Recovering from a Crisis

Once a crisis has been successfully managed, how does an organization move into recovery from the crisis situation? Not much has been written on recovery from a crisis. While this is a very short chapter, I wanted it to stand on its own because the recovery stage is very important but often forgotten. Once an organization manages a crisis, it may try to quickly resume normal business operations, skipping the recovery stage completely. But managing a crisis successfully deserves a pat on the back; the recovery stage is needed. This stage is very important in restoring the organization’s reputation for the long term. It is important to move into this last phase of a crisis.
The goal of the recovery phase is to move an organization from a crisis to resuming normal business operations while continuing to rebuild confidence and trust in the organization. During this phase, the organization learns from the experience. Taking time to debrief after a crisis is vital.
As the last phase in managing a crisis, an organization can take some steps to close out the crisis situation. One of the first steps is to recognize the people who were involved in managing the crisis situation and its response. Those involved will appreciate the compliments. Recognizing people does a couple things. It helps them feel appreciated for their efforts, which in turn makes them more likely to interact positively in the future when another crisis happens. There will be another crisis, so it’s important to build those positive relationships with everyone. Also, saying thank you boosts the morale of the organization. People like to see their co-workers get recognition.
After staff have been recognized, the crisis response team needs to come together to review the crisis communications plan and assess its strengths and weaknesses. At this point, the team debriefs about the situation, going through the time line of events and actions taken. Throughout this process, the team asks what worked, what didn’t, and why. As with the SWOT analysis in the crisis plan development stage, team members need to be very honest and frank. No sugar coating.
The next step is to do a final check of the opinions that the key audiences and the general public continue to hold after the crisis and its aftermath. This will assist you in developing a recovery plan.
Then you can move on to actually developing a recovery plan. A recovery plan needs to include three things: situational analysis, audience identification, and key messages. To create the plan, you need to answer the following questions:

  • What are the organization’s objectives, and what is its plan to resume normal business operations? It is smart to include a time line here.
  • What communications activities and support are needed to mend the organization’s reputation in the long term?
  • What key audience(s) does the organization need to reach with its messages in order to implement its recovery plan? Make a list of them. They may be the same audience as in the crisis, but it is important to identify them in order to not forget them in the process.
  • What are the key messages that the organization must communicate to its audience(s)?
  • Who will deliver these messages?
  • How will the messages be delivered both internally and externally?
  • What media opportunities will be used? What advertising will be done?
  • What is the time line for recovery communications?
  • Are the community relations activities that are being done appropriate? If so, what are they, and how will they be coordinated? What is the time line?
  • If it was utilized during the crisis, will outside public relations counsel be retained?
  • How will the success of the recovery communications plan be measured?
  • What are the milestones against which progress can be measured?
    The last two questions are important. You know you need to measure the success of the handling of a crisis, but you may not know that it is also important to measure the recovery to ensure that the organization actually has recovered.
    The last stage of the recovery process is to determine the opportunities that might result from the crisis and then work to make them happen. Out of every crisis come opportunities for an organization to strengthen its reputation. While we still live in a world where outrage or the cause of a crisis is often still suppressed, a crisis provides an opportunity to make positive changes within the organization. A social media crisis gives an organization an opportunity to develop a more nimble structure in preparing for and then managing such a situation. It gives an organization permission to listen and actually hear what is being said before, during, and after a crisis. A crisis allows staff to rise to the occasion and show leadership on various levels.
    There is one last piece of the recovery process. It may be a mundane task in the recovery process, but it is a needed one. You need to file paperwork that documents the crisis and its subsequent handling. You need to document the whole process for the report. Having it all written down will help in refreshing the crisis communications plan as well as guide the organization if a similar situation happens again. It also helps document the value of the public relations function. And that is a good thing in these days of shrinking departments and budgets. Show the value of the public relations department to the organization.
    Examples of the Recovery Process
    Let’s look at how some of the organizations mentioned in this book handled their recovery. First let’s return to the Tylenol example in Chapter 1. Johnson & Johnson moved into recovery to ensure that it would never again face a crisis like the one it had just faced. The company took action. It developed the “triple”-seal packaging we see today on most over-the-counter medicines. Johnson & Johnson was one the first companies to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandate for tamper-resistant packaging. In addition to the new packaging, Johnson & Johnson reformulated its product from capsules to caplets, which are more resistant to tampering.
    Throughout the recovery process, Johnson & Johnson used media releases and advertising campaigns to communicate the changes in the packaging and the new pill form to the public. In order to motivate consumers to return to Tylenol, the company offered a $2.50 off coupon, which was generous when you think it was 1982, on the purchase of the product. The coupon was made available through newspapers and by calling the toll-free number. Tylenol sent out a sales force to make presentations to those in the medical community. The company hoped these measures would restore confidence in the product. It is said that Tylenol was able to recover 70% of its market share within five months of the tampering crisis. Johnson & Johnson has faced other crises since 1982 and has been able to manage them successfully. The company learned from the tampering crisis in 1982, making it easier to manage future crises.
    Now let’s look at the FedEx example. FedEx was committed to recovering and regaining the public’s trust in the organization, and it took strong action to make those things happen. After taking care of the immediate customer and issuing a public apology, FedEx immediately began working on customer service processes in order to prevent such a problem from happening again. To that end, FedEx has built in a number of social media early warning systems that move the company’s actions much closer to the customer, says Shea Leordeanu.1 This allows FedEx to rapidly personalize its efforts with dissatisfied customers.
  1. Personal interview with Shea Leordeanu on January 28, 2013.
    Remember how the video ended up on YouTube in the first place. It landed there because the customer had no way to share the video with the FedEx customer service representative directly. FedEx is currently building out a new video upload solution so that its customer service representatives will soon be able to provide a link to any upset customer who’d like to show them a video. Files will be tagged with any and all available information, such as account number, tracking number, and complaint number. That way, any video will be connected directly to the concern, allowing customer service to share it with the accountable operations teams for an even faster resolution process.
    FedEx has kept its focus on serving the needs of the customer. Leordeanu said, “While we always strive for the best customer experience possible, we recognize that the way we help a customer recover from an unsatisfactory experience is critical to customer retention. We’re honored to serve every one of our customers.”
    The recovery stage helps an organization move forward while learning from the experience and refocusing the organization on getting back to business.

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