16 July 2014 By Northern Lights
It’s that time of year again when half the country ups sticks and abandons Blighty for two weeks of sunburn, sangria and the squirts. Holiday season is upon us once again and that can present major problems for businesses of all sizes as they work to provide adequate holiday cover and ensure those all important business communications are maintained.
Regardless of whether you are a one man band or a major organisation, trying to maintain the day to day business can be a significant challenge when you are left with a skeleton crew of staff who are all busy day-dreaming about where they are going on holiday in the coming weeks.
Yes, every business is facing the same issue, but cash flow must be maintained and you must continue to deliver the same level of service to your customers regardless of whether half your management team has found a new love of sickly cocktails on a sun-drenched shore.
As always, communications are key. Staff need clear guidance on how to tackle the excess work while customers need clear advice and guidance on what to expect from your business.
Today, your business is communicating across a wide range of platforms from internal memos to an array of social media platforms. All too often one person is responsible for maintaining these valuable communication channels and that can be easily overlooked when they head off on a well-earned break.
When it comes to internal communications, consider who is best placed to manage these. Where should internal communications sit is a constant source of debate for most businesses. Whether its marketing, HR or the communications team, you need to have a clear strategy in place to ensure these channels are maintained during the holiday season.
Have clear guidelines in place to make sure that someone is responsible for providing holiday cover and also has a clear outline of what messages are expected. It’s also equally important that all staff are aware of who to direct any internal communications enquiries to.
With regards to external communications, once again it’s hugely important to make sure you have people skilled at handling customer enquiries. Ask yourself if they have the knowledge and confidence to tackle tricky questions or complaints and, if not, provide them with the training now – either sourced internally or externally – or consider clearing some time for them to shadow your existing customer-facing people.
Similarly, if you have to shut down or operate at a reduced capacity, make sure you have clear instructions for anyone calling or visiting your website about what they can expect. Provide numbers for emergencies or deliver clear messages on when you will be able to respond to calls and emails.
It’s also worth considering taking a proactive approach and informing all customers of the reduction in service with emails or calls telling them what to expect and what services will be available to them over the period. Ultimately, in a world where people expect everyone to be available all of the time, it’s also worth considering calling in external support to maintain communications for customers – whether that’s simply a messaging service or full business support.
Managing social media
Today, pretty much every business has some social media presence – and if you haven’t, you certainly should. Social media is constantly growing in importance as a communication channel for customers – I have a number of clients who now only contact me via social media for updates or to request face to face meetings.
Similarly, it’s also emerging as the top choice for people looking to complain about products or services. Research shows people expect instant responses from social media – around 30 minutes maximum – and that means it must be constantly monitored.
Ask yourself how much a communications crisis could cost your business? An unanswered complaint on a social media platform can quickly escalate and do untold damage to your brand, so make sure you have a clear strategy for managing all of the platforms you engage with.
Growing your online brand
All too often, social media is left to a junior member of the team and when they go on holiday, all of the work they have done to build your online brand is quickly undone by two weeks of inactivity.
Most importantly, make sure you have all the access details and passwords you need to manage these accounts. Keep a central, encrypted document with all details that only designated staff can access. All too often, the best laid plans for covering your social media profiles are undone when the passwords aren’t passed on.
Once again, make sure you have people in place with skills, responsibilities and guidelines to take over the management of social media. Ensure you have a robust social media policy in place to provide clear guidelines for them and all other staff and also make sure they have clear lines of communication with senior management to seek advice on any potential crisis.
Another option is to use social media management tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck that allow you to schedule social media updates, creating the impression that someone is actively engaging with your profiles. Obviously, automated systems like these mean no one is available to respond to anyone engaging with your brand and, while alert systems are available, it still means someone needs to be on hand to react.
It’s also worth considering hiring in expert support. Not only could they manage your social media channels, but they could also deliver a full audit of your existing profiles and help provide a boost by developing relationships with potential clients and raising your online brand further.
Media relations and crisis communications
Finally, also consider how you’ll tackle any media requests or crisis communications in the absence of your communications professional. Media requests can land at any time and present fantastic opportunities to promote your offer, so make sure someone is monitoring emails and calls.
Crisis communications perhaps present the biggest threat. Undoubtedly, you will only have one member of the team equipped with the skills to respond to a crisis and if they are away you need solid guidelines on how to respond to the potential media storm.
Every business should have a clear plan on responding to a disaster and that includes communication with staff, customers, the local community and the media. It is hugely important that clear guidelines are established for someone to tackle this role in the absence of the trained individual.
Once again, if you don’t have any members of the team prepared to handle this, seek professional help. I would identify a suitable agency in advance and speak to them about what they can offer and how much crisis communications will cost. Then, it’s simply a case of making sure their details are part of your disaster recovery plan, ready to be called in should the unimaginable happen.
Holidays are an integral part of motivating and rewarding staff while you build a successful team and business. With strategic communications and clear planning, it shouldn’t mean that they become a burden on the business.