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Customers at the heart of continuity planning

16th Oct 2019
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In September 2019 a team of climate researchers from University College London issued a paper predicting that the start of 2020 would see the coldest winter since 2013 and the seventh coldest winter in the last thirty years. Whether their predictions are accurate it remains to be seen; but before we get there we still have autumn storms to negotiate and so far they have brought torrential rain and flooding to some areas.

It’s at times such as these that Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) are tested and often found wanting. Setting aside the obvious challenge for those businesses which have not yet drawn up a BCP, there are three key reasons why so many plans fail to deliver as expected; detail, communication, and focus.

Let’s look at these in turn starting with detail. The aim of your BCP should be to identify areas of risk and put plans in place to mitigate that risk and facilitate a swift return to business as usual. But where do you start? Well it can be all too tempting to start by listing every variation within every possible scenario.

To be honest, going down that route only leads to detail fatigue and a complete blindness to the bigger picture. After all, if your phone system goes down does it really matter whether the root cause is fire, flood, switchboard failure or anything else? The outcome is the same as is the potential remedy; you need to have an alternative external way of routing calls and keeping in touch with customers and others.

Whilst too much detail is sapping, too little detail can lead to complacency. The greatest danger here is that you concentrate on things such as computer or plant failures and ignore the effect which this will have on other areas such as people and reputation.

This leads us on to communication. One of our colleagues once commented that they could tell how effective BCP communication was by asking the first member of staff they met on entering a business what they would do if the road outside the office was blocked. Responses which started I suppose, or I don’t know instantly conveyed a lack of communication.

The trouble is that in all too many cases the plan which is worked on in such detail by the executive team is then locked away until it is required. As a result when disaster strikes very few are even aware that there is a plan, let alone their part in it.

These aside, perhaps the prime area where so many plans fall down is focus. When you are putting plans in place to restore power, replace plant, or divert phones, do you stop to ask yourself why? Yes it is easy to say that the end goal is to get back to business as usual as swiftly as possible but as I mentioned above that can lead to a concentration on things rather than people.

That’s where outcome and impact planning can help. When your lorries can’t get out on the road because of the snow, what impact does that have on your customers? More importantly what do you need to do to mitigate the effect on those customers and to ensure that they are affected as little as possible? All of a sudden the focus changes and areas such as communication and detail take on a whole new importance.

Without your customers you don’t have a business. So when things go wrong, it makes sense to consider customer outcomes first and put their needs at the heart of plans. Anything else might be planning but it certainly won’t help with the long term continuity of a business which has ignored the needs of its loyal customers.

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