Small Business Crisis Management
6 Helpful Tips To Put You In The Right Mindset For The “Little” Issues
Every large company knows (or should know) the utter importance of having a crisis plan in place. A mishandled crisis can dismantle even the most secure establishment. Knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time, who is responsible for what, and having your entire team on board, is essential to surviving any company disaster. And it will happen. Something always does eventually, inevitably, happen. Large scale crisis management is a topic handled by PR experts across the board, but what if you are a small business? What if the crisis you are dealing with is small enough that it doesn’t seem to be a crisis at all? Does that mean you don’t need to worry about it, don’t need a plan, or don’t need to use such a strong label as “crisis”? I would argue absolutely not. Small businesses face crises every bit as much as the big boys, and to equal detriment (i.e. the company goes under).
But for a small business, media is likely not involved, social media likely won’t blow up with damning insults and accusations, and thousands of people are most certainly not going to abruptly lose their jobs. So let’s talk small. In the case of small businesses, what does crisis management look like and what can you do about it?
A “Small” Crisis
All businesses face what I would call “small crises” on a regular basis. You know, the ones that likely won’t lead to lasting damage. So if there are no consequences, why would it be considered a crisis? Well, it certainly isn’t for a big company, but for a small company, consider what it means to lose a client. How about 2 or 3? Small businesses cannot absorb lost revenue the way larger companies can, which means any number of seemingly innocuous incidents could turn into a full fledged crisis if not handled. In other words, for small businesses, anything that could potentially cause the loss of a client, while perhaps is not a crisis, should probably be handled as one. That’s a pretty lengthy discussion topic, but to start, let’s put you and your office in the right mindset with these 6 crisis management pointers.
Have a crisis plan in place before the crisis
I know we’re talking small crises here, so try not to think big-bulky-book-of-what-to-do-when-it-all-goes-to-hell. Think basic communication strategy and best practices. It’s the little incidents that set the precedent for your company that you will experience more often. Doing what you can to prevent the situation is always best, but if it does come up, know ahead of time how you’re going to handle it. On the small scale we’re talking, layout the groundwork for communication both internally and with clients, establish what you will and will not do, and most importantly, establish your mindset. It’s probably a good idea to involve your team in a meeting where you discuss the possibility of a crisis and general guidelines for handling them.
Always keep your cool, regardless of how the client is behaving
Imagine that you are the account manager and just sat through a book of an email from a client accusing you of all sorts of unspeakable evils. While you might be offended, and tempted to retaliate, don’t. Just don’t. Most situations that get heated between you and your clients are not really anyone’s fault, are often just miscommunication or misunderstandings, or are simply stemming from differing interests. But even in cases where you genuinely feel your client is out of line, do your best to keep cool. Getting into a shouting match, or breaking down into tears mid meeting is . . . well . . . not productive. Emotional retaliation is a sure fire way to blow a very solvable situation out of proportion. Be professional. Be courteous. And be level headed.
Be prepared to admit fault
In the heat of the moment, you will most definitely be tempted to play the blame game. But if you are open to the idea that you might mess up, you might be at fault, before the situation ever arises, you will be more inclined to behave that way if/when this scenario becomes reality. If you are responsible, it’s best to be honest. Don’t blame Carlos. When a situation comes up, look into it, determine the facts, and if it was your error, admit as much, apologize, and then go fix it. As cliche as it is to say, communication is key. Let your client know that you are looking into it. Let them know when you determine the problem was with you, apologize, and inform them of what you are doing to rectify the issue. That will go a long way with building trust with your client.
Stand up for yourself, but be willing to compromise
It seems to me that a lot of small businesses make the mistake of catering to their clients’ every whim, even to their own detriment. There’s a misconception that you have to give in to the client’s will in order to solve the crisis. Not so. There are clients out there who will take advantage of you, push you to get what they want, and syphon your time. There are many articles that discuss when it’s time to cut a client lose, but in terms of crisis communication, it is very much ok to stand up for yourself and your team if you feel you are not at fault and are doing everything you can to fix the problem. Let your team know this ahead of time. Empower them to be both reasonable and understanding, but also to hold their ground where appropriate. There is always a way to diplomatically hold your ground and support your team without being unprofessional to your client. You are simply setting boundaries.
Consider the client’s perspective
As a small business marketing agency, Motoza works with many business owners who started their companies themselves. It’s not just a job to them. It’s their craft. It’s their baby. Knowing that a business is close to someone that way changes the way you handle them as clients, especially during a crisis. Consider their perspective when they are irate about something you did (or didn’t do). They have families. They have lives outside of business with you. If a crisis arises, put yourself in their shoes and see if you can understand where they’re coming from before jumping to conclusions.
Get an outside opinion
So you’ve been going back and forth with a client and both of you are just getting frustrated with each other. You are pretty invested in the situation, and have been handling it from the start. Naturally, you’ve likely developed your own perspective on what’s going on, as has your client. At this point, if you are still unable to resolve the issue, try asking one of your co-workers. Sometimes having that outside opinion, from someone who is not boiling over with frustration, can be the thing that reveals an angle you never considered. That person is not as close to the situation as you are and may be able to offer you a fresh perspective to help you resolve your differences with the client.