the end.

Has your company had to respond to a crisis in real-time? What other tips would you add to the list?

Allison Canty is the social media coordinator at Grasshopper.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Allison Canty is the Social Media and Community Manager at Grasshopper, the Entrepreneur's Phone System.  She manages the online social presence for Grasshopper and is passionate about customer service and social media marketing. You can...

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Commenter: Allison Canty

2011, September 22

Hi Nick - I completely agree, time is of the essence when it comes to responding to a crisis. Leaving your customers in the dark about what's going on is the worst thing a company can do. The sooner a company responds, the better their chances of quickly recovering from the incident. Thanks for the comment!

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, September 22

"bad news travels fast, so be prepared to act fast." Companies can no longer afford to work on their time schedule. You can't wait a week (or even a few days) to have a press release and try to explain/defend yourself. Social media allows for instant connections, meaning you have to be prepared to respond instantaneously before the fire gets too big to put out.