A crisis like the current coronavirus pandemic is a time when you can show up as a leader and exhibit your company's values. It's all in how you communicate.
Companies that handle crisis communications well aren't afraid to communicate regularly with their internal and external audiences. They might not like what they have to say, but they have the confidence to say and do the right things. Here are six ways to be a leader in crisis communications.
1. Be transparent.
If call center wait times are long, acknowledge it. I watched an American Airlines video this morning that did this very thing. If your product is late or you bungled delivery, own it, apologize, say you will do better, and move on. If you don't know all the answers, admit it but vow to find out as much as you can and come back with updates.
2. Communicate frequently.
During a crisis, you want to be constantly communicating with your audiences -- internally with employees, partners, and board members, and externally with customers, investors, and reporters. Treat the crisis like the breaking news story that it is and ask yourself each day what your audiences need to know that day and the next day and the one after that. You can't overcommunicate in a crisis.
3. Get ahead of the issue.
If you know you have to pay a fine, close operations, lay off staff, recall a product, or do anything you don't want to do, make a plan to communicate it on your timeline. Don't wait until you have to respond to a media inquiry. Don't wait until a government agency or regulator requires you to do something in the public's best interest. Act swiftly and boldly and let your audiences know why such action is required.
4. Bring perspective.
Put the crisis in perspective. If you operate a fitness facility and you have to temporarily close for public health reasons, acknowledge to your members that their health is your top priority -- because it should be -- and promise to get them back in shape as soon as your doors reopen.
5. Communicate solutions, not just issues.
If you are that fitness facility, use all of your communication channels to reach your members during the crisis. And bring solutions. For example, you might not be able to offer your yoga classes in person but maybe your instructors can stream their on-the-mat flow via YouTube.
Or maybe you're in a different industry and you can't hold your big conference or in-person training. Take it online; there's all kind of technology to help you turn in-person business into virtual business.
6. Let people know how you are caring for your own people.
As a customer, I want to know how companies care for their own people in times of crisis. Are they shortening workdays or bringing in grief counselors? Are they being more generous with paid time off or sick days? Ask yourself how you are showing up for your own people and make sure those outside your company know about it.
Here's a final idea. Put yourself in the shoes of your customers, vendors, partners, and employees, and ask yourself: What would I want to know right now? What would I want to hear from this company right now?