Working with Clients in Times of Crisis
11.21.2022 By Russ Thomas
I’m a pilot, and one of the most important things to understand about aircraft is that they are built with potential disasters in mind. The critical systems that keep planes in the air are designed with redundancies to mitigate faults that can comprise safety. Pilots are trained and tested on their ability to react to problems in real time to avoid disasters, leveraging the system redundancies available in modern aircraft. It’s the big reason air travel remains the safest and most reliable mode of transportation in the world.
And yet, when the unexpected happens, redundancies aren’t always enough. Critical decisions made by people in moments of incredible pressure can be the decisive factor in avoiding the worst-case scenario.
Similarly, most companies—especially technology companies—have mitigation strategies baked into their architecture. Well-staffed operations centers, fail-over sites, and major investments in technology security and upgrades are a part of doing business.
And yet, no matter the preparation level, that crisis moment is always lurking around the corner. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Natural disasters, unexpected system instability, a pandemic, cyberthreats, and of course the inevitable human error… the list goes on and on.
From the start of any crisis, you must provide clear, transparent, and consistent communication to customers. Provide multiple ways to connect with customers—email, account manager meetings, live conference bridges—and provide frequent summaries to help those customers communicate with their executive leaders.
But cadence is only one part of the process. Transparency and honesty are crucial to preventing a bad situation from getting worse. Be equally prepared to discuss positive and negative news.
These aren’t always easy conversations, but they are a necessary part of the process. When a crisis hits your organization, there’s a clear right and wrong way to respond. You can close your doors, go dark, act like nothing is happening, and focus all your resources internally to resolve an issue or you can keep the doors open, communicate regularly, and invite your customers to the table to be part of the solution. I will choose the latter every time, and here’s why:
External perspectives help. Customers can be frustrated and concerned about any disruption, but they also can be invaluable sources of support and information. Keeping a customer perspective through times of crisis is critical, and there’s no better way to get that perspective than including them in the process.
Communication builds trust. When a crisis hits, it is critical to communicate honestly and frequently. If you’re hiding something, your customers will know. And if you’re not communicating, they will fill the information gap with theories and inaccuracies that could cause more problems. The more informed your customers are, the more likely they will engage and offer to become part of the solution. Active listening can help inform your decisions whether they offer solutions or critiques.
Crisis resolution is iterative. Nobody knows the impact of your crisis more than your customers. If you hit a point where you can’t resolve the issue completely, maybe there are small steps to restore essential services that you can take to mitigate the pain. Your customers can help you identify the critical services where they want you to focus your resources and energy.
As one of our customers wrote to the Availity team during a recent service disruption, “Leadership is solving problems. And it is not that there are problems, it is what you do about them.”
In a crisis, communication—or lack thereof—is often the Achilles’ Heel in a response. A quick Google search is all you need to find dozens of use cases of companies attempting to spin or obfuscate their way out of trouble. It never works. You’re simply layering a crisis of confidence on top of the crisis of technology.
Our North Star is built on trust, transparency, and accountability. For every associate at Availity, this is a lived experience; it’s how we are expected to conduct ourselves as professionals. Our success in the fiercely competitive health technology market rests equally on the quality of our solutions and the people and culture behind the technology.
Most of the time, preparation, risk mitigation, and a posture of constant vigilance pays dividends in the reliability of your products and the satisfaction of even your most discerning customers. But in those rare moments when a crisis strikes, the decisions made by the people behind the technology win or lose the day.
Russ Thomas is CEO of Availity.