Stakeholder engagement in crisis containment

Providing clear and unambiguous information is paramount during a crisis
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By Casey Chua

More than 120,000 commuters in Singapore were affected when train services were disrupted on the evening of 14 October 2020.

At the time of the incident, the disruption was the worst of its kind in the public rail network since 2017, and the latest in a series of frequent and severe disruptions that began in 2011.

Many disgruntled commuters exercised their freedom of speech online. Online vitriol quickly escalated as commuters posted videos of themselves being evacuated from stalled train carriages.

The transport operators and the government had to act quickly to quell public anger and restore public confidence in the public transport system.

The episode highlighted several areas in which stakeholder engagement was critical in defusing the crisis.

React quickly, update often

During a crisis, your stakeholders expect regular updates on how the situation is being handled and what is being done for them.

Shortly after the train disruption, one of the train operators sent out multiple alerts on Twitter to advise commuters on what the affected train lines were and the expected delays in their travelling time.

Updates were constantly provided during the service recovery phase. The train operators deployed additional resources such as free shuttle bus services to help commuters continue with their journeys.

Regardless of how minor they may be, such updates help to assure your stakeholders that the situation is being actively managed even as solutions are being worked out.
Avoid unnecessary jargon, buzzwords and corporate-speak

Providing clear and unambiguous information is paramount during a crisis. There is nothing more frustrating or alienating to your stakeholders than the use of jargon, technical terms or cringeworthy buzzwords.

Worse still, the use of jargon may give the impression that you are trying to gloss over the situation or have something to hide.

“..our maintenance team will touch base with our approved vendor to take a deep dive into the issue…once both parties are aligned, we will leverage all available bandwidth to identify the root cause and the pain points…”

Do any of the phrases sound familiar to you?

Manage feedback channels

Many organisations claim to uphold corporate values such as diversity and inclusion. The true litmus test lies in upholding those values in both peacetime and crisis.

The train operators understood the importance of being inclusive in their outreach efforts to cater to commuters who had little or no access to the Internet and to those with limited literacy skills.
Hotlines were set up to keep commuters informed on the fare refund process and to serve as a feedback channel. The feedback data was subsequently reviewed to aid future crisis management planning.

Engage, not deflect

One of the biggest pet peeves of journalists in Singapore is not being able to engage directly with high-level executives or company spokespersons.

Often enough, journalists are told to wait for a media statement or to check the company website for more updates.

It is generally ill-advised to stonewall the media unless there are strong reasons to do so.

For crises with significant public interest, organisations should consider including their senior management in their crisis communications and outreach plan instead of shielding them from the media spotlight.

The leadership team of the Singapore train operators and senior government officials gave doorstop interviews to provide interim answers and details of the contingency plan. This approach helped to put a human face to the crisis management and to communicate in a more genuine and personable manner as compared to a run-of-the-mill press statement issued by a corporate communications team.

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