Screencap of Richard Smith, former CEO of Equifax via PBS/YouTube
As many as 143 million American consumers’ personal, sensitive information was exposed in the recent data breach at Equifax (EFX), one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies. And unfortunately, the situation has only gotten worse. When consumers tried to contact Equifax’s call center to find out if their data was comprised, some were met with busy signals and extremely long wait times. Equifax also tweeted the link to a fake phishing site that was created by a software engineer.
It’s still too early to tell what Equifax’s total damage from this crisis will be, but it doesn’t look good. So what can companies learn from this situation?
In the digital era, crises like this not only affect millions of lives but have the potential to ruin a company’s hard-earned reputation in a matter of seconds. It proves just how important it is for organizations to be prepared to handle an unexpected emergency, especially if valuable data and lives are at stake. Any company with the slightest chance of undergoing a situation like Equifax, or worse, must understand how to properly prepare and create an efficient crisis plan.
Crisis Preparation 101
Acting quickly and efficiently in the midst of a crisis is key. Follow these best practices to navigate an emergency with ease:
1. Plan for the worst. Planning ahead is the best thing a company can do to protect its reputation from an unexpected crisis. Make sure managers and key employees have access to an updated crisis plan, including any important documents, messaging and contact information. Once a plan is in place, perform a mock emergency situation to help spot and address any possible issues within your crisis plan.
2. Eliminate the spreadsheets and embrace automated reporting. Outdated paper documents offer nothing but added stress during an already high-stress situation like a data breach. And when the government and public expects frequent status reports on the issue, automated and accurate reporting will make the process much simpler. With automated reporting, people affected by the issue are notified and that key information is reported back to the company.
3. Digitize customer data. Companies must respond quickly when a crisis occurs. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) systems to store and easily access accurate and up-to-date customer data. These systems store all of your valuable customer information in a centralized location that can be accessed by internal key users who can update vital information when needed.
4. Invest in your crisis management team. Many potentially affected people of the latest data breach heard about it through social media, bringing the angry masses to the company’s social pages. Whether customers choose to contact a company with a concern via social media, phone or email, the customer service team must be prepped and have a good understanding of crisis management. By providing communication teams with updated information on how to address the public will help reduce the impact of the breach or recall.
5. Partner up. Whether a company has yet to experience a devastating situation or is currently in the midst of one, there’s never a wrong time to team up with a crisis partner. These partners offer a wealth of insight, knowledge and tips to help companies resolve the issue at hand and come out standing strong. They can also help companies use a cloud based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to communicate updates in a timely manner and ensure language barriers don’t cause miscommunication.
6. Review and debrief. When a business experiences a data breach or recall, big or small, it’s essential to review the total impact it had on the company. Look at what went wrong, how it can be fixed and how to best handle any future emergencies.
Securing a Safe Future
Hackers don’t give companies a heads up before causing mass havoc, so it’s important for companies to always be prepared and take the proper steps to ensure they’re ready for a worst case scenario. By implementing best practices and establishing a relationship with a trusted and experienced partner, companies can rest easy knowing they’re doing all they can to secure a safe future for themselves, and most importantly, for their customers.
About the Author: Peter Gillett is Managing Director of Marketpoint Recall, an international recall agency with locations around the world. The firm handles many languages across all time zones and has carried out national and international recalls for companies in many sectors.