True story: a manicurist in the beauty salon of a five-star hotel, part of a global chain, accidentally nicked a patron’s finger. She ignored the customer’s complaint because she thought the cut was too small to worry about.
Next, the customer reported the incident to the salon’s manager and then the hotel’s management. They, too, waived aside her complaint.
The Brewing Crisis
You guessed it. The disgruntled customer went public and complained to the media about unsanitary conditions at the hotel (not the basis of her original complaint). The incident snowballed into a major story carried by the national news media. Now the company’s reputation was taking a hit and it went into containment overdrive but it was too late. The damage to the hotel’s reputation was done.
It’s like brewing coffee: first the water grows warm, then it begins to bubble and finally it cascades over the sides of the pot out of control unless you are watching carefully for signs of trouble.
As stated in our earlier posts on the Instant Crisis and Act of God Crisis, the company should have an emergency response plan in place with employees trained in crisis management and crisis communications.
What Could Go Wrong?
The crisis plan should always answer the question “what could go wrong?” in multiple scenarios. The plan should include the answers.
The problem of the nicked finger could have been solved almost instantly, and at little cost, if the customer felt someone was listening to her. The salon could have offered her a free manicure on her next visit, or a free dinner at the five star hotel’s acclaimed restaurant. None of these happened until the customer was so angry that nothing short of a multi-million dollar settlement would have made her happy. She took out her revenge in the press. (By the way Willis, the global insurance broker, has just launched a hotel reputation policy to respond to incidents that lead to, or are likely to lead to, losses resulting from adverse publicity.)
Let’s examine why Brewing Crises spiral out of control. These factors could apply to most companies:
- Fear. The employee is afraid of losing her job so does not report the incident to her manager.
- Culture. A company’s culture rewards performance but treats employees harshly, regardless of the size of the mistake. These are often command and control organizations that don’t allow managers the latitude to make decisions based on the situation on the ground.
- Ignorance. This doesn’t the mean the employee is ignorant, but he is ignorant of company rules and policies that are not spelled out clearly. These policies may exist at company headquarters but not at the division level.
- Lack of training. This one is a biggie. Employees need and want training to do their jobs better, whether it’s media training to learn how to talk to the press, or training in how to operate a machine. The manicurist should have received training in what to do when she nicks a customer’s finger. Does she go to the salon manager, the hotel manager or is it someone else? Above all, she should have been trained to not ignore a customer’s complaint.
To summarize, a crisis can descend on an organization without any warning. Are you prepared? Is a crisis management plan in place? Are employees trained in responding to the crisis?
The first two posts in this series were Effective Crisis Communications Means Sweating the Small Stuff and Crisis Communications When an “Act of God” Strikes. We’d welcome hearing from you with your tips about crisis planning and with stories you’d like share about how you solved an Instant Crisis, an Act of God Crisis, or a Brewing Crisis. Just use the comment box below to share with us.