So your eCommerce store sales are going smoothly, your social media strategy is engaging audiences left and right, your PPC campaigns have finally begun to significantly convert; life’s good. Then one day, something goes wrong and the internet explodes with criticism, seemingly oblivious to all the good service you’d provided thus far.

If managed incorrectly, even small snafus have a serious potential to damage your business, especially when they take place or are discussed in the very public forum that is social media. Here’s what you need to do to douse the flames before they turn into a wildfire.

Think ahead and act fast

Never assume that things will always be sunshine and butterflies and include how you’d deal with a potential crisis in your content strategy. You might never need it but if you do, you’ll be glad to have it handy.

An added benefit of thinking ahead is that you’re very likely to find that there are quite a few crises you can avoid entirely by making a adjustments in how you run your business.

Online doesn’t wait and an angry customer is an impatient customer. Deciding how to react, to what and how quickly, before something happens, will enable you to react a whole lot faster. So, at the very least, you’re not further aggravating your customers with a delayed response.

Designate your peacemakers

Depending on how big your business is, you might want to decide to empower a team rather than a single person to handle crisis communication. I say empower because these people have to be trusted to either follow the plan you laid out together or make on-the-spot decisions as to the best way to make peace with your consumers.

Going back and forth between multiple stakeholders, with different opinions and in varying degrees of panic will severely slow down response times and might even lead to contradicting statements.

Online Crisis Communications Basics for eCommerce Stores

If Bill knows Anne is in charge of crisis communication and Sam is her back-up, he’ll make sure the pair of them are aware of what’s going on instead of initiating a stream of communication he might not have the training or skills to handle appropriately.

In other words, having a team in place who can deal with a crisis will ensure you’re consistent in your messaging and, more importantly, that not everyone with access to your communication channels and a functioning keyboard starts dishing out replies.

Marry every problem with a solution

When planing for a crisis, it’s important to think about different problems and what the best solution to each might be. If possible, work out scenarios that vary in gravity – mild, serious, critical – and prepare a resolution for each.

It’s, of course, unrealistic to think that each solution represents the perfect recipe for solving the problem you’ve paired it with but thinking in degrees of gravity will give your crisis team several options to fall back on, in case the first choice doesn’t work as expected.

The important thing is to think about these scenarios as approaches not scripts. They’ll help both you and your crisis team agree on how you want things handled and how far you’re prepared to go in order to solve them.

Online Crisis Communications Basics for eCommerce Stores

Let’s say your payments module is wonky and has withdrawn the billable amount twice. For the record, this is a huge blunder. Now, for the sake of this exercise, let’s make it worse and say your customer support system is also down. Let’s also say this isn’t the first time this has happened and your furious customers have taken to Twitter to complain.

Right about now, most eCommerce store owners and managers would be hyperventilating. Unless, you already have a plan. If you do, your team is able to quickly react by tweeting you know what’s going on, apologise, let your consumers know that you’re investigating the problem but, more importantly, that they’ll get their money back within the next few hours.

Since this is a major crisis, and especially if the bug affected the same people, for the most part, or we’re talking about loyal customers, it’s not a bad idea to reimburse them fully. You might lose money but you won’t lose your customers.

Keep your promises

Every time we purchase a product or service, there’s an inherent trust that said product or service will be delivered as described by its manufacturer or retailer; nobody wants to be cheated – duh! So when your service is sub-par there’s a real potential for that trust to break down as well.

Sometimes brands over promise either because they’re convinced they can follow through or because they’re main focus is to appease the mob and we’ll deal with the rest later. If you want to completely ruin your business, do that. If you don’t, think very carefully about the reparations you can offer and within what time-frame and always keep your promise.

Having a crisis communication plan in place helps you make sure that you can deliver on the promises you’re making, because you’ve had time to think and plan, rather than make on-the-spot statements you can’t follow through on.

Your tone of voice matters

A well-defined brand tone of voice doesn’t just make you recognisable, it makes you human. And a humane brand should display empathy for its consumer’s troubles.

That being said, your content strategy should account for how your tone of voice changes when you’re dealing with a crisis. Why? Well, because you can’t very well be a jolly-joker when you’ve billed customers twice for the same item, now can you?

This doesn’t mean your tone of voice changes entirely but, just like a real person who’s sympathetic towards the people he/ she works with would use a slightly different language to communicate, so should a brand. Outlining these changes in your crisis comms plan, will help the teams dealing with the crisis stay focused on solving the issue rather than figuring out how they should phrase things.

The Bottom Line

When there’s an issue with your service and its negatively impacting your customers, managing the crisis correctly can prevent said problem from affecting your relationship with that consumer. Social media has opened the door to a very public, real-time type of customer service, driven by the consumers themselves and, whether your brand likes it or not, they will take to social media to express their opinions about your products and services.

All you can do is be part of that communication to strengthen your relationship with consumers instead of ignoring their issues and letting it fall apart.

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