Manage Customer Satisfaction with a Crisis Management Plan


What’s your customer service horror story? The one that made you swear off a company for good. The customer service that was so bad, no discount or Black Friday deal could entice you back.

According to a report by American Express, more than half of all Americans have scrapped a planned purchase because of bad service.

The cost of those negative experiences? $41 billion!

Keeping your customers happy when something inevitability goes wrong (whether it’s a service interruption or a global pandemic) is a hallmark of a successful company.

Not only will keeping your customers satisfied potentially save millions of dollars and avoid customer churn, but your ability to effectively manage a crisis will inspire long-term customer loyalty and set you apart from your competition.

In today’s post, I’m going to help you prepare for the worst-case scenario and show you how to come out of it with your reputation and customer satisfaction intact.

You’ll learn:

Let’s get started!

What Is a Customer Satisfaction Crisis?

Most problems with customer service only affect one customer at a time — maybe someone’s order doesn’t get processed correctly, or there is a problem with their account.

It becomes a crisis when the problem affects multiple people at once.

When that happens, you need a plan in place to address the problem as quickly as possible.

Here are some examples of different customer satisfaction crises you may encounter:

  • An employee going AWOL on social media, causing a public relations nightmare
  • A public healthcare emergency like COVID-19 that disrupts your ability to serve your customers
  • A faulty batch of products that needs to be recalled
  • A service disruption which prevents people from using your product
  • A hacker leaking or selling customer data, causing a security breach

5 Steps to Manage Customer Satisfaction During a Crisis

“Don’t Panic.”

These are the words emblazoned on the cover of the widely successful, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

And whether you’re running away from Vogons or trying to manage a PR crisis on Twitter, it’s advice everyone needs.

A solid crisis management plan will help your team, and your customers, stay calm.

With that in mind, let’s look at five steps to help you prepare for and handle the worst-case scenario.

STEP 1: Create a crisis plan document

You can’t respond to a customer satisfaction crisis without a strategy…

Well, you can, but it’s a terrible idea.

A crisis plan is essentially an SOP document (standard operating procedure document) specifically designed to deal with a potential crisis. It breaks down key procedures and helps your team plan ahead for the worst.

In the heat of the moment, your team may struggle to remember who needs to do what. That’s why it’s essential to document your crisis plan and share it with your employees. That way — whether your team is in-office, or spread across the country — everyone will be on the same page, using the same game plan.

There are a few principles to keep in mind when creating your crisis plan.

Lay out the entire process

If it’s not written down, people won’t remember to do it. Detail everything from beginning to end. This will make the process of handling a customer satisfaction crisis as seamless as possible.

Make it easy to digest

In panic mode, your team won’t have time to read walls of text. Break everything down with headings, tables of contents, diagrams, and examples.

Keep the plan accessible and up to date

If your team is in an office, print out the plan and keep it somewhere visible. For distributed teams, ask your staff to download it onto their computers, so it’s available for offline use. You’ll want to review your crisis plan at least once a year to make sure it’s up to date.

Account for overtime

During a crisis, your team will most likely work longer hours in a more stressful environment. Make sure your crisis plan accounts for overtime and has a defined maximum number of working hours to keep your team mentally healthy.

Pro Tip: If you need more data to build your plan, send out customer satisfaction surveys. Your customers are your best advocates during a crisis, but you need data to know how to keep them happy.

STEP 2: Assemble a crisis management team

Having a team dedicated to dealing with the crisis can help your company stay ahead of the game. It will allow you to go on the offensive and solve problems before they show up, instead of continually being reactive and defensive.

Assign a spokesperson for your company. You want your brand to appear human, and having a single voice can help with that. This person could be anyone, the CEO, a manager, or someone else. But the important thing is that they are cool under pressure and know enough to embody your company and its values.

Clearly define the roles and duties of everyone in the crisis management team and the organization as a whole. Create a detailed list of actions for each department, and define who is in charge of what.

STEP 3: Train your employees to handle a crisis

When it comes to handling a crisis, you can’t assume your team will execute your process without a glitch. Take time to train your employees on how to handle a crisis effectively.

Start with onboarding

An effective crisis training regime preferably starts as soon as an employee joins your team. Onboarding is a critical part of new employee training. Teaching about crisis management during onboarding will instill even new team members with a sense of confidence when faced with a crisis.

Stay visual

Visual aids — like infographics, videos, or a presentation — are a great tool to train your team quickly. Humans process visual data 60,000 times faster than textual data.

So, if you want your team to easily recall your crisis training, use visual mediums.

Drill often

Like the firefighters, the coast guard, or any crisis response team, the key to handling a crisis is preparation and drilling.

Even if your team doesn’t deal with customer satisfaction issues often, you should schedule regular practice drills and role-plays. You want your team to have enough practice that muscle memory kicks in when something does happen.

This has the added benefit of making your team more efficient with their time during the crisis, so they hopefully won’t have to work long hours, potentially harming their mental health.

Use scorecards

Scorecards are a great way to ensure your team follows every step during a crisis, and it also allows you to assess the effectiveness of your crisis plan.

