“HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.” And if you don’t now, you will eventually. Crisis management is one of those skills everyone needs but hopes never to use. Every channel pro should have at least the nucleus of a plan in place for dealing with emergencies though. Much like backing up data, a process best performed before a drive failure, planning should be completed before an actual crisis occurs.
That begins with assigning key responsibilities within the organization, including the person who will speak for your firm should a crisis occur. “You should already have identified who that company spokesperson should be,” says Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder and CEO of SnappConner PR, a public relations firm based in South Jordan, Utah, that specializes in crisis management.
Just as crucial for MSPs is pinpointing the major stakeholders in each client organization and gaining an understanding of the issues that matter most to them, according to Melissa Agnes, president and co-founder of Agnes + Day Inc., a crisis management firm headquartered in Montreal. “Addressing those expectations will buy time during a crisis,” she says. Clear and open communication with customers reduces confusion and instills confidence, especially when the issues can be addressed swiftly with minimal impact on their businesses.
Agnes also suggests MSPs develop other key professional relationships before an actual emergency takes place. “Know where to go for legal support, forensic specialists, law enforcement contacts, and crisis management experts,” she says. “Have those relationships in place before a crisis, so you have resources available when the need arises.”
Her firm helps businesses develop a “crisis-ready mindset” rather than relying on outdated manuals that tend to get overlooked until major problems arise. No matter how overwhelming the emergency may seem, careful preparation can ease the stress levels and minimize the impact on providers.
Crisis management preparation is easier when you include customers in the process. “Show them stories about similar people and companies,” Conner says. Ask customers what they would do and what they would expect from their IT services partners in various crisis situations. That will spark creative conversations and help set expectations for everyone involved.
When the time comes to put a crisis management plan into action, the first step is to acquire a clearer picture of the problem and determine the appropriate response. “Get the right people together and fully address the situation and its impact on the stakeholders, and then address their expectations,” Agnes says. “Decide if the situation is an issue or a crisis.” For example, is a reported loss of power a full-blown emergency or just the case of an electric cord coming unplugged?
If it’s a genuine crisis, she continues, communication is critical. “People don’t understand that just calling and talking to a customer can help defuse the situation,” Agnes says. “Saying nothing is what causes the most concern.”
And don’t let lawyers worried about liability stop you from keeping your clients informed, Agnes emphasizes. Some caution is required though. MSPs should always avoid conjecture when speaking with customers. “Never speculate,” Agnes says. Clients should only receive confirmed information, facts that will eliminate their confusion and reduce speculation.
The tone of your communication is as important as the content, Snapp Conner adds. “Empathize with the pain the situation is causing and [convey] that you genuinely care and are doing all within your power to correct it,” she advises.
MSPs need to pay attention to who is communicating that information as well. Conner recommends having a social media policy in place that details what employees can and cannot share during an emergency. People may leak information just to make themselves feel more important.
“Make sure every employee has signed an employee contract that legally prohibits them from disparaging the company and revealing customer details,” Conner adds. MSPs should also consider the possibility of former team members sharing false and defamatory information with the press. All employee contracts should be reviewed with qualified business attorneys to minimize those risks.
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