How to manage a crisis the right way and stop customers feeling sad!


All organisations have the potential for a crisis at some point. Everybody knows this – but not everyone knows how to deal with one.

A few weeks ago, train operator First Great Western hit the headlines in a bad way; “Monday morning misery for rail commuters”, “First Great Western and South West Trains in bottom third of train operators for customer satisfaction”, “Delays for rail passengers in the South West”.

Travel firms like First Great Western are no strangers to crisis situations and make it their mission to plan in advance as well as think on their feet in these instances. After all, the slightest weather hitch can throw usual routines into turmoil. However, what these examples bring to light, is how crisis situations have the potential to impact a brand’s image.

Looking at these examples in more detail, other firms can learn a great deal – in some instances ‘what to do’ and other times ‘what not to do’.

Firstly, realise you have a crisis on your hands – usually this would be quite easy to spot as you’ll have customers moaning and your superiors shouting. At this point you’ll probably be tempted to run around like a headless chicken trying to sort everything out at superhuman speed, but we have to remember that we are only human and if we try to rush important statements and act before we think, we will most probably make things worse. Speed is important, but it is vital to be fast and right, not fast and wrong. We also have to remember that crises can happen at any time, therefore it is advisable to have a crisis management programme in place, rather than trying to scrape one together whilst you’re in the midst of dealing with said crisis.

When the time does come to make statements to the press you want to take control of the situation by making sure you have the right spokesperson, front and centre, who is informed on the crisis, ready to apologise for any disruption caused and outline what is being done or has been done to rectify the issues. A golden rule when speaking about a crisis is think CAP – Control, Action, Perspective.

So how did First Great Western tackle its issue? First came a tweeted apology to the commuters who were disrupted on their journeys, followed by regular announcements apologising for the delays and updates on progress as and when information became available. What customers hate more than bad news is no news.

Following the delays, First Great Western has since launched an online hub to help passengers overcome disruptions to their train journeys and ease frustrations that could harm the brand. Data from channels such as JourneyCheck and Transport for London (TfL) is detailed on a refurbished page on their site.

First Great Western’s digital marketing manager Jason Ali, claims this page gives passengers access to real-time departure boards, train schedules across the Western network, re-routing and running data. Twitter is also integrated into the hub to push live updates, as well as a personalised response to disruptions.

First Great Western recognised that, as an organisation, it wasn’t handling the transparency of information well especially during disruption. So it took action and created this online hub in an effort to increase its customers’ experience by managing expectations.

As a result of First Great Western’s efforts, the brand hasn’t suffered much of a knock back – in fact it has been in the news again recently showcasing how it has collaborated with charity SADA, the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, and installed ‘happy lamps’ for the commuters who travel to and from work in the dark. It has been dubbed the world’s first ‘therapy carriage’ – which is designed to make people less depressed about the weather – a positive PR story that I’m sure came with a huge sigh of relief amongst everything else that was going on!

Other brands can learn a lesson from this example – be prepared for crises and have a plan in place. The core principles are simple and easy to enforce. Here are some top tips:

• Plan for tomorrow
• Respond rapidly
• Work with relevant authorities
• Position your management front and centre
• What you say must reflect what you do
• Be open and honest
• Demonstrate concern and convey integrity
• Speak with one voice and talk to stakeholders directly (where possible)
• Make sure you have that crisis management plan in place
• Remember that ‘information stops speculation’.

Developing a crisis communications plan is often overlooked. And my best advice has to be: Don’t be the company that reacts to news – be the proactive one that is ready for anything.