It's always easy to find examples of poor crisis communications. Some organizations seem to go out of their way to appear deceptive and unsympathetic. It's nice to see someone do it right for a change.
This past Sunday, two Walmart employees and a contract security officer were involved in an altercation with an alleged shoplifter who died, possibly as the result of a chokehold applied by the security officer. Walmart spokesperson Diana Gee made the following statement:
No amount of merchandise is worth someone’s life. Associates are trained to disengage from situations that would put themselves or others at risk. This is truly a sad situation. We don’t know all of the facts right now. We’re in the process of working with law enforcement to determine all of the facts and cooperating and providing any information we have to assist in the investigation.
Let's break this down a bit:
- No amount of merchandise is worth someone’s life. - Shows empathy with the victim
- Associates are trained to disengage from situations that would put themselves or others at risk - Staff are trained to avoid these situations; leaves open the possibility that the employees were acting outside the scope of their duties.
- This is truly a sad situation.- Reiterates empathy for the victim.
- We don’t know all of the facts right now.- No speculation, no blaming the victim, no overt attempt to protect the company.
- We’re in the process of working with law enforcement to determine all of the facts and cooperating and providing any information we have to assist in the investigation.- Cooperation with authorities, commitment to the facts.
This statement is right out of the crisis management playbook and it works. There is no speculation, no attempt to assign responsibility, no language obviously designed to protect the company. Instead we are presented with empathy and a firm commitment to finding the facts.
Walmart also followed its statement with swift action: the two employees have been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation and the contract officer will no longer be providing services to the store. This combination of immediate, thoughtful action and straight talk is a winner when dealing with crisis.
Thanks to the good folks at the Consumerist for bringing this incident to my attention.