Accent MR Accent

Evaluating Crisis Management

Many years ago (30 years, to be precise) Commercial Union ran a TV campaign with the strapline “We won’t make a drama out of a crisis.” It hit all the right buttons – reassuring consumers that the company was a safe pair of hands that would handle claims efficiently, calmly and without demur. The same level-headedness is certainly required in crisis management – when an incident or accident hits the headlines and health and safety (and corporate reputation) are suddenly in the spotlight. Of course, steps need to be taken to address product or service failings as soon as possible, but managing customer communications needs to be handled with care – and striking a balance between information and reassurance is key.

Over the years, through our research, we’ve observed that how well companies handle a crisis in the immediate aftermath of an incident can have significant ramifications for corporate reputation in the longer term. We’ve explored customer communications following water supply disruptions/shortages and sewage leaks for a number of water companies; we’ve evaluated how successfully train operators have handled unplanned train disruptions and we’ve conducted research amongst SSE’s customers after a series of power cuts.

We always recommend that our clients talk to consumers immediately following any incident to understand how well their crisis management – and particularly communications – has allayed their fears and reassured them regarding a timely resolution of the problem. And, importantly, we evaluate both the medium and the message to ensure that we can provide clear guidance to clients and their PR agencies as to how they can finesse their communications strategy immediately following any future incident. But we also believe it’s critical to go back and re-interview after a decent interval – to assess if there has been any lasting impact that has been detrimental to the company’s reputation, and if so what steps need to be taken to address any residual issues. At the end of the day, there’s no magic silver bullet, no “one size fits all” solution to handling an incident. We believe that the important point is to talk to consumers to discover their reactions rather than at them. Successful crisis management is a fine art, and the more you gauge customers’ reactions the better equipped you will be for the future.

Read more about our approach in this case study

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