Optus – it starts with No: Why more Yeses are needed in a crisis

by Daniel McDougall
13 November 2023

For a company that uses the word Yes in its branding, Optus should have said it more often.

Perhaps with more Yeses we would have seen more responsiveness to an unfolding crisis that left 10 million customers reeling and government, businesses, hospitals and emergency services scrambling.

It’s not the crisis that defines your corporate reputation, it’s how you respond.

As hard as it will be, an impacted company must take the only choice available and be the leading voice in a crisis, or risk a huge cost later on.

The three Yeses that could have saved Optus

What a crisis demands is that the organisation concerned fills the space. Letting others fill it for you has never ended well.

Yet anyone tuning in last week, clearly not on Optus powered devices, would have thought that the Federal Communications Minister was actually the Optus spokesperson for much of the crisis.  

1. So are we able to respond quickly and inform the media and public?

The answer should always be a resounding Yes.

2. Are we able to use multiple spokespeople to get our message out?

With good parameters, again the answer was Yes.

While the CEO or appointed company spokesperson should be doing key interviews, sharing the load can be advantageous. It is impossible in a crisis to be in all the crisis meetings trying to fix the issue and also be out there delivering the crisis response, doing one interview after another.

3. And the final Yes? Are we prepared to go with what we have? Again, Yes.

Perfectionism needed to be ditched. It regularly impacts the productivity of firms, in a crisis or not. Interviews needed to be done to media deadlines, especially in a crisis.  Regular statements needed to be put out. Instead of the bare minimum, the KPI could have been “let’s see if we can do as many media opportunities as we can”.

The great majority of Australians respect plain speaking. In a crisis they give points to those who don’t have all the facts, but front up and tell people what they currently know to the best of their ability and do so regularly.  We see this often in times of floods and bushfires, where information is disseminated with urgency, calm delivery and consistency.

It’s not about you, it’s about them

Perhaps the biggest mistake companies make in a crisis is to take things personally. We understand It’s not personally your fault.  But please don’t use lines talking about how your service has been good for 364 days.

That’s not information, it’s inflammation. The only reason you are in the news is because the news is bad. Now is not the time to “humanise” the company.  Your core business is fixing the issue and informing  government, businesses and customers about your progress.

The future could still be Yes from here, with a backup plan

Practically, the crisis will mean more oversight on telecommunications companies.

There’s talk of fines, more regulation and a more coordinated response from industry when a large player goes down.

The crisis has shown the critical service these companies perform and the far reaching impact when they fail.

Government won’t waste the crisis and will enforce a tougher framework to operate.

Optus customers are left  with options. Switch, stay, or perhaps have a backup phone, a nightmare scenario for any brand seeking to maintain loyalty.

The crisis isn’t over yet.

How did the Optus outage affect you and your work day? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Daniel McDougall

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