Hotels that undergo data breaches should be honest and inform employees, guests and media to help maintain reputation after a breach, according to Daly Gray President Chris Daly.
Herndon, Virginia—Reputation management and maintaining guest trust are two important steps in returning to normal business after a data breach.
Chris Daly, president of Daly Gray, answered six questions that relate to proper crisis communications when it comes to a data breach.
HNN: In terms of reputation management, what is the first thing hoteliers should do once they’ve realized there’s been a data breach?
Daly: “At the heart of any crisis, guests or otherwise affected parties want their grievances recognized and assurances that the hotel is doing everything in its power to rectify the situation. As a first step, a hotel should gather all the facts as quickly and completely as possible. From this initial input, a communications expert can provide a professional opinion on the likely way the event will be received and how best to communicate with the various constituents.”
HNN: Who should be involved in communications?
Daly: “It’s critical at this stage is to engage the hotel’s legal counsel, as states often have different reporting requirements and rules on what steps a company must take. That being said, we have a saying: We promise not to practice law if the legal department promises not to practice PR.
“Law school typically drives home the theory that what you don’t say can’t be held against you. While there is some merit to that theory, if you bury your head in the sand, you’re only leaving a much larger and less attractive exposed target. Hotels may win a case in the legal system but lose it in the court of public opinion, which could end up costing substantially more. This doesn’t mean that the hotel has to ‘tell all,’ but it is imperative that it knows what it has to say and to whom they must say it.”
HNN: How should the hotel answer questions from guests, media outlets and public relations contacts after a data breach?
Daly: “The first rule is to always tell the truth. If you lose your credibility, you lose—period. Once the facts and law are clearly established, a communications strategy and plan must be developed. The crisis communications team should work with legal to prepare a factual statement that addresses the situation, providing as much information on what steps have been/still need to be taken as possible.
“Virtually every crisis has its own news cycle. The faster that the media is engaged, the faster it becomes ‘yesterday’s news.’ The news cycle today usually changes within 24 hours, and something else likely will replace your issue. However, when a crisis is ‘buried,’ it can drag on endlessly, and often rightfully so.”
HNN: What do hotel employees need to know?
Daly: “Depending on the facts and the parties impacted, the crisis communications team should prepare appropriate communications for such diverse groups as hotel associates, especially those who deal with guests, in-hotel guests, other affected guests, the media and other key groups. Maintain a close and positive relationship with the appropriate legal authorities, such as the police, FBI, etc. Coordinate with them all communications to make sure that a consistent message is distributed.
“For a general question, the front desk should have a basic ‘script’ of the situation to provide guests with appropriate follow-up steps, etc., simply to keep the process smooth and quick. This ‘script’ should be rehearsed with the staff so that they are comfortable answering questions.
“If a guest has additional questions, then a manager should be brought in to talk to the guest. If, for example, a guest wants to know what department to contact within their bank or credit card company, there’s no reason a front-desk person shouldn’t have that information. The front-desk staff is the de facto first ambassadors for a hotel. They should be able to provide as much assistance as possible before slowing the process by involving additional people. If appropriate, a fact sheet of procedures as a handout can also be useful.”
HNN: How do hotels maintain guest confidence?
Daly: “This is a crisis situation where proactivity is a must to maintain and keep guest confidence. It’s better to contact and update affected guests to let them know what has occurred than to have them find out on the evening news.”
HNN: What should hotels do months after a breach has happened?
Daly: “The faster a hotel deals with the immediate consequences and works toward rebuilding the relationship with that guest, the sooner business can return to normal. Demonstrating that the hotel is aware of the problem and working toward fixing it will go a long way toward soothing a lot of ruffled feathers.
“Again, each state is going to have its own legal requirements, but any update, hopefully positive, should be shared with affected guests regardless of the time that has passed. Front-desk personnel should be trained to respond to security questions, regardless of any time constraints. Periodically, associates should be reminded of the incident, which makes a review of security protocols more meaningful.”