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Latest 30 Oct 2018 | Customer Service | 7 min read

Managing Crises in the Digital Age

Digital crises are the new normal. Whenever something goes wrong, whether that be a technical outage, a negative service incident or a travel disruption, today’s “always-on” generation will flock to digital channels to vent their frustrations and seek real-time information on the issue. Inevitably, this will always result in a sudden surge of incoming volumes.

Digital channels and social messaging demand a new approach to crises. Corporate silence or blanket PR statements fail to satisfy expectations for the modern customer, not to mention the time it takes for a press announcement to be made public.

A crisis can fast become your brand's worst nightmare. But, in the digital age, negative conversations about your brand don’t necessarily mean a total disaster or a complete meltdown of your brand’s reputation. Although  in  the moment it might not feel like it, on the flip side, a crisis can offer a chance to garner positive feedback!

What really matters is how you deal with these negative conversations. In the face of crisis, with the right preparation, your company can ride out any digital media storm and come out as transparent, quick and genuine customer champions. Just as one-way social marketing has become antiquated, so too are traditional response plans when it comes to social care engagement. Merely issuing a statement might have little or no effect. Ignoring or, even worse, deleting posts will most likely make a crisis worse.

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Identifying a Crisis

Crises can be defined as anything that can create a large and unexpected spike in volume. This occurs when one of 4 things happen:

  1. A social post goes viral
  2. A media story explodes that causes a public reaction.
  3. An event occurs where many of your customers are affected.
  4. A customer publicly bashes you for not resolving an issue on private channels

Most of the time, there is no warning of this happening, which is why its business critical to be prepared.

The most common way of knowing a crisis has hit is when there is a large spike in digital volume. When this happens, it can be an extremely stressful situation for all involved. The unexpectedness with which most crises hit means that they are an extremely unpredictable occurrence.

A crisis can fast become your brand's worst nightmare. But, in the digital age, negative conversations about your brand don’t necessarily mean a total disaster or a complete meltdown of your brand’s reputation.

How do you manage a Crisis?

The potential for social media and messaging volumes to blow up unexpectedly whenever a crisis hits means that every brand, needs to be prepared to deal with substantially higher volumes, comparatively to their everyday volumes, at the drop of a hat.

1) A Crisis Escalation Plan

The worst thing to do when a crisis strikes is to panic and bunker down. This doesn’t bide time and will only build the expectations of a response. Having a thoroughly thought through crisis escalation plan will save you from sinking when that crisis eventually strikes. Given the influence of social media, and the rapidity that it moves at, it is vital a response plan is formulated at the corporate level and key stakeholders in the company are cooperative, informed and aligned on what to do, should something arise.

Whether you are dealing with sensitive, detailed customer issues that require escalation to another team member or a mass notification of a service outage, it’s important that your front-line agents have clear processes and guidelines in place so that they can easily handle incoming messages without confusion or delay. 

To ensure that your escalation plan is as successful as possible, you can always consider taking these few steps:

  • Share with your team real-life examples of messages that do and don’t need a response
  • Make the first level of escalation the agent’s team
  • Track the ongoing performance of your agents
  • Connect your team to PR, and experts in other areas of the business
  • Transform your escalation map into a ‘living document’

A crisis escalation plan should always include publishing regular updates across your digital channels. Having informative updates as the first thing that people see when they go on your social channels will reduce the number of inbound questions and brands that want to show they are genuine, progressive and transparent will make use of photos and videos where possible - a more empathetic means of engagement.


Crisi Escalation Plan

 Figure 1: Conversocial's Crisis Escalation Plan

2) Always Monitor Your Digital Channels

Monitoring your digital channels is key! How else will you be able to quickly identify an issue? In an ideal world, we would be able to stop the problem arising in the first place, but digital just doesn’t work like that. Ongoing monitoring helps quickly identify any possible negative issues before they develop in full force.

Whenever a digital care team spots something that has even the smallest possibility of blowing up, (and they’ll often spot it first) they need to be able to rapidly escalate the problem internally to corporate communications. Both social and corporate communications teams can then work hand-in-hand to efficiently turnaround an appropriate response strategy, which can then be rolled out.

3) Resource Your Customer Care Team Properly

A crisis on social inevitably means a surge in volumes and this will only get worse if you lack the bandwidth to promptly respond to your customers. Unfortunately, due to the uncertainty surrounding a crisis, AI and bots don’t have much to offer in terms of support! For the most part, it is up to your human agents to take charge of the reigns and navigate through the crisis storm.

You have to be ready to shift extra agents across into the digital customer care team and have a process implemented on how to manage a larger team with varying levels of skills. Every brand will have either:

  • A “reserve pool” of social media trained agents
  • A process for having non-social agents on the platform
It’s understandable that when a crisis hits, the initial reaction would be to drop everything and focus on it 100%. But this leads to the question-what do you do about normal service enquiries that are still coming in during this time? It’s imperative not to lose track of your normal customer service issues as this will result in another level of angry customers. This has to be factored into your resourcing requirements!
The social cycle happens at 10x the speed of the news cycle. By the time your official statement to the press has been published, you’ll have already completely lost control of the message. The only way to prevent this is to move at the speed of social as well.
Joshua March, Conversocial CEO & Founder

Want to know more about how to prepare for a crisis? Read our Social Messaging Volume Trends in 2018 Report


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