Crises can happen to any organization—from large corporations to small family owned businesses—and can appear with little to no advanced warning, threatening the integrity and viability of any business. The pest control industry, and specifically NPMA members, have a large percentage of family-owned small businesses. And that is why I would encourage you to read on. Because often times, it’s more important how a company responds in these volatile situations than the what, the initial event or incident that occurred. When a crisis happens, will you be prepared?
According to ManagementHelp.org, only 54 percent of companies have a developed crisis plan in place, yet 79 percent of business decision makers believe they are only 12 months from a potential crisis. That statistic blows my mind and shines a light on the dire need to bring more pest control companies into a better position for preparedness. What’s more, small businesses are just as susceptible to crisis situations as large pest control companies, yet are often the least prepared for them should one occur. A study published in the European Management Journal found for most small business managers, an actual crisis event must occur before crisis planning becomes a concern. Unfortunately, that may be too late. Having a crisis communications plan in place is essential to ensure your team is effectively responding and reacting in the moment and not scrambling to come up with a game plan in the wake of a crisis situation.
Working Capital notes that companies with a plan in place to respond to disruptive incidents of any proportion are able to return to business as usual much more quickly than those without one, which can have a lasting impact on sales, perception, customer loyalty and more. Businesses both large and small are susceptible to crisis situations, so consider these five steps to ensure your company is ready to respond in a quick and efficient manner should one occur.
Identify Potential Situations
In order to effectively prepare for potential crisis situations that may occur, it’s important to identify specific scenarios that have the potential to derail your business. According to Fortress Strategic Communications, crisis situations typically stem from three core areas: manmade, technical and natural disasters. We all agree we are in the “people business” first. And when working daily with the consumer, there can be a risk for a situation you may consider a crisis for your business. Consider all of the recent security breaches of customer information with Facebook, Marriott, government data and more. These are real crisis situations that can hit any size company.
Prepare Messaging Ahead of Time
While the nature of a crisis situation may be unknown until it has come about, building off of the potential scenarios you have identified, it’s important to then develop key messages that reflect your company’s overall standpoint on a certain issue. Having these tentative, ready-made statements at your disposal allows you to quickly customize and respond should a crisis occur, freeing up time for you to rectify the situation. In addition to drafting key messages, it’s important to also identify potential spokespeople who are carefully vetted, prepared and comfortable speaking with the media on your company’s behalf. This person should have excellent communication skills, and be able to demonstrate sincerity and transparency during a media interview. This person will also need to be able to connect with stakeholders regarding the situation at hand and toe the line between empathy and apology.
Conduct Media Training
To ensure your spokesperson(s) is thoroughly prepared for a crisis situation, it’s important to consider regular media training throughout the year or any time there are updates made to your key messages. This includes participating in mock TV interviews and press conferences, as well as feedback sessions to review the dos and don’ts of TV, radio and print media interviews, as each medium differs. According to HuffPost, adequate media training enables the spokesperson to better control the interview, more appropriately respond to difficult questions and lessen the chances of being misquoted through learning the specific skills of clear, concise and effective communication.
Map Out Media Response Tactics
Before a media crisis has had time to take hold, it’s crucial that you determine your company’s preferred course of action. Depending on the situation, a prepared statement or press release may be warranted, or in severe cases, a press conference to address the issue at hand may be more appropriate. Proactive public relations activities are also important during times of crisis, as this allows you to voice your company’s position on the matter with members of the media. It’s important to have a crisis communications plan that encompasses not only traditional media outlets such as TV and newspapers, but digital and social media outlets as well. A survey conducted by ManagementHelp.org found 65 percent of business owners feel that social media makes a crisis more difficult to manage. As such, it’s important to always have someone monitoring your social media channels should a crisis arise, and to have that person prepared to act in a timely fashion. This includes handling inbound messages and posts received on all social media platforms, responding to comments with approved messaging and knowing when to flag potential issues with leadership and appropriate spokespeople.
Develop Internal Communications Strategy
Another important aspect of crisis communications that should not be overlooked is your internal communications strategy. As a pest control company, your employees are out in the field interacting with customers on a daily basis and should be kept abreast of any potential issues that they could encounter while on the job. Before a crisis hits, consider the chain of command. Who is on your short list of people to be notified immediately before information is dispersed to the larger group? Once leadership has been made aware, it’s also important to keep stakeholders abreast of the unfolding situation should they be approached for comment. This also communicates to stakeholders that, despite the hiccup, your company is taking action to contain the situation. Once key personnel have been notified, an all-staff email or newsletter debriefing them on the events that have unfolded is crucial, as employees, too, want to feel like management has the situation under control. Keeping your employees informed can also foster a sense of comradery that’s needed to weather the current storm.
While just the mere thought of a crisis situation is enough to cause any business owner to lose sleep, there are steps you can take today to ensure your business is as prepared as possible should one occur. By identifying potential crisis situations, preparing messaging ahead of time, conducting media training, mapping out response tactics and developing an internal communications strategy, you’ll ensure your company is ready to not only withstand the event, but come out on the other side stronger and more resilient.
Cindy Mannes is the executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. Visit www.npmapestworld.org/ppma for more information on how you can become involved.
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