In his long career, Avenu president Louis Schiavone Jr. has weathered many crises, including several global ones, and helped thousands of customers weather their own.
Have you found this recent crisis to be more difficult than others in the past?
COVID-19 has been unlike anything our country has seen before. Many businesses, organizations and local governments were not prepared for the pandemic, the economic shutdowns, the loss of revenue and the rapid shift to remote work. Crises are usually unexpected, but they’re often short-term. The combination of the unexpected, the uncertainty and the long-term has made this recent one much more difficult for our clients.
What should be a company’s first communications priority during a crisis?
Reach out to your clients immediately. Never wait for the client to call you. Ask what their biggest challenge is and come prepared with solutions you can offer. Remind yourself to remain calm, clear and consistent in all of your communications.
Do you have any tips for leading these crisis calls with clients?
Keep the messages simple. Prepare a list of talking points before speaking with a customer. These should be simple and straightforward. Don’t add stress with complicated communications.
What is the best way to respond to a client with difficult demands or needs?
Always be true to your word, and don’t overpromise. Only promise if you can deliver on that promise. Be honest about what you can do and can’t do. If you know you can’t deliver on something, or you aren’t sure, it is better for both you and the client to be upfront about this.
What is something you’ve learned during the recent crisis?
Consistency is key. Scheduling a regular call with your customers is especially important during times of crisis. And maintain this consistency after the crisis has subsided. A crisis call shouldn’t be the first call you’ve had in a while.
What can companies do now to prepare for the next crisis?
Always have a crisis playbook that can be adapted to any situation. We might not be able to predict the next pandemic, or weather situation, or power outage, but companies should have a foundational plan and predetermined chain of command for dealing with things like rapid shifts to remote work; evacuations; damaged servers; ransomware; and more.
Do you have any other tips for client-facing businesses?
Don’t take anything personally. People deal with crises in different ways, and you never know how a person is being affected personally. Maintain your calm, be empathetic and do the best you can do. Listen more than you talk. If you keep these points in mind, you can gain and build on stakeholder trust that will last long after the crisis resolves.
Louis Schiavone Jr. is president of Avenu Insights & Analytics.