© 2003 Jonathan Bernstein
JUST A THOUGHT
Famous last words from the SARS situation in Toronto, sent to us right after our 04.15.03 issue by frequent contributor and crisis management pro G. Mark Towhey of Towhey Communications:
After intentionally, or unintentionally fanning the flames of fear for two weeks, one of the doctors (an epidemiologist) on the panel of regulars doing daily update press conferences decided to say something intended to quell people's fear.
"Look, as long as you see me up here everyday, you've got nothing to worry about."
You guessed it.
At the next day's press conference he was conspicuously absent, having been quarantined after showing symptoms.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
What is a First Preventer?
A Crisis Prevention Editorial by Jonathan Bernstein
I have become a big fan of the website "Wordspy.com" because it reports on a steady stream of terms that are just entering the English language, but are "not quite ready for Webster's." One of WordSpy's latest finds is "First Preventer," which they defined as,
"The law enforcement or intelligence personnel who are in the most advantageous position to prevent a terrorist attack."
The term, WordSpy reports, was introduced by California homeland security chief George Vinson, who says the phrase was coined by Governor Gray Davis.
I respectfully submit the definition is incomplete and does not reflect the reality in societies where terrorism is a daily affair. I'm not just talking about Israel, but also about European countries such as the UK, where dealing with IRA threats has become a tragically routine fact of life.
In Israel, it is an alert general public, and alert businesspeople, who most commonly spot suspicious activity and report it to the police or military, who then can sometimes intercept terrorists short of their intended goal.
In the UK, law enforcement authorities very much depend on observant citizens to serve as "eyes and ears," because they know their own resources are limited.
And back here in the U.S.A., law enforcement and intelligence personnel did not stop a terrorist-controlled airliner from hitting what is believed to have been its intended target, the White House. Courageous passengers gave their lives to make that happen. More recently, alert passengers and a flight attendant detected and stopped the "Shoe Bomber."
The definition of First Preventer, I submit, should be "anyone who puts themselves into an advantageous position to prevent a terrorist attack."
I am, frankly, disgusted that our leaders, on both sides of the house, are busily pouring money into Iraq -- not that rebuilding Iraq is an unworthy cause -- while failing to give ALL potential First Preventers the resources and education we need to help minimize the risk of terrorism at home. What constitutes suspicious behavior? To whom, specifically, should we report that behavior in our community? What can we all do, individually and as organizations, to make it more difficult for terrorists to target us -- without taking steps that actually endanger innocent people? State and local officials are, I believe, willing to enable us all to be of assistance, but they can't even get the finances needed from Congress to fund their own anti-terrorism operations.
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CRISIS MANAGER BUSINESS ANNOUNCEMENTS
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Selling the Need for Crisis Management in Your Organization
The old adage is 'everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it'. Similarly, we've frequently heard from colleagues that 'everybody says we should be prepared for crises, but it's hard to convince senior management to provide the resources to actually do it'.
By the time we publish the next issue of "Crisis Manager," Bernstein Crisis Management will have available, for sale, a briefing that can become an integral part of an internal campaign to improve your organization's crisis preparedness. The modular PowerPoint presentation is organized into sections that can be rearranged, excerpted or added to in order to form a presentation that's most appropriate for your organization.
The seven modules are:
- The Cost of Crisis
- The State of Business Preparedness
- Why Business Fails to Prepare
- Why Business Should Prepare
- Corporate Crisis of Confidence
- Why Crises Need Not Become Disasters
- How to Improve Our Crisis Resistance
If you would like to receive a special "first purchasers" discount offer when the PowerPoint is available, please write to email@example.com
In Search of Affiliates
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Editor's Note: Readers, at first, may not see how the case history Phil Cogan describes below falls into the category of "crisis management." But let's revisit what is, for organizational and business purposes, the most basic definition of a crisis, i.e., "any situation that significantly interrupts your operations, damages your reputation and/or negatively impacts your bottom line." Phil's description of an "everyday" consumer incident -- the kind that can, cumulatively, make or break an organization -- is the kind of warning sign we look for when doing vulnerability audits. If you'd like to see other examples like this, search on our website using the terms "America West" or "Blockbuster."
Crisis Prevention: Rapid Communication and Employee Empowerment
by Phil Cogan, Executive V.P., Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.
How many times have you or your spouse attempted to put together an item that was so easy "even a child could assemble it", only to find that one or more parts were missing or damaged? You're fortunate if the instructions (they came with the item, right?) list an 800 number for help. But what if the "help" number doesn't?
The outdoor lamps that I purchased for my home were attractive and missing parts. But the manufacturer had an 800-number available to provide help if parts were missing or damaged.
