Managing Communications During Customer-Impacting Incidents

October 8, 2012 - 1 Comment

No matter how you prepare, you never know how or when it will begin. The phone rings and sixty seconds later a sense of dread emerges. It grows slowly, peaking just as you hang up the phone. Sitting back in your chair, you take a deep breath and turn your mind to all the customers, executives, and journalists who will soon know what you know.

You and I both have a sense of the work involved in managing customer-impacting data exposures, privacy breaches, or malicious attacks. These are high pressure, high profile incidents that demand the very best response team—a team that includes technical and non-technical expertise.

Working as I do with Cisco security and incident response teams, I sit alongside some great people who understand the value of having a professional communicator at the table. With a technical response underway, the communicator can do what they do best—summarize the topic, identify impacted audiences, assess their needs, and craft the required messaging. Regardless of their department—public relations, employee communications, customer communications, or marketing—these people will be critical to sustaining customer relationships and protecting your organization’s reputation.

Having provided communications advice to companies across a variety of industries, the Cisco team asked for my thoughts on managing incident communications. Here are some general principles that will support a positive business and communications response:

  1. Customers Come First—Although every incident is unique, placing your customers’ interests ahead of your own is an investment in maintaining a constructive conversation and strong relationship.
  2. Accept No Delay—The clock starts the moment you learn of the incident, so waste no time in understanding the facts, launching a response, and beginning notifications. You will have to explain the full timeline to your own executives and the customer.
  3. Implement The Fix—Communications can build trust and understanding, but won’t make customer conversations any easier if the underlying issue is ongoing. Ensure a trusted team is working on the fix, as actions will always speak louder than words.
  4. Own The Issue—Although there may be multiple parties involved, your customers will expect you to own the incident and the response. Trying to share or avoid blame is almost always counterproductive.

Hopefully you’ll never be part of a high profile incident response, but preparing for one is still the responsible thing to do. If you haven’t already, consider adding to your team a professional communicator with the right skills, tools, and temperament. You, and your customers, may be glad you did.

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  1. …Excellent information, and I agree 100 % with the four principles (They are applicable to diferent industries as well)…thanks for sharing it. Regards from PR.