The word “crisis” is everywhere. And, what adds to our unrest and discomfort is the fact that we are in a sustained crisis where few are even guessing how long it might last. Organizations of all kinds are asking how they must generate sales, referrals, new students or residents...whatever it takes to sustain them. And, how do you best do this in an atmosphere of economic hardship, not to mention the threat to life and livelihood?
Here I must give credit to professors Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe of Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business. They have come up with the HEART framework of sustained crisis communication, which a Texas friend cited to us. I use it as a viable way forward in our present circumstances. It is paraphrased as follows:
The optimal word here is “empathy.” Expressing genuine empathy for those affected comes first, followed very closely by spelling out exactly how you and your organization plan to ease their pain. Being consistent, as frequent as possible and specific is essential in your communications. Your social media and emailing lists are ideal channels to reach those who need to hear from you.
The many changes in operations, unfolding status of key data, dates, times, etc. require current, updated information. And, even if some of this may be government mandated, it is far better for you to be proactive and motivated by the well being of your customers, your residents, your students, etc. … and the many other stakeholder groups each organization undoubtedly has. You should never have to be asked for this kind of information. The “leading philosophy” you set with your communications will already begin to strengthen reputation long before the crisis ends.
Whether it is a mission, a vision or the values you have spelled out as the foundation of your organizational culture, your actions now must be in sync. Even in the midst of upheaval you must continually be reassuring that you will find creative ways to continue to provide what has defined you, what has differentiated you, and what has been the value you bring to your customers or to those you serve.
Now take that last thought a step further. Inject “hope into heartache” with new products and services that provide solutions to new problems. Few, if any, organizations are experiencing business as usual. All over this nation, and around the world, heads are together to pivot services and messages, to brainstorm tactics, to “build a better mousetrap.” Organizations that take these steps, and tell consumers about them, will build on their reputation or human value, as well as add to their business value.
Set a timeline for your organization’s evaluation and change management. Few of us will operate the same as we emerge from these times. While complying with any mandates imposed, you will want to show you are positioned and willing to do whatever is within your power to meet and exceed the needs of those who consumer your goods and services. Highlighting what you have learned and put into action will inspire confidence and demonstrate your positive commitment to come out of this sustained crisis stronger and wiser – better able to take ownership of your future and theirs.
So, as a friend of mine likes to say, “Be visible while others are invisible.” Capitalize on these times as a way to strengthen customer relationships. Put yourself out there and do “have a heart.”