Last week I wrote about the case of the hotel in Los Angeles where a decomposing body was found in the water cistern. I asked how you would craft your initial crisis communications. Since no one has stepped up to the challenge, I'll offer my own thoughts on the subject. Here's what I would advise the management of the hotel if they were my clients:
- Speed is of the essence. You need to immediately contact your guests. You won't know much at this point but it is better that they hear it from you with the facts that you have than to hear it on the news with added commentary and speculation.
- Be empathetic - say you're sorry. It's amazing how far that phrase will get you, particularly if your guests perceive it as sincere. Saying you sorry, contrary to popular belief, is not an admission of wrongdoing.
- Offer immediate compensation. Refunding the cost of their stay is the minimum you should offer. If you want to add a discount for future visits, so much the better. Don'[t tie it to them signing a release of liability - that makes it look like you're trying to protect yourself and suggests it might be your fault.
- Tell them what you're doing about the problem. You're going to need to have your water system checked by health authorities, so tell them that's what you're doing and promise to notify them immediately of the results. Think about what you would want to hear if it was your family that was affected.
- Open lines for continued communication. You might consider a 24/7 hotline (real person please, not a recorded message), a dedicated website, social media, etc. Your guests will have questions - it's better they get the answers from you.
You're going to get sued. Get over it. Don't hide behind the old idea that anything you say can be used against you in court. Anything you don't say will also be used against you, so be proactive. Get the facts out quickly, be sincere and empathetic, and, above all, treat your guests as you would want your family treated. You've got a major reputational crisis on your hands - don't make it worse by developing a bunker mentality and ignoring the concerns of your guests.