Topic: The Bad News Bears. Three Ways to Prepare for the Unthinkable

A news story can be unnerving.

A Cleveland, Ohio Fertility Clinic experienced an unexpected temperature fluctuation in the storage bank when a refrigerated storage unit and a sensor failed, potentially damaging eggs and embryos.

Here in the freezer-full food business (storage, preparation and delivery), even the advanced technology involving IoT Food Safety could have performance and redundancy risks. They are only things after all appliances and sensors will fail. It’s inevitable and probable.

How can we diligently prepare for and test all possible systems?

1. Vet the Software

At PAR, we “road test” our Food Safety Software with exhaustive and extensive user tests, using industry best practice and our own initiative in order to exceed the accepted standards. Following the principles of agile software development, our programmers test the code as it’s being written, to ferret out any bugs. And then we re-test the corrected code, until it is perfect.

It’s tempting in software development to push a new application forward too quickly, because competitors have already launched one, customers are clamoring for always-on convenience on for ordering and payment, or regulators have new compliance to enforce. But we step back and look at all the possible permutations and complications that might arise, and we test for those. We don’t just accept the Wow factor that technology dazzles us with. We explore all the “What-if” scenarios we can think of.

Because so much of today’s information technology (IT) runs on remote Cloud infrastructure, we also test our vendor systems relentlessly, making sure their updates don’t disrupt the code we have written and tested.

And when we ship POS hardware to you, the diligence shifts. We make sure we train staff on proper usage, as well as training our own service support teams to handle potential issues and locations.

 

2. Test the Store

At your location, you should implement disaster recovery and business continuity plans, and develop redundant systems and  power sources. And it’s not just equipment. In the event of a natural disaster or a superstorm, can staff even get to the store to run the backup systems? Do you have remote management capabilities as well as remote monitoring in place?

And let’s say the worst case actually happens. Are you prepared to respond quickly? Do you have management or staff who are trained to act as immediate spokespersons? Remember that anyone with a smart phone in your store, or in the vicinity your store, is a potential broadcast news outlet and source of viral video they can post instantly. People want to have their so-called 15 minutes of fame, and they’re happy to do that at your expense, especially if it’s a well-known brand.

 

3. Tell the Story

Editors and reporters do not go looking to create bad press; they’re mostly looking for coverage to fill the news slots and they don’t like being “scooped” by the competition, be that a news crew in a van or a civilian with a smartphone. Remember that most news reporters have no formal training in the retail food business, or the nuances of food safety. They’re not paid to cover the story in great detail. They’re just going to cover what’s in front of them.

You can take no action. Is the situation a true crisis? Will the news damage sales or guest relationships permanently and irreparably? Will the news coverage be fair and accurate. If you don’t know the answer to these questions, the best idea is to hold off on comment. News cycles are like the weather, temporary and short-lived.

Don’t be blindsided. Write down the key facts and counterpoints to use when speaking with guests, employees, vendors and public health officials. Communicate directly and personally, eye-to-eye. Avoid email blasts and leaving voicemail messages that can be misinterpreted.

Most companies tend to hide behind their corporate shell. Humanize the moment and be there in person as the face of the story. That alone will let everyone know your level of commitment.

If your story has been reported incorrectly, or with unfair bias, contact the reporter and editor directly. Most publications are obligated to issue a correction. Most reporters and editors are open to taking calls to discuss the story. If you are able to build trust and a reporter’s interest, they might want to call you to be a source on future, positive articles.

Sometimes, as a last resort, you will want to issue a public response with a standard press release. A blog is not built to handle this kind of information sharing; it could come off as flip or defensive.

Position the issue in a factual manner, with the emotion taken out, but also avoiding CEO “robot” language that makes the statement sound like a human wasn’t involved. Your goal is to respond positively, admit responsibility and assert your intent to protect against future accidents of this nature. This is not only a good time to state the facts, it’s an ideal platform for enforcing brand values and asserting your leadership in times of crisis.