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There’s no such thing as crisis communications

Extinguish PR fires with a little bit of paper

Your customer engagement plan is never a “set it and forget it” proposition.

You can bring everyone together to map out a strategy and put execution plans in place one month, and then have an unexpected event turn everything on its head the next.

Just the other day I was watching the news and heard about the U.S. government preparing to sue Fiat Chrysler after they allegedly rigged emission test results on some of their vehicles.

I bet that wasn’t in the marketing plan for 2017!

In addition to a sticky legal situation that may result in billion-dollar fines, Fiat Chrysler now has a big problem with customers who may feel cheated. We only have to look back at the Volkswagen emissions scandal to see how damaging this kind of problem can be.

But as somebody else’s mother once said, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

A problem becomes a crisis when it’s mishandled. In situations such as this, corporate panic often results in leadership transferring communications responsibilities to lawyers, who provide legal cover without any regard to consumer engagement.

So while the corporate entity fights the legal war, the brand suffers in the eyes of consumers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Recently I wrote about recall notices and how they damage the reputation of car manufacturers.

In that piece I discussed how this could be avoided if they only treated all notifications, including recall notices, as potential customer engagement pieces.

In the case of Fiat Chrysler you can bet there will be a slew of communications going out to affected owners. But will they be written to appease the company’s compliance department, or win back customer support during what promises to be a long process?

We’ve all received the standard chain letters from banks, car dealerships and other institutions that should know a lot about us. So why is it that these communications often look like they were meant for someone else?

Everything that comes from the brand needs to sound like the brand and connect with the consumer like the brand. Personalization humanizes the relationship and makes it much easier to get any message across.

The temptation is to send out an email blast. But don’t forget the power of paper mail. If I own a product that is now getting chased by the government, an email filled with legal jargon isn’t going to reassure me. Mail has a higher perceived value to customers. And a recent study showed that 57% of participants said they are more likely to feel valued when brands contacted them through mail rather than email.

Affordable full-colour variable data printing

Brands also need to have triggers and be ready to pull them. Every person affected by the Fiat-Chrysler situation is easily identifiable by the company. Each of these folks should have a custom mail piece landing in the mailbox this week with a message of reassurance and positive engagement. With the advancements in full colour variable printing it is now possible to print and mail very affordable dynamic messages, almost instantly. Images and text can change on the fly as the print software reacts to the data. A very powerful, personalized message is the result.

In times of trouble, speaking directly to your customers with strong, positive, customized, messaging will make it more likely that they will trust you and stick with you for the long run.

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