When your team does make a mistake, or if something happens that’s out of your control, the best thing you can do is apologize and mitigate the situation.

Never be defensive!

STEP 4: Create a procedure for communicating with your customers and employees

During a crisis, you want to build trust and confidence with your customer base. Be proactive with your communications by keeping everyone (including your team) in the loop.

Here’s are some tips on how to communicate during a crisis:

Create a system status page

Similar to customer knowledge bases, a system status page empowers your customers to get the information they need without contacting support. You can help direct people to the page by highlighting it on your website, pinning the link in a Tweet, or mentioning it in an email newsletter.

Keep your followers updated on social media

Twitter is one of the best platforms to communicate with your audience. The platform comes with a range of support features to help your team communicate effectively, monitor brand mentions, and manage requests.

If your audience isn’t on Twitter, use stories or posts on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn to keep people updated.

Contact your customers

You want your customers to learn about a crisis directly from you, not the media. Detail how you will initially contact customers (usually through email), and let customers know where they can continue to track updates.

Decide on internal communications protocol

How do you want your team to communicate during a crisis? Maintaining an informed workforce will stop the rumour mill in its tracks and prevent false information from ending up on social media.

Use a team communication tool like Slack, and create a channel where everyone can access up-to-date information from the right people.

Record your communications

Keep track of customer communications and track them as they move through your organization.

If a customer’s problem is moved to another team member, that handoff needs to be seamless, with no loss of information. Having a system in place will speed up this handoff, and prevent customers from getting annoyed by repeating the same information to new people.

STEP 5: Measure How Well Your Team Responded to the Crisis

Whether your team dropped the ball or became unsung heroes, you need to measure everything. Metrics will give you a benchmark for what you did well on, what you need to improve on, and if there are any weak spots in your product or service that need to be addressed.

Here are some metrics you should track:

The number of incidents

Count the number of customer incidents you had to determine how many people were affected by the crisis.

Resolution time

Customers HATE waiting. If you have long resolution times, figure out what caused it, and how to prevent it in the future.

Customer satisfaction

After your team has responded to an incident, ask your customers to rate how well you did. It will give you valuable feedback on what you need to improve and avoid customer churn.

Processes and tools

Maybe your eCommerce website builder crashed. Or maybe your inventory management software displayed the wrong quantities, and you had to refund customers. Whatever the issue, review your processes and tools to identify any weak links and weed them out.

The number of steps followed

Create a checklist of all the steps in your crisis management process. It should include all the tasks that each person is responsible for. If you notice any gaps, you can identify if a rep needs training, if your documentation lacks clarity, or if a process was cumbersome and out of date.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Crisis Management

When things go south, every action your team does is put under a microscope. Make sure you don’t do further damage to your customer relationships and that you have steps in place to avoid ruining your reputation.

Keep these best practices in mind:

Fix the problem as soon as possible

For a short-term crisis, you want things to get back to normal ASAP. While your team works on identifying the problem and fixing it, keep your customer’s in the loop with regular updates.

Asana (a project management system) has a system status page where users can see the status of current incidents.

Use a clear and consistent response

Make sure all your communications are unified, timely and in-line with your brand voice. It will help customers trust your ability to fix the problem. You don’t want your support team to tell customer’s one thing while your social media manager spreads a different story online.

YouTube failed miserably with their communication after YouTuber Meghan Rienks account was hacked. It took her months to resolve the problem, and each department she spoke to gave her a different response.

Don’t be like YouTube. Make sure every part of your organization is on the same page and knows how to respond to any questions they may receive.

Don’t be defensive

Shifting blame is the fastest way to lose loyal customers and cause the situation to blow up on social media.

Accept responsibility, even if the crisis isn’t your fault. Celebrity influencer, Jacklyn Hill, learned this the hard way when her make-up brand launch turned into a customer service nightmare. She lashed out at fans on Twitter and made things much worse for herself and her company.

Don’t ignore the problem

The problem isn’t going to go away. If customer’s feel a brand isn’t taking their complaints seriously, you can quickly attract the wrath of the internet.

This can lead to a slew of negative reviews on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and a dozen other websites in as little as a few hours. You may even have people who don’t use your service hopping onto the hate bandwagon.

Avoid this by immediately addressing the problem and making your plan to resolve it clear.

Be Prepared

You may only get a few disgruntled tweets every couple of months, but that’s no excuse to be unprepared to handle a customer satisfaction crisis.

Airlines and travel agents across the world weren’t expecting a global pandemic, mass flight cancellations, and border closures — no one was. And yet, it happened.

Most handled it poorly.

Don’t be caught unprepared.

You never know what might happen in the future. By building a solid plan today, you ensure your company can weather any storm and create loyal customers in the process.

Mark Quadros is a digital consultant who works with SaaS brands to implement sales enablement strategies using content. Mark also focuses on networking to help his clientele land strategic partnerships. On the personal front, Mark loves writing and contributes to several authoritative blogs like HubSpot Sales, CoSchedule, Foundr, etc. Connect with him via LinkedIn.

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