Image by HowardLake, via Flickr on a Creative Commons licence

As RBS Group counts the cost of its recent calamitous computer systems failure it will not simply be an issue of considering financial losses.

The damage to the group’s reputation has taken a massive blow and the issue highlights the importance of organisations and companies considering their crisis communications, shaping how they would deal with a difficult situation.

Whilst most companies will fortunately never have to deal with a crisis of the magnitude experienced here, it nevertheless highlights how crucial it is to have a crisis communications plan.

This has never been as important as in an era when information, no matter how inaccurate, can be ‘out there’ in the public domain within seconds of an incident occurring.

It will take RBS Group time, careful planning and considerable effort to regain the trust of its existing customers, those that have chosen to stay put rather than jump ship and join a rival bank.

The systems failure impacted on thousands of customers that belong to one of the group’s three banks, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank, and had a knock-on effect on customers at rival banks relying on payments coming from the beleaguered bank.

The crisis left businesses unable to pay staff and bills left unpaid, whilst customers struggled to complete house purchases.

Online forums and radio news programmes were dominated by disgruntled customers telling their own stories of how they had been affected by the crisis.

NatWest’s slogan ‘helpful banking’ was ridiculed, whilst one contributor to an online forum listed the pledges in the bank’s customer charter, stating how each one had failed to live up to his experience at his local branch.

Even staff at the three banks complained of receiving little or no information, saying they were learning about the crisis from the media.

RBS Group has been accused of being slow to react, with chief executive Stephen Hester remaining largely absent during the first few days. Staff appeared poorly briefed whilst media updates were not as regular as promised.

To minimise the damage from a crisis, companies should consider the following factors:

    • Be prompt –

addressing the public or your audiences as soon as possible is crucial

    • Maintain honesty

– try to be as open, honest and informative as possible, otherwise rumours will abound and this can cause significantly more damage to an organisation’s reputation than the truth

    • Be concerned

– show the public/your customers that you care about the victims of the crisis, ideally putting forward the company’s top person

    • Provide regular updates –

even if the updates don’t say a great deal, they show willing and indicate that you are engaged with the public and the press

    • Brief staff

– keep staff fully informed and provide them with clear instructions on what to say to concerned customers, even if it is just a form of words that directs people to other sources of help

    • Consider tweeting –

social networking sites such as Twitter can prove a fast and accessible way to communicate with the media and stakeholders

Hopefully, you will never need to utilise a crisis communications plan but, as they say, prevention is better than the cure. Read about how Outwrite can help you manage your stakeholders during a time of crisis and limit the damage to your company’s reputation.