Empowered Voices Define a Brand Experience

Empowered customer and employee voices are in control of your brand’s future. This empowered voice is no longer an interesting phenomenon exposed through nascent channels that allow for reactive PR pros to utilize carefully constructed “just-in-case” responses based on dusty old crisis communication plans.

Customers and employees have an incredibly high-level of power to influence marketability and brand value today through their shared experiences.

Are your prepared to react? There are multiple examples this year of how global brands get easily swept up through social engagement in reaction to reported experiences and affiliations.

One tweet, one blog, one video, one ad, one review and the next thing you know the company stock is tanking, advertisers are fleeing, millions of people are boycotting the company, and news chyrons are highlighting the customer experience as breaking news. What used to be analogs in communication and public relations textbooks, are now daily case studies in crisis management. Brands are not in control.

Ready. Aim. Fire.

Today, major organizations must think like the military – ready to respond within a second’s notice. Brands must actively listen and monitor all communication channels, and provide global surveillance around-the-clock. They must also be fully prepared to act in real-time to a variety of scenarios across multiple mediums, whether it be from a customer complaint or association to another “brand” in crisis.

The voice of the customer is at its highest value today due to the nature of how information is shared through media channels.

A customer’s experience has incredible power and in an instance can dramatically impact a company’s value, negatively and positively. Brands need to be prepared with every scoped out “what if” scenario and shared with all those that will go on active duty when “it” hits!

Whether capitalizing on a positive experience like Kohl’s branding of the Chewbacca Mask Lady, or reacting to the global negative perception of Silicon Valley employment practices resulting from Uber’s former employee detailed experience of discrimination that was shared on a blog, companies today are forced into action through other’s experiences. Customers and employees know they have unique powers today that require global brands to stand up and take immediate action. And they are using this power to their advantage.

The customer experience voice has unyielding power and is putting ill-prepared companies on their heels and at risk.

Failure to react has great consequences. Time is not on the side of the brand. Marketers must be fully prepared and crisis management action plans need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis to ensure there is a timely response to all types of customer experiences. There are no excuses and no forgiveness will be given by those in power – customers and employees.

There are consequences to failed responses. Beyond the enormous financial exposure to revenue and profits, it also can impact a company culture, ability to recruit top talent and long-term market sustainability in a very competitive marketplace. It is all at risk with every shared experience.

No organization today can take for granted the power of the customer voice.

The ability to take advantage of good publicity provides a little more flexibility to capture the upside. Leadership will turn to those in charge of communication for the failure to respond and act appropriately to anything negative, so put your plan in place today.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. – Benjamin Franklin

Time is the enemy in a crisis, no matter the scale. Today’s cycles can often be at tornado wind speeds that grow in exponential exposure within minutes. It is inherent in our constant feeds of news and information. There is nothing that can stop it, so it is imperative that an “emergency response team” be in place to act swiftly in response. This is where a crisis communications strategy has it’s greatest value.

Don’t underestimate the value to the company of a well-defined crisis communications plan.

The idea of putting together a plan may seem fairly simple; however, they are often very complex and require time and resources to properly construct. The investment will pale in comparison to the expenses related to a viral “bad” customer experience. Utilizing a good communications team or experts at a PR agency can help in this process for planning and execution. This should be an annual exercise for upkeep.

To understand how deep and broad this plan needs to be, start by outlining all the stakeholders that need to informed in a crisis communication plan: customers, sales, HR, IT, employees, media, suppliers and partners, as well as potential regulatory, community and elected officials. Now you can see why planning pays off!

Essential Elements of Crisis Communications Planning

RESPONSE TEAM: Define the members, roles and responsibilities of the Communications Response Team (CRT).

CONTACTS: Identify all audiences that will be updated by the response team, internal and external.

LIST SOURCES: Classify all lists and sources for contacts, including: customers, media, investors, leadership, employees, partners, suppliers, regulators and others.

TIMELINE: Create a sample timeline for Communications Response Team to update in an activated response.

SCENARIOS: Build a series of responses to scenarios with constructed timelines and messages that can be used for preparedness training of Communications Response Team members and spokespeople.

MESSAGING: Create key messaging guidelines for Communications Response Teams based on audiences, scenarios and channels including holding statements to express that further responses are coming from the organization.

SYSTEMS: Establish listening posts, processes, technologies, people and alerts used for notifications to CRT with defined activities based on “level” of action required for response.

PREPARE: Set a location to host all resources that can be activated by all members of the Communications Response Team, including scripts, contact information, timelines and lists. Communicate with all necessary constituents on how and when to engage with the CRT. Set up notification systems. Train the team members based on roles and responsibilities.

REVIEW: Set up periodic reviews of the plan to update channel information, lists and messaging. Post-crisis, review the activities and effectiveness of the response to ensure continuous improvements are made from learning and experiences.

It is important to define the action and activities based on the type of customer experience and how the experience in shared with others. As an example, an irate email to customer service may not need to be part of the company’s communication alert system. It also should not be ignored as a potential source for an escalation.

Today, a customer can take an email that does not get a timely response to outside media sources like social or television triggering a crisis and need for immediate response. It is the power of the customer experience their empowered voice.

Definition of a Crisis:  A situation that has reached a critical phase (Merriam-Webster)

For an organization, a crisis can be defined as any action that adversely influences the reputation, integrity or value of the brand. Knowing that customers and employees have the power to create a crisis based on their shared experience, is a warning to all marketers.

Prepare now. Failure to do is inexcusable in today’s world of constant communications. Your customers will tell you so, if you are aren’t listening!

Jamie Glass, CMO + President at Artful Thinkers, a sales and marketing consulting company.