The Real Challenges of Crisis Management in the Social Age

Sprinklr Team

February 3, 20215 min read

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If you talk to any CEO and break down the business outcomes they really care about, you’re likely to uncover three common themes. They want to know how to grow revenue, how to reduce cost, and how to decrease risk.

Within an organization, it’s the first two – finding new ways to grow revenue and reduce cost – that tend to make headlines. But when things go wrong, it’s the headlines outside your four walls that can have the biggest impact on the long-term health (and maybe even the survival) of your business.

No one is immune to risk. Despite every business’s best efforts, products break and need to be recalled. Sensitive data and information is always under threat. Employees say and do things they shouldn’t. The only thing more unpredictable than the kind of crisis your business might face is when you might face it. And in a connected world where information moves freely at the speed of social media, and is amplified to a potential audience of billions, the stakes are higher than ever.

When thinking about the new challenges of crisis management in the digital age, many executives charged with managing risk (including those in corporate communications, like myself) worry first and foremost about spotting situations that have the potential to spiral out of control. And they’re right to. If unnoticed and left unaddressed, a spark ignited on social can quickly burst into a full-on blaze that spills into other channels and an even larger audience.

Having sophisticated technology that monitors all social channels to detect a crisis before it goes viral is the first step in preventing catastrophe. But there are two much bigger and more fundamental challenges at play when it comes to crisis management.

Brands no longer own the conversation – they’re part of one.

Businesses today operate in a world that hasn’t just connected people – it has empowered them. For the first time in a long time, individuals – be they customers, shareholders, community leaders, analysts, politicians, journalists, and everyone in between – have a platform and a voice that’s equal to that of any large organization.

We’re all participants in a shared conversation that none of us truly owns. And in a conversation, shouting at those around you doesn’t make anyone want to listen. Quite the opposite. You need to earn the right to be heard by adding value and being authentic.

If you’re a transparent, credible participant that contributes to a conversation, you can begin to build trust. Build enough trust and you can create affinity. Enough affinity and you might just find loyalty.

If you’re a transparent, credible participant that contributes to a conversation, you can begin to build trust. Build enough trust and you can create affinity. Enough affinity and you might just find loyalty. If you’re a business in the middle of a full-blown crisis, you’re going to be glad you invested the time to surround yourself with some loyal friends – long-term customers, passionate employees, and other brand advocates – willing to speak on your behalf. But no matter how loyal your friends are, you can’t remain credible in the eyes of the public if your own words and actions are inconsistent.

It can be easy to say that you’ve “integrated” social into your business’s crisis management playbook. But unless you realize that social isn’t just another series of digital channels – it’s a catalyst that has upended the entire relationship between individuals and corporations – you’re missing the bigger picture.

Without the right people, processes, and technology, your brand cannot act as one.

During a crisis, brands are expected to act as if they’re human. To act with empathy. To have clear, immediate answers to all incoming questions. Brands are expected to act as one across dozens of customer-facing departments, scores of geographies, and thousands of employees – each of whom is limited by compartmentalized data and workflows.

The expectation is more than reasonable, actually. Brands should work that way. And in a world where 89% of businesses now compete primarily on the basis of customer experience, brands need to work that way. Here’s an example of how things should look:

Imagine you’re an auto manufacturer rolling out a new model with an innovative headlight design. Two weeks after the launch, a lifelong customer in Austin tweets that one of the headlights on his car is malfunctioning. A local customer care rep responds directing the customer to the nearest repair shop. The headlight is replaced free of charge. Two hours later, a different customer in Seattle leaves a comment about the same issue on your Facebook page. Again, a local rep responds with a similar solution.

With disconnected tools and workflows, these look like two isolated incidents. Taken together, however, with a centralized crisis management solution that combines people, processes, and technology under one roof, they present an insight and signal a potential pattern – one that you can act on. Customer care reps globally could be alerted to look out for similar situations and armed with proactive messaging indicating a possible problem. At the same time, your marketing team could be told to suspend campaigns promoting the new headlight design. And in parallel, your warranty team could be activated to initiate a recall before any accidents ever occur.

At Sprinklr, we hold a powerful quote by Maya Angelou up as one of our maxims: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” For brands looking to mitigate risk and manage crises in this new social world, these are words to live by. We all make mistakes. What matters is how we respond.

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