Click here to read the article as published on 10th February, 2023 in CXO Today
Brand crisis management is a critical business necessity and must ideally include a prior investment in customer engagement. This is like an emotional bank account where you deposit positive feelings from customers that acts as a buffer when things go wrong. However, in a situation when your organisation is hitting rock bottom, the brand needs to pull itself together – right from the leadership to the frontline staff – and beat the crisis.
Let me share an anecdote about my first brand recovery success. Several years ago I was working with a leading energy company in Australia. Unfortunately, we experienced five storms in seven days where many households lost power. This led to an independent enquiry that suggested a lack of investment in infrastructure. Following this, the organisation was hit with negative press relentlessly for almost every day for eight months. As a result, several board members and executives either lost their jobs or they quit. The brand literally had hit rock bottom. It was independently assessed as the worst brand in its category nationally.
At this very same time I was promoted to Head of Marketing & Communications and was vested with the responsibility to recover the brand. There was no blueprint at the time to recover a brand. However, let me share the 6 critical steps that we initiated to not just recover it, but raise it back to the lead position:
Step 1 – Identify the core issue
In such a scenario, it is important that you conduct comprehensive customer research to identify the core issues that you need to focus on to recover the brand. Customer insights will provide you with the clarity you need to build your strategy. As part of our brand research, we used to measure 23 brand attributes. Of this, we asked our research partner to identify the top four attributes that we needed to focus on to recover the brand using advanced analysis.
Step 2 – Focus & Sacrifice
We focused on the four key attributes in everything we did – marketing, communications and PR. Importantly, we stopped doing things that were not aligned with these key attributes. This meant that we discontinued sponsorships that were not aligned and stopped the marketing of peripheral products. In any business, running a successful strategy requires sacrifice. To remain laser-focused on key elements that have the greatest impact on your business, you need to stop investing your time and energy on other less important issues. When you practice this, you will discover a massive halo effect. Hence, when we focused on just the top four attributes only, the rating of other attributes increased as well.
Step 3 – Relentlessly communicate the solution to customers
Customers understand that everyone makes mistakes. After all, we are all human.
Rather than just apologising to customers, it is more important to acknowledge the crisis and its cause, and then take corrective action. Ensure that this action plan and progress is communicated consistently across all media and to your customers as well.
Step 4 – Engage staff
When you attempt to recover a brand, it is not just what you say, but what you do is also critical. Hence, in difficult times it is extremely critical that you provide your staff: with a clear sense of direction that your business intends to take as part of the recovery plan. help them understand your brand’s strategies and goals. involve them in finding and implementing creative solutions. The way we did this was to create an aspirational and powerful Customer Experience Statement that articulated our planned experience. It included functional elements such as reliable, responsive and knowledgeable, and emotional elements such as making customers feel valued, supported and reassured.
We explained our staff their role in the brand recovery and enlisted them in our mission. Following these, we gathered all teams to conduct ideation sessions and developed initiatives against each functional and emotional element. Several hundred initiatives were developed organisation-wide.
The end result was that we achieved our highest ever customer satisfaction scores.
Step 5 – Create a support system for staff
When a brand is battling a crisis, staff often face the brunt and are often at the receiving end of sarcasm, rebuttals and even anger from customers and the general public. Hence, it is extremely critical for an organisation to provide them with a safety net. Help them with access to anonymous counselling, engage in regular group conversations where they can share their experiences and provide them with solutions, get the leadership to continually communicate positive messages, and maintain absolute transparency about the progress of the brand’s recovery. These steps will help mitigate mental stress that staff are going through and will instill in them the confidence they need to bolster the brand’s recovery efforts.
Step 6 – Customer empathy is key
To begin with, apologise to your customers with sincerity. But do not make excuses for lapses. Instead, communicate to them clearly about the steps you are taking to fix the problem and keep them informed of every major development during the solution management stage. Respond with clarity and kindness to all important comments across multiple channels, be it emails, phone calls, social media, or even online reviews. It is important to understand that communication is not just via news articles, emails or blogs. In the case of the energy company that I was helping recover, we not only enhanced our call centre service, but also had our staff working in visible locations on the weekends which sent a clear message to our customers that we were absolutely committed to resolving issues and regaining their trust.
The final result was that our brand went on to become the highest rated brand in our industry as per an independent assessment. This was a remarkable turnaround in terms of brand perception. Every crisis is different and its impact varies for every industry. While the solution for each crisis needs to be tailored, the steps that I have shared in this article are based on tried and tested methodologies that I have implemented over the years to recover damaged brands and also helped achieve record sales and market share increases.
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