COVID-19 Highlights Importance of Emergency Plans and Crisis Communication

May 7, 2020

By Wayne M. Stanley

Good communication is one of the keys to success in the modern marketplace, and many in the title industry passed a huge test in that area recently. Yes, I’m talking about COVID-19. 

We didn’t experience the kind of March Madness we were all expecting this spring. After a strong start to the year, I know lots of you were excited to jump into the homebuying season and keep the momentum going. That was all derailed, and we're still sorting out how the economic impacts of COVID-19 will affect business the rest of 2020 and beyond.

However, as a marketing professional, it was uplifting to see how quickly industry players got the word out even as COVID-19 was just starting to impact everyday life. From ALTA on down, there was plenty of industry conversation centered on the ever-changing situation. Messages from businesses of all kinds about safeguarding health and safety were sent out early on, and cheers to those of you who joined the party. While there were plenty of quips about an overload of these messages, the bottom line is that you never want to miss the chance to be quick and proactive, especially during a crisis. 

It wasn’t just the communication with customers that was notable. In about a span of a week, plenty of title companies went from simply adding extra cleaning procedures to sending employees home to work remotely and limiting the amount of people in closing rooms. There were plenty of other creative steps taken as the situation became more urgent. Some shut down lobbies but still conducted closings through car windows—either in the parking lot or as an actual drive-thru service. For an industry known to be resistant to change, all of you certainly adapted quickly when faced with an unforeseen challenge. I strongly urge you to keep this mindset for the future. Don’t lose that urgency to consistently communicate with your customers to fulfill their needs when work returns to normal (whether that’s next month or later this summer).

As someone who has led a growing remote workforce for almost three years, I was impressed with how quickly many of you adapted to the work-at-home environment and kept the trains of business rolling. We know firsthand how much of an adjustment it can be to work from home, even if it’s a temporary solution (not to mention those of you with school-aged children and the e-learning taking place daily in your new home office)  

However, all this success doesn’t mean the start of the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t without hiccups. As the stay-at-home orders started to come down in states and communities across the nation, there was widespread confusion about what qualified as an “essential” service. As you know by now, title companies were in the group that were permitted to stay open. The Bowe Digital team crafted dozens of “We’re still open” messages for our great partners as those declarations were made, but there was definitely a short period of uncertainty of how to move forward in the industry. 

Since I launched Bowe Digital in 2017, we have always included crisis communication on our menu of offerings. I don’t think many people really thought about the importance of such a service until last month, but we were happy to deliver for our partners during it all. It became imperative for messages to get sent out quickly, even in cases when work routines or spaces were disrupted.  

For those of you who executed existing crisis communication plans, kudos to you. And for teams without a plan in place, here are two questions to ask when formulating a plan:

  1. What should your team do and say based on the type of crisis?
    • Determine who is and isn’t allowed to speak to the media or officially to your customers.
    • Determine the types of crisis you may encounter and how to respond. General disasters may include natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, etc.); office disruption (fire, sprinkler system, wire fraud, phone outage, etc.); terrorism or loss of Life Event  
  2. What's the first thing your customers should always hear from you in a crisis and when/how will you communicate to them?
    • Create a decision tree and have secondary people listed because what happens if Person A isn’t available. Also, know how you are going to distribute the information. Consider a tabletop exercise to have your decisions come together and play out exactly what you need to communicate during each possible crisis. Determine very clearly what can be distributed to customers, the media, etc. without additional approval. Also, discuss who should approve your communications in a crisis. If it’s typically the owner/CEO, they may be dealing with so many other issues it’s not realistic or timely to wait for their approval.
    • Talk about what you never want to say/convey to customers too. Your team should know what words or phrases are not to be used in any crisis. For example, in some areas “thoughts and prayers” may be appropriate but not so much in others.

A question coming for our industry after COVID-19 is how this pandemic willand the changes we made because of itaffect future customer and employee expectations. I guarantee not all things will go back to how it was earlier this year. That isn’t necessarily bad, but it will retest your willingness to be flexible—and communication with customers, as well as your own team, will again be in the spotlight. You’ve already proved you can communicate clearly and with urgency. Don’t stop now!

Wayne M. Stanley is founder and chief inspiration officer of Bowe Digital, a marketing company that works with many title companies and small businesses.

 


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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