A crisis communication plan is a set of guidelines used to prepare a business for an emergency or unexpected event. These plans include steps to take when a crisis first emerges, how to communicate with your stakeholders, and how you might address or prevent such occurrences in future.
Crisis communication plans focus on your response and how you will communicate it to your stakeholders. These steps ensure information reaches your broad stakeholder network (reinforcing the need for effective stakeholder mapping). Most importantly, these plans guarantee a quick release of information, as well as a consistent message across all platforms.
Crisis Communication Strategies
1. Spokesperson Response: If your organization commits an error or violation (such as contravention of COVID-19 restrictions in the current context), the best thing you can do is to apologize and humanize the error. The most effective way to do that is to assign a spokesperson to speak on your brand’s behalf.
It will be important to choose a good communicator as their actions will influence how your stakeholders will react to the situation. If they can make your company look human and your mistakes appear manageable, that will play a major role in maintaining loyalty and support. And remember, in the case of the travel and tourism industry, in times of crisis the most dangerous mistake for your business is to commit errors that make your destination seem unsafe or your reassurances of safety appear unreliable or untrustworthy – honesty and integrity are essential.
2. Proactive Damage Control: Even if things may appear to be going well for the time being, you should always prepare for a crisis to occur. Proactive damage control is what you do to reduce or prevent the effects of a crisis before it occurs. For example, having systems in place for physical distancing efforts and home-working when necessary and a boilerplate crisis communication plan that can be adapted to multiple circumstances.
3. Case Escalation: Resolve emerging issues in a crisis situation between the affected parties before they reach a wider audience. Remember that virality is heightened in times of fear and anxiety. Create a customer service escalation system to diffuse the issue before it gets out of hand. Remember, consumer loyalty and confidence is even more critical for a travel and tourism business where international travellers can very quickly be put off by external perceptions or perceived danger.
Engage specialists to work on complex or time-sensitive cases. When customers have needs that require additional attention, these experts can intervene.
4. Social Media Response: Social media is an indispensable tool for travel and tourism businesses to keep lines of communication open in times of crisis, specifically in the context of widespread travel restrictions and physical distancing measures.
But remember, it is a two-way street allowing consumers to share stories, post pictures, and upload videos visible to the whole world. One viral video painting your business or destination in a negative or unsafe light can lead to irreparable damage.
Your business needs a social media plan that can manage the digital chatter around your business and/or destination. This may include assigning additional employees to monitor your channels or updating your network with new information. However you use it, social media cannot be underestimated as either an asset or a liability.
5. Customer Feedback Collection and Analysis: Some crises are less newsworthy or globally far-reaching than others. Or in some cases, a global crisis could have a particular manifestation or context in your locality. It could be silently affecting your business, but you are unaware of it because you are not gathering enough feedback from your customers.
Gathering feedback is an essential way to weather a crisis and prevent them in future. It provides insight into how customers are feeling about your business. This allows you to forecast and navigate around red flags before they escalate into a crisis. It also gives customers an opportunity to share criticism that you can use to improve traveller experiences on an ongoing basis in the context of normal operations.
The 5 C’s of crisis communication
Whatever practical approaches you take to crisis communications, you will also need to consider the style and tone of this communication. The most important thing is for your business to remain in stable control of communication and how it comes across. The “Five Cs” of communication can help when communicating bad news:
- Concerns: Focus attention on the needs and concerns of the audience rather than of your business or on damage control. Where appropriate, acknowledge the concerns of your stakeholder and address them directly.
- Clarity: Communicate the facts clearly and honestly. If your message is clear, your stakeholders will believe you are disclosing everything they need to know. When communication is vague or open to interpretation, you could comes across as if you are hiding something or only revealing partial truths.
- Control: Keep control of your message. When you lose control, inaccurate information and misinterpretation will follow.
- Confidence: Speak with confidence and assurance that you are acting in the best interests of your stakeholders. You may have to communicate bad news but you can also convey that you are doing everything you can to minimize harm.
- Competence: You will need to convey that you are handling the situation competently. The first step is to ensure that the situation is genuinely in hand so you are not downplaying the severity of the situation to merely appear competent.
When you use the Five Cs you assure your network and consumers that you are handling the situation and that you are not being deceitful.
This integrity will reinforce their confidence in your ability to manage the situation and keep them safe and their needs addressed.