During the holidays, consumers are pulling out debit and credit cards again, again and again. It is with a degree of blind faith those same consumers trust their personal data is going where intended and not into the hands of some nefarious character. But with recent well-publicized data breaches at major retailer stores, consumers have legitimate reason to worry.

Communicating with these consumers is potentially as critical as fixing the data breach problem itself. While the most important audience is those who own the personal data that has been breached, a company’s reputation hinges on how well it can communicate to other customers who hear about the problem, its vendors and its employees.

Every crisis operations plan and every data breach response plan must have an equally robust communications plan attached to it. That plan should clearly define audiences, tactics and platforms for delivering the message about how the breach occurred, the scope of the breach, what is being done to fix it, and how you will protect your customers going forward.

The information shared must be accurate; follow-up communications needed to correct previous statements undermine a company’s credibility. All communications need to be consistent from the top of the organization throughout every department. It’s equally important to make sure frontline employees are aware of the problem and know how to direct or respond to customer questions.

Online and over-the-phone access to basic information should be part of the plan. Letting customers know how to monitor their account information and offering free fraud protection services will show that a company is being proactive and helpful.

Recovering from a data breach can be a long and arduous process, kind of like a holiday hangover. Developing a robust plan of action that can be implemented efficiently will make for a far more joyous season and prosperous New Year!