Learning From Sandy

Thankfully, I got my power back today and am able to post this blog. Hurricane Sandy has left most of New York and New Jersey in shambles. I am beyond grateful to have only lost power. While sitting in the dark, I thought about what Sandy thought us from a crisis communication standpoint.

During and after the hurricane, I received several emails from Wells Fargo, the bank I use. The emails were reassuring and explained to customers that certain fees were waved on credit cards. Customers were also able to use other banks’ ATMs without paying an additional fee and there were emergency loans granted. They kept messages concise and updated customers daily. While I wasn’t overly concerned about my bank account, it was helpful to know what Wells Fargo was doing and eliminated any worry I had.

Wells Fargo did a good job keeping customers informed and calm. Several companies and government agencies have been required to craft responses to mostly angry, frustrated customers, some who might have lost everything. Delivering these messages to distraught people is not an easy task. From what I’ve seen, the most successful responses had the following characteristics:

  • It is about the people: Governor Chris Christie is one of the best examples of this. He has said in news conferences and on Twitter that the people of New Jersey come first. He is not concerned with the election, but rather with rescuing victims. People and their safety should always be the first priority.
  • Be Concise: The Ladders, a job search company also emailed their subscribers, explaining that their offices were without power because of the storm.  They provided a customer service number and asked for everyone’s patience. They gave customers only necessary information and didn’t bombard them with all sorts of pointless updates. During times of crisis, people need to know facts, not tidbits of information that won’t benefit them.
  • Don’t Lie: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has led multiple press conferences during the last week in order to keep people informed. More than once, Bloomberg admitted that he didn’t know when certain things were happening. He told the people what he knew and didn’t give false information. Lying about when power would come back or when subways would be running just gives people false hope. Bloomberg reported only accurate information and gave updates when he could; definitely a positive way to handle a crisis.

Being able to act and communicate during a crisis is always a challenge. From what I have seen so far, most companies and spokespeople have done a good job at responding during and after Hurricane Sandy. Most of all, people need to have patience and remember that everyone is trying their best.

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