The impact of natural disasters on businesses go beyond just customer experience. But I’m sure you know that already. However, such knowledge doesn’t make such occurrences any less painful either.
Even when you know in advance that there will be a natural disaster, you may still not be adequately prepared to handle the aftermath. And that’s especially true for small businesses with limited resources. Let’s look at some ways natural disasters affect customer experience and what can be done to mitigate its effects at least.
Sometimes if you run business from a physical location, a natural disaster can displace you and your employees. The onus is on you to contact your customers to tell them your current situation and to find out how they—the customers—are doing too.
Nowadays, you’re laden with options to choose from. The internet (online media outlets), radio and television media outlets, email, social media, and the good ol’ telephone are all options. Understand that there’s no right or wrong way to reach your customers, so don’t get hung up on what other businesses are doing.
For example, it may be possible to have a page on your site where there are updates on the availability of your products and services, especially if customers cannot reach you through other means. Or you can pre-record messages for any customers who may call instead of making them wait in a long call queue—this will help save your customers’ time and prevent worry.
For communicating with employees, if they’re friends with you on a social platform like Facebook, it’s easier for them to let you know whether they’re safe or not through Facebook’s Safety Check feature. This is important because you cannot do the job of responding to crisis on your own and will most likely need your employees help in communicating with customers. Still, check on your employees because you care, whether they’re in a position to help or not.
2. Disruption in product or service delivery
Whether you’re a business offering physical or digital products and services, a natural disaster can disrupt product or service delivery. Such continuity during natural disasters can be the difference between a huge profit margin and a loss.
For example, let’s say you run a publishing firm. A flood or hurricane can easily destroy your equipment and machinery, which understandably may need repairs or replacements and can potentially result in delayed delivery to customers. Or in worse situations, I’ve seen cases where small business operations stop completely because the machinery or equipment are damaged beyond repair and there are no funds to get replacements.
So what do you do?
First, I’ll say that if you don’t have one already, then get a property insurance or a business owner’s policy (BOP) package. The latter is more robust and you can alter it according to your business’ needs. A property insurance will protect your assets during a natural disaster.
That being said, handling this is mostly a matter of effective communication. So you may refer to the first point again. Let your customers know the new expected date of delivery of their product. Or if necessary, after an assessment of possibilities, it may be best to refer them to another provider.
There is likely to be no disruption in the delivery of digital products like an online course since it is often fully automated, but the reverse is the case for a digital service provided by an individual like say SEO services. Again, tell customers the challenges you’re having and agree together on a new delivery date. If you’re displaced and having difficulties in settling to complete the job, you may also refer them to another service provider.
3. Loss of customer service personnel
A natural disaster can displace your customer service agents temporarily or even permanently if it destroys their homes. If they strictly work on-site, then any services they can render stops completely. As a business owner, it is beneficial to assess the situation objectively to decide the right step(s) to take. If you don’t, your customers will suffer and it will result in a terrible customer experience.
There are several feasible options here. For example, if possible, you can allow affected customer service agents to work remotely, pending when they settle in a new home. You can automate certain tasks like leaving a pre-recorded message for customers who call your helplines instead of having them wait for unavailable customer service personnel. For some customer-oriented companies, it may be possible for staff from other departments in the company to act as temporary customer service agents until the real personnel weather their personal storms or new customer service agents are employed.
With careful and proper planning, it is possible to minimize the impact of a natural disaster not just on your customer experience, but on your entire business operations. Start planning.