How All Areas of an Organization Should Respond in a Crisis

 In Comms Heroes

I admit it—this is a bit of a rant. But it’s also a lesson in crisis communications.

My husband and I were evacuated from our home in the Southern California wildfires last week, and couldn’t get home for six days. My in-laws, who were evacuated from their home on the same day, have been with us the whole time and are going on day nine with no power and no news about their home.

Needless to say, frustration is high and patience is low, which leads to seemingly small things being irritating.

News has been scarce in all evacuated areas while infrastructure is restored. One of our main sources of updates has been our city and local power company websites.

So imagine our surprise when we visited the Southern California Edison site on Saturday morning looking for the latest update on my in-laws’ home and got a message that the site was down for scheduled maintenance for the weekend.

 

Yes, there was a link to a page with some outage information. But after spending 10 minutes explaining to my 90-year-old mother-in-law what “scheduled maintenance” means, I wondered why SCE would proceed with this type of maintenance during a crisis.

In the midst of my irritation, I fired off a tweet, and to their credit, SCE responded quickly, but with a less than satisfying answer. The second answer was right on the money – acknowledging my frustration and offering to share feedback with the management team.

So what’s the lesson for crisis communications? In addition to the great tips for employee communications shared by my SocialChorus colleague Charong Chow, I’d add these:

1. Consider how all areas of the business have an impact on your customer and adjust plans accordingly. It probably didn’t occur to anyone that scheduled website maintenance impacted fire victims. But why risk increasing customer frustration when frustration levels are already high? The heads of IT, Marketing, Communications and other senior leaders should be working hand-in-hand with business continuity team members to determine what the latest situation is and what adjustments can or should be made to regular business operations until the crisis is over.

Rather than business as usual, companies should do their best to delight customers when they least expect it. By way of example, Verizon sent three updates throughout our evacuation letting us know that they were providing free, unlimited text, talk and data to those impacted by the fire. It’s worth noting that this follows some less-than-impressive crisis response in a fire earlier this year, so I’d like to think that they adjusted their practice from previous experience (see lesson number three).

2. Customer service responses should empathize with frustrated customers and accept feedback. I was clearly venting in my tweet, not asking for more information. While trying to be helpful (and giving me a link that was pictured on the page I tweeted), I would have been more satisfied if SCE initially acknowledged my frustration and said they would take my feedback.

3. After the crisis, review your response and update your playbooks with lessons learned. The best crisis comms playbooks are tested and updated often, and reviewed after a major crisis so that the company can do better the next time. I hope SCE will consider these lessons and adjust for the next crisis.

And a final lesson (for myself) as we head into the Thanksgiving week. Practice gratitude and patience. I’m so thankful that my family is safe and our homes are fine. As of this writing, at the end of day nine, we confirmed my in-law’s home was safe, albeit still without power for a few more days.

I’m thankful for the firefighters, police officers and other first responders who protected our communities during this tragedy. I’m thankful for the SCE employees and other frontline workers who are working 24/7 to get the power and phone lines repaired so my in-laws can return home soon. I know so many others have lost so much more and my heart hurts for them.

Pausing to give thanks seems to increase my patience, especially for small irritations.

Originally published on Linkedin.

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