Gathering the facts informs your crisis response

Avoid incorrect statements

The unthinkable has happened. A terrible situation has occurred at your business. Whether it’s a criminal incident, customer service nightmare that has gone wild on social media or a financial scandal, you are now in the crisis cross hairs. How you respond now, will set the tone and the public’s comprehension of the situation (and ultimately your brand) from this point forward.

How can you gather the facts when everyone is repeating erroneous information?

It is critical that you get all of the facts in the middle of a crisis situation. Without clarity you may respond in a way that adds fuel to the metaphorical fire. Two examples come to mind from recent days.

Understand the cause of your problems, don’t obfuscate

Delta Airlines suffered an equipment failure in their headquarters in Atlanta. The result was check-in kiosks went down, leading to long lines, cancelled flights, delays and fuming. Initially the word was that an electrical outage caused an equipment failure. As the story developed more facts were shared and it appeared that a critical piece of switching equipment failed. This equipment failure resulted in the backup system not coming online.

As noted on by Chris Matyszczyk

“When Delta’s computers went down, it blamed a “power outage.” This seemed odd. Why would a power outage in Atlanta cause mayhem across the globe? Those Georgians must have quite some power. This forced Georgia Power to slide onto Twitter and offer a delicate elucidation: “#Delta experienced an equipment failure overnight causing their outage. We are working closely w/ Delta as they make repairs.” Ergo, the supposed power outage was actually a failure of Delta’s computer systems. Obfuscation via your PR department isn’t a good look.”

While CEO Ed Bastian apologized to passengers via video, he blamed a power outage for the problem.

With complicated systems it may be difficult to diagnose the source of the problem quickly. Do not rush to say you know what happened, until you really know what happened. Avoid issuing a statement that later proves to be incorrect. While it is true that when you’re a global business, consumers expect your company to know what went wrong immediately, you must resist mis-statements.


Stating things with clarity, e.g. “Here’s what we know now,” and “We’re getting more data from our engineers and will share that with you as soon as possible,” is sometimes the best response. Then of course, you better get that information clear and share it ASAP.

“But Monday’s outage threatens to wipe away all that trust that Delta has worked to build. It took Delta more than 24 hours to explain what happened: a power control malfunction that led to a power surge and loss of electricity. When the power came back some systems switched to backups, others didn’t and that, Delta said, caused “instability in these systems.”

24 hours after the failure, Delta had their Chief Operations Officer make a statement about what happened. Perhaps it might have been better if he appeared on day one of the situation and been explicit about the facts as they knew them. Subject matter experts can make a difference through inferred credibility in their area of expertise.

Local business accuses woman of being a shoplifter, and racially profiles her

Locally, a Charleston based retailer of women’s accessories accused a young woman of being a shoplifter. The mom, Rene Syler a nationally recognized blogger, news anchor and mother reported wrote:

For those of you who have been following this story, you know Casey and I and a couple of friends are just back from Kiawah Island, South Carolina where we own a home.

During our time there, we had an unfortunate incident with Casey being racially profiled at a shop called Carolina Girls.

The situation led to a viral debacle for the retailer who took down their Facebook page, and who claims to have fully investigated the incident and reached out to Ms. Syler and her daughter. The full investigation does not seem to have included Ms. Syler’s daughter, Casey, and failed to take into account the travel schedule of Ms. Syler’s family, who departed Charleston, before being asked to meet face to face with the retailer.

The flaws in this crisis response seem to have been a lack of inclusion of the injured party in the investigation, their apology/not apology for the incident and the shop’s running away from social media. Complicating the situation, there is a local news station which broadcast an interview with the shop owner without inclusion of a statement from Casey or Ms. Syler. And further compounding perceptions of inaccuracies is the media outlet’s appearance of a conflict of interest due to a friendship between the retailer and the stations lead news anchor.

If your business encounters a situation how can you respond?

  1. Express concern, sympathy for those affected
  2. Get the facts.
  3. Consult experts
  4. Communicate the facts as you know them in regular updates to consumers, affected individuals
  5. Involve all parties in the investigation of what happened, when it happened and why/how it happened
  6. Share the facts
  7. Be present and accessible on social media
  8. Avoid spin
  9. Correct the problem
  10. Tell the public about the remedy

If your firm experiences a crisis, and you need assistance and support responding to and managing it, call us immediately. 843.608.9662.

A Crisis Recovery Lesson from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams


A crisis doesn’t always lead to a business meltdown

Lowcountry Local First hosts an annual all-day seminar with great presenters. Termed the Good Business Summit, the event provides insight to business owners about how to make their firms better.

High-profile business owners are invited to share lessons and information based on their own experience.

