We can write about how to run a successful business all we want, but those tips are useless when a business has to deal with a crisis. Deal with it the right way and the business is likely to save face and retain customers; take the wrong approach and customers are more likely to run into the arms of your competitors.

Data breach, fire, PR nightmare or simply dropping the ball; there are dozens of ways that a successful and profitable business can be thrown into crisis. And although no business owner wants something to go wrong, it’s unavoidable and things sometimes do.

Effective crisis management is the key to saving face and coming out on the other side without losing customers. So what’s a small business to do to manage a crisis effectively, especially considering the fact that the type of crisis and when it strikes is rarely predictable?

The key is to plan for various situations so that when it happens, your business takes a proactive approach to solving the problem, rather than a reactive approach, and always maintains control of the situation.

Admit you have a problem. The fight or flight instinct may be strong in a crisis, but the best way to save face is to acknowledge the problem as soon as possible. Ignoring it in hopes that it’ll disappear will only make the problem bigger and turn the situation into a full-blown crisis.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Understand how the crisis situation affects your customers and then temper your communication accordingly. By doing so, you’re more likely to respond with their best interests in mind, and not just in such a way as to try to save your own skin.

Apologize. If the crisis is the result of a mistake, for example a server failure that led to a loss of access for customers, say so and apologize. If the crisis is through no fault of your own, for example a fire swept through your warehouse and destroyed much of your stock, apologize nonetheless. ‘I am sorry’ are three simple, yet powerful, words that say so much.

Take quick action. Give customers a reasonable time frame for when business will resume as usual and provide updates as you go along. Be honest in what you’re doing to resolve the situation and acknowledge the impact your crisis is having on your customers.

The important thing to remember during a crisis is communications. Communicating often and honestly with customers from beginning to end will go a long way towards retaining their respect and their business.

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