Crisis Management 101: How to buy time from your consumers


Forgiveness is a virtue found most lacking in your consumer. Ask any entrepreneur and they’ll tell you how even their mother forgave their failed venture and the bucketful of money that went down with it, but not a consumer who felt dissatisfied with an inferior product or poor communication. “Janta maaf nahin karegi” is truer than most entrepreneurs would like to believe. Most entrepreneurs would genuinely like to keep the bridge of loyalty and goodwill in prime condition; needless to say they need time for disaster management. It is, therefore, not in a startup's inability to fix a problem but the time it takes them to do so that can result in bad reviews or collective shunning of a brand. Here’s how you can turn the tide.

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LOL. At yourself.

Everybody loves a good laugh, especially those whose lives are run-of-the-mill or those who only breathe between meetings. If you have faltered or fallen in your consumers’ eyes in some way, use the crisis as an opportunity to make them smile by laughing at yourself. The ‘how-could-I’ approach has helped many stand-up comics give their audience a real belly laugh. It's all about turning the situation on its head. A sleepy employee who didn't take his instructions correctly, the boss who got too caught up in the next episode of GoT to sense the impending catastrophe, or the delivery boy who got lost in the labyrinthine city streets – all of these ingredients of a disaster in the making can be turned into a comedy of errors. You can do an ad/online video or simply a series of funny tweets/memes to save the day, and a customer, for your company. Better still, include one of the complainants in the act. The laughter can drown the sounds of complaints while giving you enough time to fix it.

Apologise. And more.

Most of us are aware of the Nike ad where Tiger Woods was shown apologising to his father. His tears seemed genuine, as did the voice of his father, who had expired long before the unfortunate events came to light. For most, it was a rather low-form of apology that had the word 'made up' written on it from the word go. You don't want that. While an apology might be the best form of flattery for the consumer, it does not need to be cheeky or overtly done. A letter expressing genuine regret or an email which does not bear the markings of a bcc can make your apology and your intentions clear. But don't limit yourself to an apology. Once you have their sympathies, slip in the time it will take to fix it. Talk about the looking-into time, the expert management time, the complete-overhaul time and everything else that you plan to put in place to set things right. Once the consumer is aware of the protocols, their patience won't wane and they would grant you the time you need to undo the mishap.

Share the recovery plan with the consumer

You are sure of two things – there is a problem, and you need to fix it. While the consumer is privy to the first, they are, in most cases, absolutely ignorant of the steps you intend to take to fix it. Change that approach. When Buffer, an online social media scheduling site, was hacked, they chose to not only make the hacking known to its users but also got them involved in the steps they took to undo the damage by doing an exhaustive report of the steps taken in the ensuing 24 hours on their blog. This not only helped them avert a crisis but even won the admiration of their consumers, most of who got to know about the hacking long after it was dealt with. You can also create a microsite or a web page that lists down all possible FAQs.

Divert consumer attention

In times of crisis, there is always something else to talk about. Do a big PR, launch a new product, attach yourself with a trending topic – whatever the distraction, make it big and relevant. If done well, you will be able to distract consumers from the present crisis. However, you must return to address the crisis once it has been fixed. This approach will make the consumer think of you as someone who never forgets to deal with a problem even when they do.

Whatever you do, don't vanish.

Out of sight is not only out of mind, but implies one's inability to deal with crisis. It pays to have your own social media forum that allows angry consumers to post bad reviews, blame the company or register complaints. Believe it or not, this puts you in control. As long as you are able to answer consumer blitz, you have their faith. Hire a communications specialist who knows the agitated consumer by the pulse. Responding to each query as if it were the only one is a sign of reassurance and will make the consumer, and therefore their complaint, important.

A crisis doesn't mean the end of your business. Nor does the time it takes to fix it. As long as you are reassuring, accepting of your folly, genuinely apologetic and, most importantly, driven to fix it and fix it quick, you don't have anything to lose.