#Asia From Archives: Is your business strong enough to face an unexpected storm?


Unpleasant surprises can spoil an organisation’s reputation and leave the business in the middle of a PR nightmare. Can your business handle a crisis?

Caught in the Storm

Editor’s Note: Here’s a story from our archives we feel is relevant even today and deserves your attention.

The thing about surprises is they can knock at your business’s door at any time and they can have a very devastating effect on your business.

The kinds of unpleasant surprises can range from natural disasters destroying the physical assets and the whole site itself, or man-made like theft or robbery, a bad investment, or the sudden death of a person close to you.

However, unpleasant surprises are not just events that affect you on a personal level, but even include incidents that tarnish the reputation of professional organisations and leave their business in the middle of a PR nightmare (for example, who can forget the ‘screw driver in a McChicken burger’ debacle that McDonalds had to face sometime back).

Today’s big question is if your business is ready for a crisis? The answer lies in how the business responds to such situations.

Handling a crisis the right way – A case study
Singapore Airlines’ outstanding response to the SQ006 Taiwan crash has been a shining example of quality crisis management.

In light of a tragedy that wasn’t just limited to shareholder concern like other companies hit by roadblocks have to face, but also affected everyone on a deeply personal level due to the loss of life, Singapore Airlines’ high commitment to a sensible and sensitive approach was admirable.

Let us take a look at some of the company’s tactics and overall policies that helped it deal with this nightmarish situation:

  • After the SQ006 crash, Singapore Airlines’ then-CEO Cheong Choong Kong immediately took control of organising several media conferences to personally accept responsibility and addressed a volley of confused and emotionally charged questions regarding their handling of the accident. There was no hiding from the limelight or vague escapist communication that the media or the families of the victims had to bear with.
  • Singapore Airlines immediately lined up their resources to quickly offer compensation to the crash victims and their families without hesitation.
  • Even without any history of accidents back then, the company had several hundred employees trained to help the affected families through their grief and confusion on their way to Taiwan.
  • Singapore Airlines has stayed true to its commitment of maintaining the highest safety standards by undertaking a US$500 million equipment overhaul even during a bad economic phase.

The Importance of preparing a crisis management strategy BEFORE the crisis
Every company must have a crisis communication strategy because all businesses are linked to the end consumer either directly or indirectly and the image they have of you is important. And since media has seeped into the society pretty deep, there are no secrets anymore, especially dirty ones. So your reaction to disasters is key to tackling problems.

The thing about businesses is that the vision people have of it is usually the grand goal that they want to reach. Most businesses do not take the potential problems into consideration and maybe that’s why their success rate remains stagnated at a poor one out of four.

Hence, when one does not take into account what can go wrong, the way they react to it can be more harmful for the business than the actual disaster itself.

There is always a right way of responding to the media, customers, investors and even your employees when they demand answers. Being silent is not a good idea. Whether you speak up or not, the people are going to get information by one way or the other because social media spreads news like wildfire.

You have to choose between controlling the content of what you have to share, or leaving it up to media speculations, which might be very damaging if the ridiculous coverage of the MH-370 air crash by CNN and FOX News is anything to go by. Therefore, it is advisable to speak up publicly regarding the matter.

If you do plan to talk to the public and release a statement but you do not do it soon enough, once a rumor is spread far and wide, it is next to impossible to irradiate it.

If people form an image about you, it is hard to change that and since news becomes old very quickly, they will move on having that false image about you. Thus, not only is it important to speak up publicly, it is also important to speak up publicly as soon as possible.

Now, as important it is to speak up soon, it is also important to speak up confidently to give assurance to the people and all the stakeholders. Thus, it is important to choose the right person to speak publicly.

If the company representative herself or himself does not sound confident, the rest of the people, including your own employees will not get the assurance that is required during the process of disaster management. You need to restore faith in everyone involved with the company, as well as the public.

It is always a good idea if the CEO of the company speaks up, since they are already the face of the company, provided they have the proper skills that are needed to calm the surroundings.

Remember, there is a huge difference in the confidence level of any person in good times and in bad times. A good orator is one who can keep their feelings to themselves and keep a brave face in front of the public. As good as it is for the CEO to speak, it is not necessary at the cost of the company image. So either the CEO should participate in crisis management training on a general basis or there should be a designated spokesperson who knows the right way of handling such situations.

All you need to do is that make sure that that spokesperson is fully aware about everything related to the company, including its visions, goals, what the company stands for, the number of employees it has and other such details.

No company has a perfect run. There are always ups and downs. What matters is how we deal with the problems because if they are not tackled well, the actual disaster is only a minor part of the problem because a lot of other, bigger problems begin to crop up.

What we need to remember is that even the biggest problems can pass smoothly as long as we do crisis communication as soon as possible and give the reassurance that everyone needs in difficult times, especially the stakeholders and the end consumers.

The author is Country Manager (Singapore) of imoney.sg

The views expressed here are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested to share your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co

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