Amith Prabhu: What to do when hit by a Reputation Crisis

15 Dec,2014

By Amith Prabhu


There are at least 100 rapes taking place in a nation of 1.3 billion people every day. That is four an hour or one every 15 minutes. It is more like an epidemic and there seems to be no cure in sight. When a corporate oragnisation is involved or when a political organisation chooses to get involved in a big way, one out of 10000 rapes (that is once a quarter) gains national prominence. We saw this during the HP employee’s case in 2005 in Bengaluru and we saw it during the Nirbhaya incident in 2012 in Delhi.


This week there has been outrage against Uber because the aggregator company did not do a police verification of drivers on its rolls and one of them from among 3000 was a rotten egg. He picked up a passenger and on the way to the destination raped her. What happened after that has really brought the company to its knees. A reputational crisis is not easy to deal with but it is possible to do the right things. A crisis is the final stage when a risk becomes an issue and then the issue becomes a crisis. Most organisations in India including international organisations operating in India do not invest in a playbook for RIC (risk, issue, crisis) management.


While the flow is not rocket science the important part is in the activation. Here’s an eight-step guide to dealing with a crisis with maturity.


Be Alert, Admit mistake, Apologise genuinely, Act fair, shun Arrogance, Advertise remedies, Accept criticism, Allow questions.


Let me explain each of these:

Be Alert: This involves a lot of listening and customer relationship management. This crisis could have been averted if Uber had taken the complaint from another customer a week earlier regarding the same criminal driver.


Admit Mistake: As soon as the crisis got full blown the company should have admitted to its mistake rather than sharing a random statement which was full of legal language.


Apologise genuinely: The apology that Uber gave did not seem like it cared. It was neither properly drafted nor well intentioned. Mentioning financial help in a statement of apology is never a good idea.


Act fair: This is about not taking sides and calling a spade a spade. While Uber immediately delisted the driver they should have withdrawn the service till they could promise a deadline by which they would offer verified drivers. But before they could delay, the government decided to ban them.


Shun Arrogance: The company has been in the news for wrong reasons internationally for the last few weeks and it has projected an image of being arrogant. Just the way Richard Branson rushed to the site of the crash of Virgin Galactic, the Uber CEO should have rushed to India


Advertise Remedies: As a company with deep pockets the company should have released front page ads within 48 hours of the incident reassuring its customers about the steps it is taking to ensure safety.


Accept criticism: There has been severe criticism but not a word to assuage feelings that have been hurt. This could have happened to anyone.


Allow questions: Uber should have scheduled a press conference to address queries and answer doubts in people’s minds. But it has lost an opportunity unless it plans to do one soon.


These steps can be applied to any crisis. But behind all this there needs to be a robust communication plan and flow. Hope other companies learn from this incident to deal with eventualities that are unexpected but possible.


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