Crisis Expert Jeff Chatterton: Customers Scared about Coronavirus? Stop Claiming "But We're Clean!"

Press Release from Checkmate Public Affairs

WATERLOO, Ontario, March 11, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A crisis communication expert says companies are doing a lousy job reassuring the public in the face of coronavirus fears.

Jeff Chatterton is a crisis communications consultant, and the co-author of a recently released book on crisis communications, "Leaders Under Fire."

Chatterton says, "Feeling like you should communicate is understandable - the COVID-19 scare is easily the largest crisis to hit the globe in the past year. But sending mass emails to customers, touting cleanliness? That's lazy. It's not going to work."

In the last week, consumers across North America have been deluged with mass emails from airlines, hotels, and their gym, and they all share one common message: 'We're working hard to be clean.'

The problem with that message is simpleā€¦ it's not what customers want to hear right now.

According to Chatterton, this is the same reason you don't want a 'normal' communications team taking the lead in a crisis. Crisis communications isn't about 'facts.'

"For a typical stadium, arena, tourism company or airline, their communications team may be the very best in the world at communicating facts. They can talk to investors all day long about investment strategies or return on investment. The marketing team can convince people to buy tickets to Jamaica or to buy a membership to the gym," explains Chatterton.

"But crisis communications isn't about facts - communicating during a crisis is about calming fears. The rules and strategies are fundamentally different."

Companies everywhere are going into default mode. They assume, "Oh, they don't want to get sick, so let's tell them how clean we are."

It's a natural reaction. But that's not what customers are really asking. What they're REALLY asking is "Can I trust you to keep me safe?"

Chatterton says in many ways, it's like a small child, lying in fear, afraid of monsters under their bed.

A parent can clinically explain using logic and facts that monsters are statistically very unlikely to exist or you can give that kid a hug, explain that they live in a super-duper safe house, and that they're going to be safe.

"Anyone who's ever been a parent knows what strategy is going to fail," says Chatterton.

Right now, companies across the globe are defaulting to logically explaining why monsters are unlikely to exist. But the kids aren't buying it.

Consumers are that kid right now. They have emotions. And when logic squares off against fear, fear will always win.

Here's what companies should be doing instead:

Chatterton says companies should take that memo to employees, that letter to customers, and the mass email to their members, and set it aside. There may be some good facts in there, but that's not what they need to talk about. At least not right now.

He explains: "Stop reciting statistics. Stop explaining how you follow public health guidelines. Stop offering vague reassurances. Start displaying some empathy. This is where you want to see statements like:

"We're asking the same questions you are - how can we stay safe?"
"We work in this amusement park too."

Customers need to know that you know how they feel. That's the single most important thing you can do for your stakeholders right now.

If facts are critically important, Chatterton's advice is to get very specific. "No one cares about 'following public health guidelines and increasing your cleaning schedule.'

Does United Airlines really expect me to believe that they're doing a better job cleaning the airplanes? The last business-class seat I was assigned to had crumbs on the seat, and a used napkin in the seatback pocket. Not only is that gross, it destroys a "But we're trying really hard to be clean" message."

If you truly feel like you need to tout facts, bring out REAL facts. Rather than "We've increased the number of hand sanitizer stations in our arena" (which is vague) use "We've purchased an additional 14 hand sanitizer stations, so now we'll have one on each door." This is clear, specific, and understandable.

But - exclaims Chatterton - "Remember - you're not there to communicate facts. You're there to USE facts to calm fears. The primary purpose of any mass communication right now is to calm fears. If you're focusing on the facts, you're doing it wrong."

For more information, including on camera or telephone interviews, go to or call +1 519 513 1053

Jeff Chatterton
+1 519 513 1053

Companies Mentioned in this Press Release:
Business Categories Mentioned in this Press Release: