Every business should have a public relations strategy that includes a crisis plan. Time is crucial during any major event that a company faces, and wasting that time with figuring out how you intend to stay in contact with key customers and the public as a crisis unfolds can leave a business in shambles. Part of having a solid crisis plan is knowing how to use every tool at your disposal–this becomes especially important as businesses gain access to more (and more varied) channels of communication. Response speeds that might have been acceptable five or even ten years ago might be considered too long in an age of instant information.
Optimizing business communication using a CRM system is an easy, efficient way to stay ahead of the front of any major events that might disrupt normal business flow. The system should allow you to easily contact large numbers of people affected by specific aspects of the disruption, should make note of who was affected and how, and should track the short-term and long-term impacts of the event on both individual customers and on your business as a whole.
Not all crises benefit from CRM system use. Some affect all customers equally, while internal issues or process-oriented problems might not ever be felt by the public at all. A crisis communication plan is no less essential in these cases, but strong customer relationship management won’t help you deploy it as keenly as in cases where segmentation of affected customers is essential.
The Facts of a Business Crises
It is often-cited wisdom that 80% of businesses that face a major crisis shutter their doors within 18 months of the event. But the truth is that things are more complicated than this statistic would suggest, and much effort has been put forward to determine just where it comes from. The conclusion? It varies, of course, but how prepared a business is for handling and preempting such a crisis.
What distinguishes those which fail from those that succeed? The answer in many cases has to do with communication. More than even proper reparations, customers like to know what’s happening, and providing clear communication throughout a crisis can make a substantial difference in whether a customer’s business stays or goes. Creating a clear, honest picture of a crisis can quickly make it much easier to keep doing business once the situation ends.
Prophet CRM has lots of flexible capabilities like marketing automation, bulk email, and communications tools to reach large numbers of customers and leads quickly. In a crisis, these tools (usually used for marketing initiatives or to notify customers of major product changes all at once) take on a crucial role in speeding the crisis to resolution.
A company’s crisis communications strategy can’t end at its CRM programs, but it can certainly start there. The same large swaths of customer information can be used to notify them immediately of an issue. Get familiar with automation tools and aliases. Familiarize yourself with the mass mail options in advance of a crisis to ensure you don’t waste time on technological problems when you should be dealing with more pressing concerns.
Identifying Affected Persons
One way in which Prophet CRM can help speed a crisis to resolution, or at least to satisfaction of the involved parties, is through rapid identification of those who stand to lose the most from the event. A good CRM program will track who buys what and how they use it, and can provide a strong starting point from which to notify customers who use affected products or services that something is wrong.
Consider the following hypothetical crisis:
You represent a large manufacturer whose most recent stable build of a flagship product has been found to have a security fault that is already known to individuals who would use it to cause chaos, loss of revenue, and other negative consequences for the company. For your customers, this represents both a potential crisis falling into their laps and a crisis of confidence in your company and its products. To retain customers in a rocky situation like this, a business needs to notify its partners immediately, before the negative consequences occur.
You could certainly go directly to the news, especially if your product is big enough. A more targeted approach might be to use your CRM program to find only the customers who use your primary product and contact them. By notifying consumers of the flaw or problem, not only do you and your company avoid alarming people who don’t use the product, but you also provide the customers most affected by the defect with a chance to shore up their own resistance.
Not every crisis will have such a clean line between who is and isn’t affected, but having well-kept and updated records of who purchased what, and how a given problem might affect them, is one of the fastest paths out of a crisis. More important than short-term logistical advantages, however, are the long-term informational advantages a CRM program offers for crisis communication.
Segmentation in Follow-Up
Weeks, months, or even years after a crisis, depending on its scope and the size of your business, a CRM program can give you more ways to follow up with affected customers. A business with a robust CRM system can use its analytics features to find out more about the impact of the event itself and more effectively reach out to customers who feel its impact.
A few months after the crisis, you can use analytics to get a better sense of just how badly it affected the bottom line (if at all) and among whom. Did it significantly curtail some major relationships? Were mostly small buyers affected in the long-term? Who took the brunt of the impact, and who took their business elsewhere? Where might they have taken it? Good record-keeping through such a program can tell you exactly what the results of the crisis were–allowing you to move forward in a way that minimizes the impacts of new, future events.
This in turn allows you to try and attract lost customers more effectively. Avoid blanket promotions that will mostly cost you money while not drawing old customers back in or generating new business. With data at hand, you can target new promotions only towards customers who require it.
Collecting Feedback Immediately
A good CRM program will help when assessing individual and collective responses to your crisis response, too. These programs provide a space where customers’ reactions and concerns can be collected, analyzed, and used to hone the response.
Speed is important, but many organizations end up giving out too much information, not enough, or unclear information during a crisis. If your CRM program indicates that many of your customers are calling in with confusion rather than worry, frustration, or relief, your initial blast of information may not have been the remedy that you hoped.
Specialty Crisis Management Options
Many CRM programs can be customized, and a good incident reporting system is one way you can customize a system to fit your needs. A custom workflow can get information on the immediate and long-term effects of the crisis into the hands of the people who need it and keep those who don’t need it focused on the aspects of the situation they can handle.
Custom incident workflows can also provide a clearer picture of which areas of the response need more resources. Are most people affected calling by phone? Are they going to the Web for answers? What areas are proving to be the most problematic? With a better, more complex workflow structure, the answers to these questions can come out naturally, rather than requiring extensive departmental cross-talk.
These customized incident workflows don’t have to come out only in the event of a crisis, either. They may get a good workout during a crisis, but they can also presage one. A typically-unused workflow suddenly getting significant volume can indicate that something has gone wrong in an unexpected way.
These aren’t the only benefits a CRM program offers in the event of a crisis. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CRM solutions can take the load off company Web servers in the event of a crisis. The amount of documentation of the crisis response a CRM program creates can be great for long-term organizational learning initiatives.
The cost of being ill-equipped in a crisis can be quite high. Small to mid-sized companies often go under, and even large companies often end up biting off more than they can chew and losing big chunks of their customer bases. A successfully-managed crisis, however, can lead to minimal losses and greater customer confidence in the long term, and a solid CRM system can be a good component of that management.