The 2015 Good Business Summit featured a presentation from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams company founder Jeni Britton Bauer.

As reported by The Post and Courier, Bauer frankly and openly discussed the challenges and the recovery process her business went through as a result of listeria contamination. The contamination caused business interruptions at her production facilities as well as massive recalls of products where were produced at contaminated facilities.

According to reporter David Wren, Bauer said,

“What has to change is how businesses view our responsibilities…“Do we rely on their periodics (inspections)? Do we rely on our health inspectors any more?” Absolutely no. Because we know that they are not experts in food safety, they are experts in the law and those are totally different things. The responsibility is on business … to make healthy things, to keep people healthy.”

Following a crisis, do things differently

Bauer is correct. When your business undergoes a crisis, you must do things differently in order to regain confidence from your customers and the public.

Let’s analyze exactly what Bauer did that is helping Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams recover from this disaster.

Steps to crisis recovery

  1. Own the situation. Admit that this event occurred. Convene your firm’s leadership or crisis communications / management team. (If you don’t have a crisis team, you need to put a pin in this and organize a team and a plan.) Make sure everyone on the team knows what their responsibility will be. Don’t try to hide or deny the situation. Help the public and your customers understand what occurred. In the instance of Jeni’s, Bauer could not hide because there were authorities involved, but rather than fight or deny, the went beyond what was called for and took control of the situation. She demonstrated corporate leadership and responsibility by stepping up.
  2. Communicate transparently. Do not try to duck responsibility. Take action. If product needs to be recalled, do it. Jeni’s did and helped preserve their reputation. As quickly as possible, use the firm’s social media channels and website to communicate. Jeni’s CEO communicated at each step along the way.When one searches the Internet for the terms Jeni’s and recall, the first search results are those from the company’s own website. That’s real transparency. Hold a media conference if there are many media seeking information. Media are doing their jobs. They need to tell the public about the situation, and working with them will help you help them keep the facts straight.If legal questions are involved, you must consult your attorney and crisis communications consultant or public relations firm to be clear on the implications of press conferences, social media posts and website posts. Much of this may be clarified in advance as part of your crisis communications plan. You must be sure you are not compounding the crisis by communicating incompletely or with partial facts or allowing a bad situation to continue. You do want to observe privacy laws and be aware that in situations of healthcare, human resources and personnel, some facts may not be disclosed.
  3. Call on subject matter experts to help review, analyze and present a third-party analysis of contributing causes. In Jeni’s case, they called in people to help them analyze their procedures and test.John Lowe said in a Jeni’s news release,“In addition to fixing every issue identified by the FDA, we have been working with them throughout this entire process, including having provided a thorough response letter detailing how we have fixed each and every concern identified in their inspection report. We dove in and made darn sure we fixed all of their concerns, and we brought in outside experts to help us find other areas of improvement to create a world class, safe environment for making our ice creams.”

    While you may not care for what the third party may find or disclose, as long as you seek to remedy the flaws in process, procedure and performance, you can make things improve.

  4. Demonstrate that procedures have changed and exactly how you are modifying your operations in response to the crisis. After the subject matter experts disclose their findings, give the public a plan indicating how each negative finding is to be addressed and how your firm will do things differently.Lowe noted that Jeni’s,
    “…instituted test and hold procedures to ensure we are only providing safe ice cream…The ice cream we are producing…comes from an overhauled kitchen, a significantly more trained team working from new ground rules that enable a safer environment (such as not processing fresh fruit in the production kitchen, and not allowing work in our company garden prior to changing into production clothes).”

A crisis situation doesn’t have to mean the end of your business. You can prepare in advance. You can demonstrate change and improvement and go on to a new day as did Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Are you prepared with a crisis management team? Is your social media plan up to date and does it include crisis recovery and communications sections? Is your website within your control so you can easily post and share the firm’s progress during your crisis recovery?
If you don’t have these elements in place. we can help. We can audit and help your business prepare for the types of crisis which might more frequently occur in your industry.
Call us. 843.628.6434. We’re here to help.

When a Crisis Spreads Like Wildfire

Crisis spreads like wildfire via Social Media

Social media help a crisis spread like wildfire

What happens when a restaurant customer feels unhappy with their service? They complain. To friend. To family. To co-workers. However, since the advent of social media, customers can self-publish, sharing their story with their circles on Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor and other channels. And those stories spread like wildfire.

As someone who worked in restaurant marketing, I know, that a restaurant is only as good as the last meal or customer served. I also know that there are two sides to every story. But readers of social media complaints don’t know both sides of a story. They only know what they read. And if the story is of someone they feel has been injured unjustly, they respond emotionally, sharing, retweeting and amplifying a story just as a breeze spreads a wildfire.

