What does the top crisis management team look like? With a perfect storm of business challenges, heightened by pressure on team members working remotely, the coronavirus outbreak has spotlighted technology, customer services, communications, wellbeing and data
1. Head of technology
From barricading against cyberattacks, to bolstering customer service through artificial intelligence (AI), the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in wider priorities for the head of technology as part of a crisis management team.
Cyberattacks are now more likely and should be a top priority for senior management, says Jonathan Hemus, managing director of crisis management consultancy Insignia.
“With a potential second wave of COVID-19, a business that is now wounded may find a major cyberattack in the next six months could push them into bankruptcy,” Hemus warns.
“Millions of people are working from home and more vulnerable in terms of IT security. There are likely to be more successful attacks, so thinking about cybersecurity is really important at the moment.”
And as consumers have flooded ecommerce platforms with record numbers of online orders, leveraging AI has become paramount. Data from more than 20,000 global companies, compiled by customer service software firm Zendesk, shows that support requests using AI are up 55 per cent since March.
For retailers such as Carrefour, rolling out a chatbot service has been crucial for coping with demand. “We will invest even more in AI,” says Jean-Philippe Blerot, head of digital and ecommerce at Carrefour Belgium. “This allows our customer service agents to focus on more complex answers.”
2. Head of customer services/experience
According to Carrefour’s Blerot, increase in customer service demand has been staggering at more than 2.5 times higher than usual. The retailer immediately increased by 25 per cent its number of customer services agents, who had to shift from being subject-matter experts to generalists to accommodate the influx of questions.
With the COVID-19 outbreak causing systems and teams to overload, customer services has helped limit customer frustration and create a positive experience, Blerot adds.
The ability to buffer a potentially negative situation through strong customer services should not be underestimated, says Emily Hough, editor in chief of Crisis Response Journal.
“Reputational risk, a brand or company’s social value, could be threatened by how a company deals with, or is perceived to be dealing with, a crisis. Several companies in this crisis have acted tone deaf and consumers have vowed to remember this,” she says.
“Always keep an eye in the mirror to see how decisions could be viewed by staff, stakeholders, customers and the wider public; all this is amplified by social media.”
3. Head of culture and wellbeing
Company culture and employee stress levels have been pushed to the edge, as social interaction and activities have been stripped away by the pandemic and lockdown.
Recognising the need to balance productivity with mental health and company cohesion has now become front of mind for crisis management teams. As Zendesk chief operating officer Tom Keiser notes, senior management’s ability to prioritise staff wellbeing can help teams to “really come through for their customers”.
Greg Brooks, global chief marketing and culture officer at WPP-owned media company Mindshare, says the current crisis has promoted the need for more empathy and understanding in business.
Mindshare has since doubled down on cultural initiatives to keep colleagues connected and motivated, he adds. It has launched a remote-working online hub, learning programmes, mental health support and virtual events such as quizzes, workouts, origami, reiki, mindfulness, Netflix chats, book clubs, cook-alongs and even a pet Olympics.
Mental health and wellbeing have also risen up the agenda at marketing technology firm MiQ. Co-founder Lee Puri says, since the crisis began, its new global head of diversity and inclusion has been tasked with introducing a number of initiatives, such as regular wellness webinars, a global buddy programme and virtual employee resource groups to connect team members around the world.
With the human element of a crisis brought into sharp focus by COVID-19, people and culture will play a larger role in business continuity plans and crisis management teams, Brooks predicts.
4. Head of comms
Communication, or lack of it, can make or break a company in a crisis, yet many are just now seeing this, as demonstrated by the mounting workloads for public relations firms.
“In the normal run of business, about 10 to 15 per cent of clients need our support on issues management. Managing crisis communications around the coronavirus pandemic has been a very different affair and around 25 per cent of clients have asked for support on issues management,” says Debbie Zaman, chief executive of PR agency With.
“This has ranged from rapidly putting together entire crisis communications plans in organisations that didn’t have one, to helping with employees messaging and managing audience communities in the face of cancelled events.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted MiQ to evolve its corporate communications role and strategy, with a focus on internal communications to boost transparency and support to teams and clients. Co-founder Puri says weekly video chats with the board and senior executives have helped keep people connected.
“MiQ’s senior leadership recognised from the outset of the pandemic that clear and consistent communications was going to be critical during this uncertain time,” Puri notes.
With communication skills a common essential attribute for crisis management teams, Insignia’s Hemus envisions more heads of communications could take on the additional role of head of crisis management.
5. Head of data and insights
Predicting what a post-COVID-19 new normal will look like might be impossible. But successful future business and crisis management strategies should be fuelled by data and insights, Zendesk’s Keiser recommends.
“We can use data to understand how the virus has impacted a variety of industries, roles and services, to support us in making informed decisions to plan for the future,” he says.
There might not be a perfect post-crisis management team, but data and insights can successfully support leaders to develop robust recovery plans.
“This crisis has proven the need for organisational agility in every aspect of your business. The agility to react quickly to the insights that are emerging, even when completely opposite to what you may have just planned, will be critical to success and thriving through the recovery phase,” Keiser concludes.