So far so good. The folks at the 800-number were responsive, and they quickly shipped the WRONG parts.
A week later, when the wrong parts arrived, I was back on the phone. This time the help line people weren't much help; in fact, they were somewhat surly, now claiming that they only stocked two parts for the lamp, and mine weren't among them. Call the store, they said, and ask them to cannibalize an item on the shelf.
That wouldn't work, I said, because the item was a closeout and I likely purchased the last ones in stock.
Call the store's central customer service 800-number, the manufacturer said. We can't help you.
Here's where the store averted a customer crisis. A pleasant-sounding woman carefully listened to my problem, recorded the pertinent information, and said my problem would be elevated "to management". Expect a call-back, she said, within 24 hours. I neither expected an "elevated" response nor a timely call-back. Two hours later the manager of the company's store nearest my house was on the phone with me. He had a complete and accurate understanding of my problem, obviously transmitted by the customer service representative. I didn't need to repeat my story. Fifteen minutes later, with me on the phone with him, we had determined that there were no longer any of the lamps in stock from which we could steal parts in any nearby stores. Thank you for trying, said I. The lamps still work, I said, even though they were missing some parts.
Well, said the manager, we're sorry for your inconvenience. At which point he offered a generous refund of most of the purchase price of the items. And so I became a satisfied, not former customer. All because the store (let's give them credit at this point -- Lowe's -- had a system in place to avert customer crises.
Retail Crisis Prevention
What worked and what didn't work in this example?
- Lowe's had arranged for the manufacturer to directly handle customer inquiries regarding assembly problems or missing/damaged parts involving its products. The manufacturer, however, didn't demonstrate a firm commitment to customer satisfaction.
- The manufacturer, to its credit, did refer the customer to Lowe's central customer service number (at the time the customer felt the manufacturer was merely "passing the buck," however).
- Lowe's customer service rep was courteous, efficient, and well-trained. She recognized that the problem needed to be handled by a manager, and she provided a reasonable expectation about when that manager would be in touch with the customer (24 hours).
- Amazingly, the customer's problem was relayed from the central customer service location, accurately, to the appropriate store manager that same afternoon.
- When the manager called, two hours after the first call to the store's customer service number, it was obvious that he had been provided with an accurate and complete summary of the problem. When he failed to locate the necessary part he was empowered to provide some form of compensation to the customer, in this case a very generous refund.
The Power of One
- This example describes ONE customer interaction. But the success, or failure, of any retail or service organization is based on the cumulative effect of all customer-company contacts. Failure can result from "a thousand cuts". Success accumulates the same way.
The Cost of Failing to Prevent Customer Service Crises
- When a product manufacturer fails to adequately assist a retail customer, the manufacturer's reputation and future sales take a hit. The retailer, however, has a chance to rescue or minimize damage to his reputation, but only if prompt, decisive action is taken.
- A poorly trained customer service representative provides a disservice. A well-trained, motivated representative does the opposite. Every employee is a PR representative for your organization whether you want them to be or not -- if you don't train and empower them, then they'll use their own discretion, or lack thereof.
- The effective use of technology for intra-company communications can dazzle customers, especially if it is used to promptly solve customer problems.
- Time is of the essence. Empowering employees to right wrongs when they are identified is preferable and more cost-effective than requiring costly and lengthy management reviews.
PLAIN ENGLISH DISCLOSURE
Bernstein Crisis Management has formal or informal co-promotional and mutually beneficial business associations with PIER Systems, Inc., PR Newswire's ProfNet service, MarketingSherpa.com, The Publicity Hound and CustomScoop. No, we can't go into details because that's confidential, proprietary, etc. But our relationship is NOT "arm's distance" and you should know that, since we regularly write about these services as we use them for crisis and issues management or other purposes. That said, you should also know that Bernstein Crisis Management sought the relationships because its staff is convinced that these services are the best of their kind for Bernstein Crisis Management's needs and those of their clients. If you have any questions about these relationships, please contact Jonathan Bernstein, (626) 825-3838.
ABOUT THE STAFF
Jonathan Bernstein is president & CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. BCM engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning, training and simulations. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting. Write to email@example.com.
Phil Cogan is executive vice president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a former print and broadcast news journalist who has been engaged in federal, state and local government crisis communications and emergency management activities since 1975. He was formerly the deputy director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Office of Emergency Information and Public Affairs. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a number of organizations whose services we admire enough to have pursued closer ties with them -- and to let you know about them, too, on the Allied Services page of our website. If you have a moment, we think it will be worth your while to browse the sites listed there.
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