Disasters can come in a variety of flavors. This year, we can think about the pandemic as a disaster and see that it affects every business differently.
The pandemic was not something most people would have planned for, and most disaster plans probably didn't specifically address it. However, the process of creating a disaster plan would have benefited those businesses with them.
Following is a story of an unexpected event and the impact of not having a disaster plan in place. Again this was not something this company expected, and its effects on their customers show it.
My internet, which is the lifeblood of my business, is provided through a cellular reseller. I had loved their service until this incident hit.
On December 31, 2020, ATT had a server fail. This particular server was the device that handled renewing the monthly service for many ATT resellers. The result was thousands of customers like myself lost internet for an extended time.
As you can imagine, this wasn't something my provider expected, but worse, it wasn't something they prepared for with a plan. In just a few days, they were overwhelmed with customers screaming about being down. The staff they had in the office couldn't even begin to keep up with the email and phone calls.
Worse, all of their contacts at ATT were off until Monday. Many of their clients depended on the service to run their business. On Monday, ATT started to investigate and identify the issue. My internet was down through Thursday.
Let’s identify areas in which this company failed and see how this relates to your company and your business plan.
Following are critical areas to examine and include in your disaster plan. You may find your priorities are different, and that is ok, though I do have reasons for the order they are listed.
From my perspective as a customer, the communications strategy was abysmal. They were not proactive at all, and their reactive response was appalling.
It was impossible to get any update for the first few days. At that time, the company thought that blog posts and the business Facebook group were good avenues; but there wasn't anything on the website's home page telling customers to refer to the blog.
So overwhelmed, they did not respond to either voicemails or emails.
Notification of the Issue
Think about the worst possible scenario for your business. And think about how you start to reach out to your customers.
Think of the impact on your clients if your building is burned or destroyed in some other manner. You just lost all of the computers and records inside the building.
How are you going to get your phones answered? How are you going to start notifying clients of the probable impact on their business?
In this example, the company should have immediately put something on their website's home page acknowledging the issue and directing customers to the blog.
But that wouldn't resolve the issue with phone calls and email response. Sometime after the outage, they did update their voicemail with a message, but the message never changed throughout the situation.
But even the above measures would still put the responsibility for communication on the customer, which is never acceptable. If it is your issue, you initiate contact.
The business above could have immediately sent out an email message to all their customers advising them of the issue. They could and should have put a message on the voicemail that was updated regularly.
The providers should also have shared suggestions to help clients identify temporary alternative methods to obtaining service until the issue could be resolved.
Think about the questions your customers will have, and how you can get the answers to them quickly and via multiple methods.
Because this company was so overwhelmed, they should have immediately started staffing up to answer phones and emails. On the holiday weekend, that might have meant hiring friends and family. But they failed to do anything.
Leveraging technology was another failure. The providers could have implemented a method to log service outages that provided an acknowledgment. This would let the customer know they were aware the customer is affected. They could then use that to identify how to contact clients and update them on the status.
If they didn't have that kind of web page available, one option would have to been to use a service like Fiver, where you can get something like that built in a day.
The bottom line is you need an emergency communication strategy so that your customers aren't left in the dark.
Probable Impact to Client
In your communication to your customers, the most important thing to communicate is the impact on the client. You will want to let them know about the issue and how the problem may impact them.
In this case, I highly encourage giving them the worst-case scenario. I am a firm believer in under-promising and over-delivering.
When you tell them the worst probable outcome, all future updates will be good news to the client. If you tell them that you can't restore their service for three days, and then you find a way to do it in two days, they are going to love you.
Efforts Being Used to Support Clients
You need to provide regular updates to your clients about what you are doing to resolve the issue and what progress is being made. The more you can automate the contact process the better things will be.
Think about your business and what impacts the disaster has on your customer. Ask yourself, if I am the customer, what do I need to know, and how can I find that information easily?
What are the steps you can take to mitigate the impact on your clients? Your second priority has to be doing what you can to start solving your customer's issues.
Depending on what has happened, realize that if you don't care for your customer, someone else will.
The effects of a disaster will be different for every business and its customers. You know your business better than anyone else, so you need to think about what items and services you provide and how you can make sure your customers get what they need despite unforeseen events.
Restoring service is listed in third place, though it is something that you will start as soon as possible. But communication and mitigation are the more important in terms of the customer.
Complete service restoration is typically going to take a while. It will all depend on what happens. We will address typical events to be considered in disaster plans in another blog.
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