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Being Trusted Advisors in a Turbulent World

By Anders Kempe, President, MSLGROUP EMEA

Crises are resolved by listening to people, responding and acting in a positive way that solves the problem.

 

It Happened on Twitter: The Case of an Insurance Company

I’d like to talk about a recent case, several aspects of which demonstrate how we can help our clients when we live up to our vision of being trusted advisors-especially in crisis situations when things get pretty rough.

Imagine a venerable, refined, honorable insurance and finance company. A company that does what it’s supposed to do and does it really well, that delivers high-quality service with good terms and returns for its clients. A company that is based on a solid, well thought-out value system, that does not pay huge bonuses to its managers and that always puts its customers first. A company that is an industry leader in customer satisfaction and is distinguished by its strong brand.

Naturally, rapid on-line communication with clients is part of the company’s service offering. But one day this happened a bit too quickly, and a poorly formulated tweet made the company appear ignorant and arrogant. A matter that was, in concrete terms, handled correctly was communicated in the wrong way.

There was a risk that the ensuing debate-both online and offline-could go seriously wrong (not to go into details, but adjectives like “greed” and “homophobia” were rife). The Twitter message exposed the client’s ignorance and lack of routines in terms of dealing with its homosexual clients.

Fortunately, the situation was cleared up thanks to the company’s swift, professional action (supported by a crisis communications and social media team at MSLGROUP EMEA). Our client quickly made a decision to compensate its client for damages and to implement an ambitious drive to increase LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) awareness within the company, to improve neutrality in treating gender and family constellation issues. Company officials provided open, ongoing communication about their realization that they had more to learn, and they were clear about their explicit defense of human rights.

Instead of a full-blown crisis, our client attracted much attention for taking prompt, forceful and prudent action. The client has learned important lessons for the future and has decided to further enhance its offering and communication. The two things are connected-a company can never communicate away its flaws without changing its behavior.

I believe that the company’s brand will be strengthened over the long term thanks to the firm manner in which their representatives handled this specific case. And I’m convinced that we will have an improved relationship with this client. We successfully demonstrated that we are a friend and trusted advisor to turn to when times get tough.

 

The Changing World of Crisis

The case also reinforced for me several trends that are changing how we plan for and respond to crisis situations. We live in a time of globalization that is obvious to everyone. Crises can happen any day, anywhere and be spread around the world in a matter of seconds. The media monitors activity on social networks to determine what is news worthy, which is why we often see stories start on social networks and then become the day’s headlines. Corporate decision-makers need to understand this dynamic. Once your company’s crisis is on the front page of a paper, on the home page of a website or on cable news throughout the day, you know it’s serious.

Ergo, companies are beginning to prepare more seriously for crises, using simulation training and other strategies. Another consequence of the rise in social media is that companies need to engage with all their stakeholders—in good times and in bad.

Companies need to have solid relationships in place with the people in the communities in which they do business and all the other organizations in their ecosystem. So, when a crisis does happen, it is easier to reach these people, listen to their concerns and respond.

Today, crises are not solved on a technical basis with four guys locked in a boardroom. Crises are resolved by listening to people, responding and acting in a positive way that solves the problem.

The Trusted Advisor’s Role in a Crisis

Finally, I want to share some of the lessons that were reinforced during this experience:

  • Communications agencies (advisors) must understand the client’s business and competitive environment-mastering all types of communication is not enough.
  • Advisors must also understand their clients’ clients and the way they think, and must be able to guide clients in an environment that takes into account the explosive force of politics and the media.
  • No issues are local issues in the fast-moving world of social media-advisors must never be overly alarmist, but no issue is too small to be taken seriously.
  • Any deficiencies in the client’s business must be corrected. Advisors need to dare to give uncomfortable advice when the situation so demands, and this requires a solid relationship with the client.

Originally posted on Crisis.MSLGROUP.com, our global network of 50+ MSLGROUP crisis experts, with deep vertical expertise across industries and geographies, connected to each other by our proprietary crowdsourcing platform.

In a world where every crisis is global, social and viral, you need a road map to think about the interconnections between trust, power, risk and crisis, from our experts at the MSLGROUP Crisis Network.

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