How to structure communication to staff on issues or crisis affecting the business

In my previous job, I send out an average of between 4 to 6 emails daily to the staff in my division. This excludes the emails that goes back and forth when dealing with product owners, or those individual emails from staff.

Usually when there is an emergency or crisis, no one wanted to come out with the communication. Perhaps the buck has been passed around that finally it landed on your lap and you are unable to push away.

How to obtain the information that you need to communicate

You would need to deal with the respective process or product owners who are in charge of the situation. When a crisis or emergency happens, even though they may not be able to manage the communication materials, they would be involved in the recovery.

IMPORTANT: Always obtain a black and white confirmation via email on issue, causes and impacted sections. As a communicator, you would be held responsible for your email communication or training to staff. Sometimes people may have convenient ‘amnesia’ and deny that they gave you the info, thus landing you in  a big pot of hot soup. I learned from experience to always get a black and white email confirmation for critical issues encountered.

If they refused to provide you with a black and white email, what you can do is summarise the gist of the conversation/meeting and then send out an email, keeping your superiors as well as his/her superiors in the cc loop.

Below are the communication process that I have learned and refined over the years. I use this format when communicating on crisis or emergency issues to my staff.

Communication structure:

I usually use a simple table format to contain all the required information. Do note that your staff may just read (over the phone) or show customers (walk in customers) of the screen hence be aware of what is the permissible information to be provided.

Issue

Explain in brief what is the issue about.

If there is an impacted date, state the date as well.

Root Cause Explain the cause of the issue for better understanding. Also you need to be aware of what you can tell and what you cannot.
Impact to customers/ shareholders/ staff: Explain the impact of this issue to affected parties.
Action to be taken/ Rectification: How your company plan to rectify the situation. If the email goes out after the rectification has been done, explain when the steps that your company has taken to rectify the issue.
Suggested/ Recommended Scripting: 

I find this part to be very useful to my staff. Often, when I explain in the column above, they may not understand what I am trying to say. 

But when I put a scripting, example a question asked by a customer, followed by the suggested interaction module, the whole issue becomes much clearer…. something the staff would find useful to be able to put into layman terms for the customer.

To illustrate the example in a more clearer way, let me show you a case study.

Case study: Mobile prepaid reload system down

Let’s say that you work in a company (or a telco) that provides mobile prepaid reload services. There is a temporary system disruption that resulted customers unable to perform the reload successful despite having their account deducted.

This causes a huge spike of calls to your service center as well as an influx of walk in customers. You have been tasked to issue a communication to help your staff manage the influx of calls and to pacify the customers.

First, you must make calls to relevant product owners to seek answers to the important questions that your customers would ask. These answers are important for first call/ first contact resolution so that there would not be repeated complaints or calls.

Often you would find that the staff may be so busy trying to rectify the issue or fire fighting that you can forget about getting a nicely structured email. However with time, they would understand that if they provide you with the information that you need for you to prepare the communication, there would be less people hunting them down for answers or their phones ringing off the hook. It is a win-win situation.

Title of email: Issue: Prepaid reload failed (a/c deducted but reload not successful) on 10 Jan from 12am to 5am

Dear all,

We have been informed that the mobile prepaid reload had failed whereby customers accounts were deducted but reloads were not captured their mobile balance.

Kindly refer to the information below:

 

Issue Prepaid reload system is down for emergency maintenance.
This impacts all channels of reload such as via online banking and convenient stores.
Root Cause Issues resulting duplicate data as well as some reloads not being captured, resulting customer’s account deducted but reload not successfully performed.
Impact to customers/ shareholders/ staff:

Customers who perform mobile prepaid reload via any channel would encounter account/ money being deducted but funds do not credit into the account.

Impacted date: Reload performed on 10 January 2018 from 12am to 7am.

Action to be taken/ Rectification: Reload system would go temporary offline.
Server would issue a message “This service is temporary offline. We apologise for the inconvenience caused.”IT team would move in to rectify the issue as soon as possible.Expected to be rectified by 3pm on 10 Jan 2018.Reload value would be credited back to the mobile prepaid account.
Suggested/ Recommended Scripting:  Customer: I have attempted to perform a reload at a convenience store. I have paid using my credit card- my account have been deducted but the reload is not successful.
Scripting: We have been informed that the reloads performed on 10 January 2018 from 12am to 5am have not been successful. This relates to a system maintenance that is being carried out. Our IT team are working to rectify the issue as soon as possible as we speak.The issue is expected to be resolved by 3pm today.
We would credit the reload value to your mobile account once the issue is rectified.We are sincerely sorry for the inconvenienced caused to you..

 

To safeguard yourself, always get the emails checked first before it goes out to hundreds of staff. Personally for me, my division has been so used to be issuing such emails that usually these emails need not be checked. However, for critical or sensitive communication, it would still go through rounds of approval.

Hopefully the above format serves as useful guideline for you to issue communication on issues being faced.

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