Everyone has a voice and unique opinions. When a company is involved (whether directly or indirectly) with an issue its stakeholders care about, which can range from energy use to GMO labeling to fair labor, there is a chance it may hear from some of those stakeholders who want to implement change. In our country, where stakeholders are free to express these opinions directly through letters, calls, e-mails, and more, companies must be equipped to successfully manage these inquiries in a way that keeps their reputation intact.
Listen and Respond – First and foremost people want to know their voice is heard. On the phone, this may be as simple as stating you understand the concern and will look into it (if realistic and possible). For example, you don’t want to do what Safety Insurance president, CEO, and chairman of the board did when Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham called to talk about gender diversity. Yvonne asked a question, he hung up… She then wrote an extremely popular column about it in a well-read newspaper that garnered almost 100 comments online, as well as multiple shares on Twitter and Facebook. Needless to say, Safety Insurance has more eye balls scrutinizing the issue and the company’s morals and leadership now than if the CEO had responded kindly and efficiently.
React – If possible, take the inquiry seriously and look into the issue. Chances are if one stakeholder is concerned and passionate, there are others who feel the same way. This doesn’t mean the company necessarily has to take some drastic action to ensure the stakeholder’s requests are met, but it means doing some research into the concern and taking steps to make changes (even small ones) if appropriate. Then, even if the end result isn’t exactly what the investor, customer, or client wants, it highlights the companies’ willingness to put the stakeholders’ needs and concerns first.
Circle Back – The final piece to making sure your stakeholder is satisfied is following up to make sure he/she knows you addressed the concern in one way or another. This can take the form of an e-mail or phone call, and it will express appreciation for the inquiry and outline what has been done. If nothing else, this gesture will show your company heard the issue, which as I mentioned earlier, is one part of the solution.
Pressure from stakeholders can have serious repercussions for a company’s reputation. Thinking like a public relations professional to tackle these situations, however, can protect your brand and even bolster it. So the next time your company receives a letter or phone call from a distressed or concerned stakeholder, take a PR approach and respond, react and circle back.