Explain while you fix. Apologise when you have. Recompense after.

It’s been another week or two of scandal and crisis (is this what we are doomed to read in our papers every week now?). Defence secretary Liam Fox decided to step down after he came under fire for his relationship with Adam Werritty, Philips are due to shed 4,500 jobs after a sharp drop in profits and BlackBerry’s email and text services went down, day after day.

With so many people reliant on their BlackBerry to keep in touch with friends or family and keep their business running, a three day communication outage is far too long (Alan Sugar tweeted: “In all my years in IT biz, I have never seen such a outage as experienced by BlackBerry. I can’t understand why it’s taking so long to fix.”). To make matters worse for BlackBerry this happened the same week that Apple brought out the new iPhone 4s – if frustrated, out of touch, BlackBerry users needed another excuse to switch manufacturer this was probably enough to do it.

However, it seemed much of the anger towards BlackBerry was due to the lack of information and customer service – people joked the company had emailed a response to peoples’ handsets. This is not uncommon these days, people know that IT, rail, electricity etc systems can go down from time to time but what they hate is companies/organisations who seem incapable of letting customers know what the issue is and what is being done to fix it. Businesses now use various different channels to contact their customers whether it’s by phone, email, text or Twitter, so consumers know that a company has no excuse not to keep them reasonably informed as to what’s going on.

I wouldn’t normally agree with anything Alastair Campbell said, but we have to admit that he ought to know a thing or two about handling a crisis. After a frustrating few days with his phone on the blink Campbell tweeted: “Day 3 of BlackBerry black-out. Some free advice. Explain while you fix. Apologise when you have. Recompense after. Handling so far woeful.” Of course Campbell isn’t the first to have said this but that makes it no less relevant in this case.

BlackBerry have now offered users $100 of free apps by way of recompense and obviously apologised to their customers as well. But how much this crisis will end up damaging their business is hard to tell. Some argue that the damage had already been done by the time they apologised; not keeping your customers in touch (particularly when you are in the telecoms industry) and up to date about the problems can make them feel forgotten or worse – and it’s this damage which can’t be fixed with a few free apps because while people will forget about their phone not working for a few days they may not forget if they feel a business treated them badly.

While Cameron and the Tories came under some criticism for handling the Liam Fox scandal badly, they did at least come out straight away and promise a full report into what happened (this obviously buys them some time internally to deal with the issue while they await the findings), once the report started doing some digging, it was clear that Fox would probably have to go.

Handling a crisis is never going to be an easy exercise for businesses and organisations and avoiding all damage is very tricky but the key is in how you deal with the crisis – while it’s happening – that counts for your customers and stakeholders.

Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.com – October 2011

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