EQUIFAX SHOWS WHAT NOT TO DO FOR CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS

In addition to questions regarding how and why the Equifax security breach (which affected 143 million people) occurred, one has to wonder why Equifax waited two months to announce the hack, choosing to announce in early September hacks that occurred in May and June. According to NPR, “Equifax did not explain why more than two months passed before it discovered the hack, which also affected an unspecified number of consumers from Canada and the U.K. Why?According to Sean Charnock, Humach’s president, it is difficult to understand why Equifax had such a lengthy delay in communicating with the public.“There is valid pause time, often associated with regulatory and legal impacts. However, two months seems excessive. I would expect something along the lines of a day to 10 days on the outside,” said Charnock. “It makes people wonder what went on over those two months. Equifax has not been forthcoming with information, so now consumers are finding it difficult to trust them.”“If your customers hear through other channels, like the press or someone else’s social media, then your brand loyalty immediately takes a hit.”

Equifax has taken a large hit to their brand equity, in large part due to the delay in communication, but also due to the appearance of being unprepared.

“Businesses should have a clearly defined disaster recovery and crisis communications plan before a crisis hits. It is unclear what the plan for Equifax might have been,” said Charnock. “Organizations must have everything from disaster recovery, brand challenge recovery, and catastrophic event recovery all pre-baked into a communications strategy that encompasses the entire organization.”

Good crisis communications are an “all-hands-on-deck” proposition, involving multiple departments from PR, to marketing, to executives and, of course, any contact center teamsas they are the front line to the customer.

Next generation customer experience may be the difference between a crisis and a loss of confidence in your company.  Our 2020 Customer Study will show you where you can improve.

What To Do for Crisis Communications

It is critical to think through every aspect of your communication plan, and then ensure that everyone in the organization is clear on the protocol.

“As an executive and a consumer, I recognize the importance of transparency and clarity from the beginning,” said Charnock. “You simply need to look at most web 2.0 companies to get a feel for the consistency and continuity expected from consumer communications.”

Charnock went on to explain that real-time social media updates and live streamlining are the norm, and customers expect it, particularly when there is a problem.

“You have to ensure that your customers hear from you very quickly, even if to simply say you know there is an issue, you are unsure of the depth but are working on it, and will continue to keep everyone apprised,” said Charnock. “You must build a cadence with your customers to keep the brand trust.”

Even web 2.0 giants like Amazon have an off day. It’s how they choose to handle the situation that makes the difference. In February of this year, Amazon experienced an AWS outage that impacted a large number of customers. They released a detailed statement so that everyone knew exactly what happened, how it would be rectified and what they would do going forward to prevent a similar occurrence. Additionally, they have a dashboard that allows their customers to view the status of AWS at any given point, giving them real-time data.

Much like Amazon chooses to do, there are ways to empower open communications during a crisis, including:

  • Set up a crisis hotline – this can be anything from a voice recording with options based on frequently occurring questions to giving customers access to a live person to provide more personalized answers.
  • Provide a timeline to resolution – even if this must be adjusted along the way, giving customers an idea of what you are doing will ease their minds. This can be easily accomplished with a web page and provides great value.
  • Make the information front and center – provide updates and links to landing pages on your website’s home page, consistent social media updates, and proactive outreach through your contact center. This will keep the customer informed and calm.
  • Put real-time customer communication first – because customers expect communication instantly; putting those needs first will keep your brand equity in the positive as the press will pick up on what you are doing.

“There is an old-school idea that crisis communications are strictly a PR function. That is no longer the case. While there are PR components to add to your communications plan, the press now gets a large part of their information through social media, which means they will easily see what your customers are saying,” said Charnock. “You want to have a good PR plan but not at the expense of meeting customer expectations.”

Build It and Hope They Won’t Come

No one wants to have a crisis on their hands, but reality dictates it will happen, even if not directly to you. It is important to understand there is a domino effect for any crisis. Take Equifax as an example. As people became aware of the magnitude of the issue, they realized there are other credit companies who also aggregate their information. And there are organizations who are supposed to protect that information. It is reasonable to expect that those companies received in influx of queries simply because Equifax had the breach.

The ability to build an all-encompassing crisis communications plan begins with recognizing the impact to every department. Customers will talk to anyone they can to find information. Providing a roadmap and guiding the conversation ensures the customer experience is positive while keeping your customers informed, which means begin with the front-line.

“The immediate communication channels will be social media, the website and the contact center,” said Charnock. “It is critical to ensure continuity in the communication and message, and to empower your contact center to provide real-time feedback to other departments to keep customer communication going while working toward the resolution.”

Contact centers, particularly outsource partners, can positively impact crisis communications by adding additional layers of communication to keep customers informed.

“Whether the crisis is yours, or part of your industry, there will be a spike in calls and other transactions,” said Charnock. “Having the ability to quickly expand the contact center team is key. It ensures that customers who are already frustrated can speak to someone or receive information quickly. Delaying response times only increases frustration and negatively impacts the brand.”

Charnock went on to state that a solid crisis communications or disaster recovery plan goes beyond the written plan. It’s a state of mind.

“Being proactive with information is key. When a crisis occurs, it should be like someone flipped a switch to the crisis communications protocol. The contact center team knows to scale up, the communications are switched to providing consistent updates, landing pages are deployed with pertinent information, and everyone is as transparent and proactive as possible,” said Charnock. “Customers don’t want to call to get basic information. They want to receive that information in advance and only call for exceptions or personal information.”

To craft a solid crisis communication plan, an organization needs to understand the state of their current contact center. Ensuring positive customer experience is crucial during a crisis, so understanding how your contact center team compares to your competition, as well as how customers are accommodated during the customer journey, is key.

It’s easy to gain that information by simply taking our Customer Engagement Assessment. You will receive a clear picture of the current state of your contact center, specifics on how to improve, and be set to craft a comprehensive crisis communication plan that supports positive customer experiences.

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