It should come as no surprise that businesses in practically all industries are experiencing a staggering amount of security breaches. Digital security specialists at Gemalto reported 4.5 billion data records compromised worldwide in the first half of 2018 alone. All too often, companies fail to adequately keep pace with malicious hackers and data thieves. It’s not always negligence on the part of companies. Sometimes it’s just improbable to stay one step ahead of people hell-bent on digital destruction.
If you’ve done all you can to reasonably protect your customers’ data, but a breach still occurs, you must act swiftly to control the conversation. Staying ahead of a crisis is key in mitigating the damage to your company’s reputation. If you don’t have a dedicated PR team on hand, there are still key things the leaders in your company can do to assuage your customers’ fears.
Put a face on your message. Video is king as far as content goes, and crisis communication is no different. When addressing customers about a data breach or other company crisis, put your top people in the spotlight. The CEO should make this statement when possible, but other high profile, trusted company icons are also recommended. Your company’s representative should be well rehearsed. Avoid doing a live broadcast, in the event your speaker fumbles with their words, or goes off script.
You can avoid sounding too “canned” or robotic by ensuring the speaker takes time to pause and emote when appropriate. Now is the time to dust off your Speech 101 notes and practice, practice, practice. People trust speakers who are confident. Confidence is primarily gained by knowing exactly what you’re talking about. Rehearse, then record.
Speak, but don’t forget to listen. Making an immediate statement regarding the crisis is critical, but perhaps even more important is that you create a space to have a conversation with your customers. Key word: conversation.
Social media is a powerful tool to stay engaged with concerned consumers. You may not have all of the answers right away, but acknowledging individual questions will let your customers know you aren’t just waiting for things to blow over.
Your responses to customers should be unique where possible. Acknowledge the commenter by name, express empathy for how they feel, extend gratitude to them for taking the time to engage you, and close with your promise to follow up with their concern. This is a good time to invite the customer to a private message, where you can keep a catalog of the person’s contact information and their specific concerns. They will appreciate your personal response when the time comes to follow up with a resolution or status update. It sounds like a lot of work (and for small businesses, it definitely can be), but engaging your customers directly helps build good karma, which you can cash in future times of crisis. That’s an excellent ROI for any company.
Follow up, or you’ll fall behind. Make sure you are posting follow up statements in a timely manner. Nothing erodes trust quite like “ghosting” your customers after making your initial statement. Even if you don’t have breaking news to share, simply posting a status update keeps the conversation going. For example:
“We are still investigating the origin of the breach. We will have another update tomorrow morning.”
Even though this statement doesn’t contain valuable news about the crisis, it lets your audience know you intend to keep “checking in.” Issue status updates at least once a day.
Staying ahead of the conversation will play a vital role in mitigating the damage to your company’s reputation. If executed properly, the public’s perception of you may actually improve above the level it was before the crisis occurred. People ultimately just want to be heard and know that you’re doing everything you can to make things right. Engaging your audiences promptly, honestly, and earnestly will be some of the most important factors in surviving a data breach.