It may never happen to you but in the event that it does, you may have to go through the uncomfortable experience of dealing with a business crisis. You may not have a crisis as big as bod Boeing currently has with their 737MAX aeroplane but there are lessons you can learn from large companies on how to handle crises as a small business.

The difficulty comes in identifying a crisis for small businesses. Planes falling out of the sky and nearly 100 phones exploding are things that are easy to notice. One customer or stakeholder kicking up a fuss is nothing to worry about until it is. The internet and social media together have given people a voice like never before particularly the lone disgruntled stakeholder. Platforms such as Name and shame them Zimbabwe exist for this very purpose. It has become a lot easier for one aggrieved person to reach many.

Changes in the legal landscape are also worth considering. The impending arrival of the Consumer Protection Bill and the institution of the commercial court are set to expedite the process of seeking legal recourse. In light of this, it becomes much more important to handle any disgruntled stakeholders promptly and appropriately. All this to say there are important steps in dealing with a business crisis big or small.

Acknowledge and find the problem

If you are reacting to a complaint it means you are already lagging behind events and must move quickly. Dismissal is rarely a good idea. So it is important to take every complaint seriously and at least investigate it for validity. If the complaint relates to a known issue you can move to step two.

Stay in front of it

You may have noticed a problem before anyone else or you may acknowledge an impending problem like the need to adjust pricing after another monetary policy statement changes the currency situation completely. Or as above you received a complaint and investigations revealed a problem. However you arrived here, the most important thing is to set the pace. If the issue has started to gain public traction you must lead and control the conversation going forward. Communicate constantly and in a timely fashion. Set the agenda and arrange the feedback times.

Address all affected parties

While leading the conversation is a public exercise it is also important to address all those affected privately. Giving stakeholder complaints the individual attention they deserve to understand the specific circumstances they face is very important. You will find people are more open and willing to cooperate when handled with respect. While the initial instinct may be to get defensive, listening may serve you better.

I must state that it is important to seek legal advice from a qualified practitioner as this may have legal consequences going forward.

Make use of the Opportunity

While it may seem like the whole world is working against you it may help to treat this as an opportunity. You likely have the attention of the aggrieved and anyone they influence whether directly or indirectly through platforms like Name and Shame them Zimbabwe. Two specific opportunities may present themselves here;

Firstly the opportunity to prove your product. This is not always possible but you do have an important opportunity to counter any negative product experience. You can also use the opportunity to communicate changes in your processes or systems that address the issue at hand. With small products, you can offer a free replacement, refund or a redo of the service. It really depends on your business. Done right this can dispel all concerns about your product and excuse the complaint as an anomaly.

The second opportunity is to show that you are more than a business. People are always watching and making determinations. The character of a person or business by extension can be gleaned through how they deal with people in complex times and interactions. In a country where good customer service is as mythical as unicorns showing such is encouraging.

Your goal should always be an amicable conclusion, difficult as it may be. We are all dealing with the same economy and the same impediments. At times the aggrieved stakeholder does not understand the complexities involved with providing the product. At times we do not understand the problems faced by the stakeholder. The steps I’ve outlined are to help create the right environment to help you deal with the crisis, this must ultimately lead to solving the root cause of the problem.