Autumn floods have left businesses across the country mopping up and wondering how or if they can return to business as usual.
As well as dealing with the practical issues of getting back to work many businesses will face the prospect of having lost customers forever because they couldn’t be reached. Customers who had to go elsewhere may never return.
But there are a few practical things you can do to help keep your customers when you’re in the middle of a crisis. Keep them informed and they’re more likely to be waiting for you when you can help them again. Even better, with a bit of planning you can carry on throughout a crisis and never lose a sale.
Have you got a plan?
Bad weather gets the blame for lost business days in the UK. But we know it’s coming. Every year somewhere in the UK experiences high winds, unexpected floods or heavy snow. Traffic disruption, staff shortages and power cuts cause as much of a problem as damage to stock. So you should be prepared for it.
But you might have a crisis related to staff illness or damage to your premises. It’s worth spending time considering what possible situations could stop you from operating and then making a plan to get round them.
So what’s your plan for what to do if you can’t access your premises, you’ve got no staff or if the lights go out?
- Can you work from somewhere else? If you can, make plans now for a seamless transfer of business.
- Can you divert your phones remotely to another number or mobile? Consider having your staff mobile phones spread across network providers so if one loses signal there’s a chance someone will still have a usable phone.
- If you have an answerphone can you access messages remotely? And can you change the recorded message to let your customers know your circumstances? If you can’t learn! And write down the instructions somewhere in case you need someone else to do it.
- Can you put a message on your website from anywhere?
- Do your staff know what to do and where to go in an emergency? Do you honestly expect them to struggle through dangerous driving conditions or have you already agreed where they will go and what they will do in a crisis? Make sure they know what you expect them to do.
- Have you considered giving people ‘emergency’ roles? If your reception staff are all struck down with the flu or are trapped on the wrong side of a snow drift have you already identified which business functions you can stop doing while you redeploy staff to cover business-critical activities elsewhere.
- Is your IT backed up? And where is the backup stored?
- Who are the key holders for your premises?
- Have you got enough insurance?
How will you tell your customers what’s happening?
Can you mail them? Put a message on your web site? Can you tweet them? In a crisis there’s usually a hash-tag. Tweet your business status and everyone searching under that tag has a chance to see your tweets – it’s a wider audience than you might reach elsewhere. And many people get text messages from Twitter alerts, so you might reach them even if your IT network is down.
Putting a temporary message on your voicemail or web site is fair enough, but remember to say what time you left the message and when you’ll update it – this could save you answering a lot of calls from frustrated people who just wanted to know if you’ll be open tomorrow…
Can you tell local radio or the local paper how your customers can reach you?
Experienced sailors keep a grab-bag of emergency kit, with all their survival supplies in it, so if they have to go overboard they have a better chance of making it till they’re rescued. Have you got your own business grab-bag? Keep your emergency plan in it – a list of useful telephone numbers, instructions on how to change your web page or remotely access your office voicemail.
Then when the weather takes a turn for the worst you can confidently implement your business continuity plan and carry on.