Two restaurants, two crises

Wild Wings restaurant chain serves great wings, cold beer and has a lively atmosphere. The firm started in Charleston and grew, expanding with stores outside of Charleston. The founders sold the chain last year and growth has been on the minds of the new owners.

Jestine’s Kitchen, named to honor a family cook who created all the recipes now served in this restaurant, is beloved by Charleston visitors. Founded to serve traditional Southern favorites like the owner enjoyed during her childhood, it has gained local and national standing as the place to eat Southern-style vegetables, cornbread and enjoy a typical “meat and three” lunch.

Both establishments have been in the news (stories hyperlinked above), via social media, broadcast and print.

A Wild Wings’ customer Michael Brown and his family were upset after an incident which they felt was based on racial discrimination. Brown took to social media to air the story because his calls and messages were not responded to by restaurant and chain management and staff. In the case of Jestine’s Kitchen, the owner abruptly closed during normal opening hours, leaving a line of fuming potential diners on the sidewalk and upset long-term employees scrambling for work.

Both stories have been prominent in both Charleston, and in the case of Wild Wings, across the country. Each has elements which might have been managed better, resulting in a better public outcome.

Management compounds a crisis

At Wild Wings the Brown family was refused seating and made to wait (read an interview with the family), eventually being ushered from the restaurant following the complaints of two “white women” who said they felt threatened by the family. Compounding the family’s outrage was the fact that the two women were seated prior to the family. Besides lack of a timely response, it appears to me that the restaurant’s management never really understood the depth of the hurt and outrage that their African American customers felt. The apology (read the statement) rings hollow in the ears of anyone who has experienced racial  discrimination:

“We are truly disappointed and sorry that any guests of ours felt disrespected or discriminated against,” the statement read. “Our ownership group, home office staff and restaurant staff represent the diversity that our great country is made up of and these accusations do not reflect our values. We can assure you that we will not tolerate any discriminatory behavior in our organization.”

It doesn’t matter to the Brown family that the actions of one manager were not representative of the management’s values. Those values weren’t on display during the incident nor are they apparent in the resolution—the offer of a free meal for the entire family. That just doesn’t cut it in my opinion.

What would have been a better solution? Response to an incident like this is not simple. You can’t just say, “We’re sorry.” OR our “Internal communications broke down.” The Brown family doesn’t care about Wild Wings’ internal communications. If your business has a customer who feels discriminated against, your timely apology shared both with the hurt persons and on your owned media (your website, your social media) must convey your expression of deep concern and show evidence to make amends to them and to all potential customers.

I feel the apology Wild Wings issued is without heart or compassion. In my opinion, the offer of a free meal would never cut it to repair damage from someone who feels a victim of racial discrimination. If the response had included an announcement that the manager had been “benched” and an announcement that everyone in the organization was to undergo sensitivity training and that a fund was being established by Wild Wings to fund scholarships for a deserving African American students in hospitality management, then it might demonstrate the depth of their caring.

Planning difficult announcements can prevent a wildfire

In the case of Jestine’s Kitchen, it seems from reading comments in social media and the news, that the owner was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running the restaurant and managing her life. We can all snap and do nonsensical things. However, in this case, her break seems to have publically harmed her long-term employees. From news accounts, the restaurant will reopen following repairs, though the abrupt timing of the closure is still not explained  by the owner’s answer, “I’m a woman.” to the question of why the restaurant closed when and how it did.

This owner could have prevented extreme damage to her popular restaurant’s reputation if she had gathered staff at the end of service and explained why she was going to have to close then and there. She would have also prevented the public wilding across social media of her abrupt behavior.

Lessons can be learned

A crisis will happen in your business. Your firm’s health and continuation depend on your response. What can you do?

  1. Conduct a crisis audit which includes an enumeration of each potential category  of crisis.
  2. Create a crisis response / communications plan which includes response channels; Owned (social media, your blog, your website), Earned (broadcast, print, social shares) and Paid.
  3. Build a crisis response team.
  4. Outline of how and who will respond.
  5. Test all your communications systems.
  6. Develop special sections of your website to use as your channel to publish your responses to the crisis.
  7. Conduct drills to test, evaluate, tweak and improve your crisis response.

Don’t wait until you find your company front and center. It will happen. And your firm’s life depends on how you are prepared, what you do, what you say, and how you say it.

If your business or firm is facing a crisis, contact us at 843-628-6434 for consultation and assistance. If you would like to have us perform a crisis audit for your firm so you are prepared in advance, we welcome your call.