COVID-19 Crisis Management Planning with a Customer Focus

On January 28, 1986, the world watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of all of its seven crew members.  Part of the massive media coverage was the fact that Christa McAuliffe was one of the seven.  She was the first female teacher in space.  What followed was an exhaustive effort to determine the cause of the disaster.  Top investigators, using the latest in technology and aeronautical engineering expertise, examined every square inch of the shuttle, ran countless experiments, and perused thousands of pages of aircraft blueprints.

Today we are faced with a world wide crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic.  How are you communicating with your customers and employees today regarding the steps you are taking to maintain a safe environment while providing an appropriate experience.

If you have not taken advantage of the available resources to become educated regarding today’s crisis we urge you to take advantage of these two websites:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
http://blog.google/inside-google/company-announcements/coronavirus-covid19-response/

Obviously we encourage you to communicate often with customers and employees to keep them in the know with accurate information and keep their safety in the forefront of all you do.

The failure of one O-ring seal was determined to be the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.  A contributing factor was cold weather prior to the launch.  This was demonstrated by Cal Tech physics professor Richard Feynman when he placed a small O-ring into ice-cold water and subsequently showed its loss of pliability before an investigative committee.  The insight changed forever how space shuttles were constructed.

Crisis management for a space shuttle involves engineering and scientific logic.  Crisis management for a service issue such as COVID-19 requires customer and employee logic.  When organizations only apply financial, operational or public relations logic to hiccups involving customers and employees, it invariably yields responses that fix the problem but leave customers as well as employees unsatisfied and distrustful.  Effective organizational service recovery must start with a deep understanding of the customer and employee that is a vital part of the foundation of a strategy.  It is that strategy that informs all crisis management tactics and communication responses.  Today’s wired and dangerous customers’ and employees’ expectations change rapidly.  They are very intolerant of mistakes and are quick to express their feelings of displeasure utilizing their favorite social media channel.

Customer intelligence—research and feedback on what customers want, expect and experience--is only part of the recipe for an effective service recovery strategy.  The larger component is the assurance that customer logic permeates the construction of the strategy and is not simply an after-the-fact overlay.  Imagine the outcome of the space shuttle investigation if the finance department had been in charge of the effort and engineers/scientists were brought in only late in the postmortem?  We might never have known about the O-ring issue.

Too often the public relations department drives the organization’s response to a major customer disappointment crisis.  The damage control bias found in some PR firms or units can often trump a crucial focus on customer trust renewal.  It is this approach that Toyota and American Airlines failed at service recovery while JetBlue and J&J succeeded.  What will guide your organization’s response to the current COVID-19 crisis?

Customer logic is never alone in shaping a service recovery (crisis management) strategy; it leads with operations, finance and marketing logic as it partners.  The driving questions are these:  When a major service hiccup lands in your organization in the middle of negative media storm, would you have a comprehensive plan to guide your efforts?  And, what discipline would inform your organization’s response—PR or CEM?

Stay safe out there!
 

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© Chip Bell Group, 2020.  Courtesy of John R. Patterson (www.johnrpatterson.com).  Permission is given to download and distribute this article as long as it contains this copyright notice.

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