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Keep up the Customer Service, and Carry On

28th Jan 2015
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80% of small businesses who experience a significant down time or data loss close within a year.

That's not a statistic that makes easy reading. Lose data, or lose up-time, and you need to activate a plan, quickly, so that you can stay up and running, and you can keep the trust of your customers.

The very act of having a plan in place can be a positive - and in the event of a disaster, can actually lead to increased customer loyalty. So how do you turn a disaster into an opportunity? Here's a little aide-memoire...

1) The first part of planning is the understanding

As part of Business Continuity Planning, a customer comms disaster strategy is all about understanding yourself and your customers. In other words, what are the touchpoints between yourself and the customer. Where does the customer interact with you, and how? What processes, if they fail, will have the biggest impact on the customer?

You need to map these out and understand how your processes affect customers - and to what degree. For instance, one well-known bank suffered serious IT problems resulting in customers being unable to withdraw cash or use their accounts. They must have known - as part of their planning process - that this was a possibility, and they quickly activated a process that involved all branches opening early to handle customer queries.

2) Speed is of the essence

That specific bank had to act quickly, although it became clear afterwards that the 'glitch' happened a week earlier. Therefore, if the error had been pinpointed earlier, it may have been avoided. Speed of detection is the first element, but speed of contact is the main part, from the customer point of view. If you can get in touch with customers before they notice a problem, then you've potentially scored some 'brownie points'.

On the other hand, there are problems that you can't avoid - and that customers know about in advance of them occurring. For instance, as Russell Cook points out, the weather forecast... you can be sure that everyone knows about a forthcoming snow storm, or flooding. Therefore, they'll be keeping an eye out on the tube, the train lines and the roads - and you need a plan in place to deal with the bad weather. What's more, you need a plan in place to deal with the impact of the bad weather, with quick, proactive customer comms about the potential issues they may face.

3) Honesty and clarity will win you friends

The true value of a Business Continuity process lies in the manner in which you communicate. An honest, clear communication plan is what can turn dissatisfaction into trust. If you've told customers what is happening, what you're doing about it, and when you expect it to be resolved, you give them confidence in your ability to turn disasters around. Most customers will accept that disasters happen - it's the way you respond to them that makes the difference.

Keep your language clear and uncluttered, do exactly what you say you're going to do, and don't set objectives that you can't reach.

*****

We all like to tell our customers when things go right, but when things go wrong, we have to know in advance what we're going to say, and how we're going to say it. It might feel like preparation for something that might never happen, but as always in these cases, if you ask yourself - "what's the worst that can happen", you'll be ready to keep (and impress) customers if it does happen.

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