One of the most important things companies can do during and after a crisis is ensure the crisis is not repeated. Sharing information about what they have done or will do and how and when they will do it can provide the public and other audiences with the comfort, confidence and peace of mind that the threat that caused the crisis has been dealt with effectively and should not return.
Depending on the crisis, of course—such as a public health emergency — businesses may be limited to what they can do to prevent a recurrence or must work with others to address or mitigate the situation.
Starbucks is a recent case in point. Over the past weekend, news organizations reported that a Starbucks employee may have infected thousands of customers at their store in Gloucester Township, New Jersey.
Acting Quickly To Minimize Risks
Yesterday, a Starbucks spokesperson told me that, “As soon as we were notified of this [employee’s] diagnosis, we acted quickly to minimize risks to customers and partners. We are working closely with the Camden County Health Department and are fully in compliance with all requirements.”
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Today, Dan Keashen, director of communications for Camden County, said that, “We conducted an investigation of the site based on the notification from the hospital about the employee, we closed the site so Starbucks could sanitize and clean the facility, we then vaccinated all of their staff that worked in the facility—17 employees in all —and then local [Starbucks] management supplied us with daily patron numbers and other pertinent information about their operation to help us gauge how big of an exposure the health department was working with.”
He noted that, “The local management team had been helpful and based on the numbers we provided the largest hepatitis clinic in state history for our residents.”
‘Starbucks Left Something To Be Desired’
Brendan Griffith is a senior vice president at Reputation Partners, a national strategic communications firm. He observed that, “Starbucks took the ‘path of least resistance’ in their approach and response to this crisis: They latched on to and deferred to the local health department without conveying any actionable next steps on their behalf.
“While not egregious, Starbucks left something to be desired. In the current landscape where the focus on health and safety remains high, and the general public places an increased level of trust in the words and actions of their favorite companies/brands, Starbucks missed an opportunity to do more and better control the narrative surrounding this issue.”
In response to a request about what they will do to prevent similar public health emergencies, a Starbucks spokesperson said today that, “The health and safety of our partners and communities is and will continue to be our priority.
“We commit to upholding the highest food safety and health standards in all communities we service, including meeting or exceeding local and federal health guidance. Prior to reopening our store, the Camden County Health Department conducted an inspection which showed no evidence of food safety violations.
“We are working closely with Camden County Health Department and are fully in compliance with all requirements.”
“Our partners (employees) follow stringent hygiene and safety standards and are required to wash their hands regularly. Additionally, baristas complete a training when they initially begin work that is specific to cleanliness standards and procedures that are followed by each store. We continue to observe heightened cleaning and sanitation protocols in our stores as outlined on our Navigating COVID-19 page.”
Left unsaid, however, was whether Starbucks, as a follow-up to the situation in New Jersey, would provide any information or special training to their employees across the country about hepatitis A and how to protect customers from being infected.
Advice For Preventing Similar Crisis Situations
Christy Reiss is a senior account executive and member of the crisis communications team at Matter Communications, a national PR and digital marketing agency. She said, “The first step for Starbucks is to ensure that its crisis response goes beyond a one-and-done action. Leadership must be willing to make organizational change by providing regular access to common vaccinations or resources for employees to arrange their own accommodations.
“To encourage employee participation, the company can also institute monthly briefings and health trainings for employees to keep the issue fresh in everyone’s minds.”
Communicate Commitment To Customers
She said that, “One lesson gleaned from Starbucks’ 2018 response to a racially charged incident, in which they responded only with a day-long learning seminar, is that an organization must show its commitment to lasting change through meaningful and repeated action. Starbucks must communicate to its customers that it is committed to their health and safety, and to its employees that this is a serious issue.
“Post-pandemic, health will continue to be hot button and Starbucks would be smart to use this as an opportunity to underscore its commitment to its employees’ and customers’ well-being,” Reiss recommended.
Offer Vaccines To Employees
Leiza Dolghih is a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith where she handles complex commercial, employment, non-competition, and trade secrets litigation in state and federal courts around the country. She advised that, “Starbucks should offer hepatitis A vaccine to those employees who wish to have it, and train employees regarding safety procedures that reduce spread of the virus, such as hand washing and use of disposable gloves.
“Due to high turn-over in the fast food industry, mandatory vaccination would be difficult to implement, and CDC has stated that food handlers are not at increased risk for hepatitis A because of their occupation. Thus, Starbucks really should focus on training and emphasizing proper food handling safety procedures for all new and existing hires.”
Take A More Meaningful And Actionable Approach
Griffith at Reputation Partners, recommended that , “While they can’t change the past, Starbucks can and should take a more meaningful and actionable approach as soon as possible…”
He said that includes:
Meet With Local Health Departments
“Given the CDC’s characterization of hepatitis A and food industry reports surrounding its prevalence and risk, Starbucks should proactively be taking the initiative to meet with each of the local health departments in the communities in which it operates…”
The purpose would be “… to not only re-confirm it is adhering to all health guidelines and [recommendations], but also determine any additional steps and/or precautions the brand could be taking to prevent future outbreaks of a virus so closely related to it’s type of business.”
Leverage Its Brand Recognition And Reach
Griffith said that, “As arguably the largest and most recognizable coffee shop (and brands, for that matter), Starbucks can leverage the size of its operations to take the lessons learned from the Gloucester Township location and applying those to its more than 15,000 locations across the U.S.
“This should include communicating and better implementing both areas where the company missed the mark from a communications and operational standpoint, as well as steps the brand is taking to prevent future outbreaks,” he concluded.