Why transparency is crucial when managing a crisis

We’ve all been there. Your flight gets delayed, your banking app won’t work, your internet connection drops – and you have no idea what’s going on.

Whenever this happens, the primary impulse for the organisation responsible is usually to keep quiet until they’ve figured out the problem. Yet as the minutes and then hours tick by, the lack of communication almost feels more frustrating than the initial problem.

Knowing what’s happening is a key human need. It’s well known, for example, that people are happier to wait for a train or a bus if they know how long it’ll be. It’s when they don’t know that frustration builds.

There’s also the matter of respect.

You’d never leave someone in the dark if you thought highly of them: and so every time an organisation doesn’t give updates on a situation, it shows how little they care. It’s demeaning and adds insult to injury.

So why is it that when a crisis hits, most organisations don’t immediately communicate with you?

For starters, denial and defensiveness is ingrained in many of our natures. I often run media training sessions for a range of different organisations, and I’m still surprised by how most participants seem shocked when I suggest they be upfront with their customers. Yet that’s what your customers need and deserve.

Secondly, many leaders don’t value communication as much as they ought to – and when they do think about it, it’s more as a broadcast tool for their own good news, rather than as a vital part of doing business. But communication is even more critical when something bad happens.

You don’t have to have all the answers immediately. You do, however, need to front up immediately and put a human face to the problem: which is why transparency should be a huge part of your crisis communications plan.

Oh yes: another reason organisations often don’t communicate well is because they don’t have a plan in place, and so when the proverbial hits the fan they’re too panicked to think rationally. They’ll often think their priority is fixing the problem rather than telling customers what’s happening – but the longer it takes you to communicate, the more customers you’ll lose.

Let people know what’s happening and what the situation currently is. Let them know you’re working on it, and you care, and you’re taking responsibility. Let them know you will be giving regular updates.

There’s a theory in the world of information science (and yes, that’s actually an academic field) that the truth will always come out. The sooner you own up to what’s happening, the sooner you’ll regain your customer’s trust.


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