Wells Fargo is still in business, but their reputation remains stigmatized! Why?
In 2016 Wells Fargo, a financial service company based in the US, faced a crisis. Their employees were forced to open fake accounts without the consent of customers to meet sales targets.
When the scandal came to the notice of authorities, the bank paid $185 million in fine.
They could have tried to reduce the damage had their leadership taken the responsibility and established open communication with all their stakeholders.
But, Wells Fargo’s leadership response potentially damaged the bank’s image as much as the scandal.
In times of crisis, employees, customers and partners get panicked. Sharing information alone doesn’t help. They are well within their rights to know what happened. And when you don’t tell them what happened, they start looking for information from other sources. Great leaders know how to use storytelling during a crisis. They use it to deliver key messages and demonstrate their leadership chops.
Storytelling helps to connect with stakeholders during a crisis in a manner they empathize with you. By being authentic in your communication, you make them realize they are important part of your business and you are taking necessary steps.
Storytelling during a crisis at play
In 2008, Maple Leaf Foods a food processing company based in Canada that supplies processed meat faced a crisis where their products were contaminated by listeria. Twelve people died, and many more fell ill.
When most people would try to suppress things, CEO Michael McCain took accountability. He didn’t try to blame employees, food safety standards, or equipment manufacturers.
Instead, he took responsibility & stayed transparent by telling people about the breach of safety standards. He led from front, if he had not told what Maple Leaf is doing, then someone would have driven the narrative putting him in a defensive position.
A company-specific crisis can give ammunition to competition & the media to paint a villain out of you. They are looking for an opportunity and are least bothered about the real issue.
In this case, Maple Leaf could have easily become a villain, but since McCain took charge of the narrative, he could tell the company’s side of the story. It helped them to fix the issue and move on.
Post the debacle, Maple Leaf deployed the best staff for their food processing units and ran several marketing campaigns to regain the market share. By the end of 2009, they returned to profit.
Usually, companies recruit an army of lawyers and accountants to reduce the damage and pin the blame on someone. But McCain understood the emotions of his customers and treated them like humans. He conveyed the truth & people understood.
Crisis communication is an integral part of crisis management. You may have already identified the problem and started working on it, but as long as you don’t communicate it with your customers, they won’t know.
You can’t work in silence, especially during a crisis. If Maple Leaf had stayed silent and not communicated, they would have lost their credibility for life and faced severe legal consequences.
Great companies demonstrate their values during crisis
With the COVID crisis, companies are struggling to adapt to the radical changes happening in the business environment. One of the major problems faced is employee productivity.
CodeScience, a Saas company based in Chattanooga, US, took this moment to comfort their employees, who were feeling overwhelmed.
Their team always worked remote, so adapting to the new norm of work from home was not a problem for them. But what was different this time was they had to do it alongside their kids & spouses at home.
In March, Brian Walsh, the CEO of the company, tweeted a list of things they are doing to make their employees feel relevant. One of the interesting ideas was to normalize the noise of kids in the background during a professional call.
He also invited the kids of their employees to join their company call, making it an event to share their self-isolation stories.
It made them feel that they are not the only ones losing track of work. It also acted as a team-building session for their employees who barely saw each other.
An employee posted a message on LinkedIn, in response to CodeScience’s note. “This is another reason why CodeScience is the BEST place to work. Beyond grateful for our leadership team, and I am so proud to be a part of this amazing company and family.”
What the company did through this was they expressed their value of transparency. They told their employees that we know it’s difficult for you & you don’t have to hide it from us. To know more on how to find and share stories read.
People are more likely to do what you say when you give them a reason for that action. CodeScience stayed true to their value of transparency, which encouraged their employees to remain transparent and show what their current work from home situation was like.
Lesson from crisis communication gone wrong
Stories help you give the right context to your message delivery. Lack of context may cause misleading message delivery, which can hurt your reputation. Recently, brands like McDonald’s, Audi, etc. supported social distancing by giving spaces between elements in their logo.
But was that message thoughtful? Certainly not, as people in Brazil felt that it was insensitive for McDonald’s to do that. They felt like the restaurants are still open and are being opportunistic.
The redesign lacked context, leading McDonald’s to issue a public apology. Even though the logo redesign was a creative move, it didn’t resonate with their patrons.
People criticized this move on all social channels as they expected the brand to be responsible & sympathetic towards people. They wanted to see McDonald’s care for their employees & distribute free meals to the marginalized.
Alternately, if McDonald’s had backed the redesign with stories of how they are helping people amidst social distancing norms, then the message might have been conceived in a positive light.
Crafting your narrative
To use storytelling during a crisis, create an engaging narrative for your story, discuss the tension, and tell people what you are doing to repair the damage. Taking ownership & telling the story gives you the power to direct the dialogue. It is not about what happened as things can go wrong. It is more important to communicate what you are doing to improve the situation.
Need help in crafting narrative? Happy to help.
Storytelling can be a tremendous value-adding element to your communication. Not only it helps to create enticing marketing and promotional messages but can prove to be beneficial in crisis. Storytelling in crisis enables consumers to understand your situation better. Your stakeholders want you to be open & transparent about what you are doing to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Understanding the emotions of your customers, employees, and community by supporting your messaging with the right stories can help you make a way out of the crisis.