We live in an increasingly connected world. The online marketplace has helped many businesses reach new customers, develop vital relationships within their industries, and collaborate with diverse cultures. However, this same connectivity also means that when a scandal hits a business, the details spread like wildfire.
Quietly sweeping a scandal under the rug has never been a wise option, but in a society enhanced by social media, it’s almost impossible. Today’s business leaders instead must understand how to control the damage, adjust to the fallout, and address stakeholders’ concerns in ways that are not just effective but meaningful. If this is done incorrectly, companies run the risk of their reputation being damaged further.
That said, our digital landscape offers opportunities to be innovative, and innovation can be applied to rebuilding customer trust following a scandal. We’re going to take a closer look at what approach business leaders can take, along with the tools and strategies that can help guide their recovery.
This is often the most difficult aspect of handling a scandal: admitting there’s a problem. The instinct is to often keep a scandal as quiet as possible, but this can do more harm than good. If customers discover that you’ve attempted to keep ethical issues from them, this can cause irreparable damage to trust. It is more important to engage a culture of transparency. How you choose to approach this transparency, can show your business to be both trustworthy and innovative.
Steps should include:
- Acknowledgment. Once a problem has been identified, this should be followed by a full and formal announcement across all channels. Don’t rush into this; take some time to gather the facts of the matter, understand exactly what happened and who was involved so that you’re able to communicate this concisely. While you should involve your public relations (PR) representative to craft the statement, it should be clear that your response isn’t formulaic, and that the business is accepting responsibility.
- Investigation. The acknowledgment isn’t the end of the process. Following your statement, provide details as to how an investigation will be taking place, and what independent parties will be conducting it. Provide content that shows the investigators you’re engaging are experts in this type of scandal, and that they have helped other businesses improve their practices.
- Updates. Set expectations on social media and on your website as to when the results of the investigation will be received and published. Wherever possible, updates on the process should be provided by the CEO of the company. Additionally, provide these updates in short-form “soundbites;” this can help the public and staff to retain the details of what has been communicated.
Creating a Dialogue
One of the key ways in which you can be innovative in building trust following a scandal is by being vocal. However, this doesn’t mean that your company needs to just make closed statements to the press and consumers. Rather, it’s important to take an approach that makes all stakeholders — customers, staff, and partners alike — feel involved with your recovery. You need to invite a healthy dialogue that seeks to encourage greater accountability.
Use your social media channels to regularly reach out to your followers. Invite them to ask questions about the ethical framework of your business, and to be honest about areas in which they have concerns. According to one study, only 8% of consumers would stay silent on social media if they thought a brand acted inappropriately; make sure they have a forum to do so. Don’t just address their questions, but show how you’ve taken the time to consider their concerns, provide quotes from members of the company who have responsibility in those relevant areas. This can show that you not only value the opinions of your customers but that you’re also committed to making meaningful change.
This accountability and open dialogue also have to go far beyond the immediate aftermath of a scandal. Make it a matter of policy that seeking comment and addressing concerns is integral company culture. Make it a part of your corporate social responsibility plan, in that you’re engaging with the community to help make your business a positive contributor to society. By understanding and communicating that everyone has a role in improving your ethics, you can gradually rebuild trust with consumers, staff, and the wider public.
Scandals happen; it’s one of the realities of our business landscape. However, rebuilding customer trust is not just about addressing the issues that led to a lapse. Your company also has to commit to examining its overall operations. You can innovate following a scandal by taking a holistic approach to positively impacting the world.
Committing to environmental sustainability is increasingly important to consumers and staff alike. When adopting energy-efficient processes, show where you’re making investments and be transparent about utilizing business energy tax credits to alleviate some of the financial strain. This can go further into community engagement. Produce content to show how private citizens can also take similar environmentally responsible steps, and highlight the variety of tax breaks and green loans that can help fund their residential projects.
It’s also vital that your business takes time to undertake an extensive review of your business ethics. It can be easy to think that we are acting ethically, but this is a subjective viewpoint. Business leaders may be inadvertently blindsided due to a mentality that is informed by inherent social privileges based on their race or socioeconomic standing. Gain external, independent advice on where your business can do better. Put in place measures that improve diversity, such as mentorships with employees of traditionally marginalized backgrounds. These steps are not only beneficial for business success, they also send a clear message to consumers about the culture you wish to build.
There is no quick fix to a scandal — and neither should there be. Rebuilding consumer trust means business leaders must be prepared to put in some significant work. Be open about what has gone wrong, encourage meaningful dialogue with customers, and commit to improving all aspects of company culture.