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How to Plan for and Manage Business Disasters

It's almost impossible to get through life without seeing a few disaster movies, but you seldom see how those events affect everyday businesses and the customers that count on them. The disasters don't even have to be as dramatic as hurricanes or earthquakes. Anything from construction delays caused by rain to missed deadlines due to a workforce minimized by a bout of the flu can have a devastating effect on customer attitudes. Customers are not unfeeling monsters, but their needs can outweigh their compassion.

Unless your business is totally devastated in a “Sharknado” attack (which might be covered in Sharknado 5), you can generally keep your customers happy… as long as you manage their projects thoughtfully and demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile—or thousand miles. Here are four strategies that can help save your customers and your business.

 1. Plan for “Plan B”

Do you know what you will do if a rare Measles outbreak shuts down your medical office for several weeks? Do you have ways to ship products when a wildfire shuts down your distribution facility? People may tell you that planning for the worst is pessimistic. But, the "P" word changes to proactive when a backup plan saves your customers.

Every small business should have backup plans in place to prepare for natural disasters. If you don't feel prepared for any of the biggies, check out my recent blog on the subject. But, customers often have unique concerns, as well. Whether you're planning a special consulting project, or even if one or two customers count on you to have certain products in stock even everything in your warehouse blows to Oz in a tornado, Plan B can be a huge lifesaver.

When planning anything from daily operations to a custom project, always spend time on “what-if?” List everything that can possibly go wrong and figure out how you will address it. Maybe key project team members can continue working from home or a temporary office while waiting for flood waters to drain from the main office. You might even arrange to team up with other vendors outside of the disaster area to help meet an emergency customer order. Whatever you do, your customers will be relieved and happy to know that you are dedicated to meeting their needs no matter what tragedy ensues.

2. Communicate quickly

Nobody enjoys delivering- or receiving- bad news, but you have a Plan B, so the news is not as bad as it could be. On the one hand, you know that you're not going to meet your exact deadline. On the other hand, your customer may have padded a few days in the deadline.

Don't wait for customers to call you. Do whatever it takes to make the call first. Be prepared to tell them that you have plans in place to make sure that they get their products or services, preferably within a few days of the original deadline. And if you use Nextiva's commercial phone service, make sure your phones are set up to keep working, or to forward to your cell phone, in the event of a natural disaster. 

If a few days' delay makes a difference, use the call to involve customers in some serious problem-solving. If they can wait an extra day for their order, but not two, can you perhaps deliver the order personally? If you promised printed reports, can you deliver electronic copies to a printer that is located near the customer, even if you have to eat a bit of extra cost? You may deliver past deadline, but your willingness to do what it takes will earn you vast amounts of customer good will and loyalty.

 3. Focus solely on the customer at hand

No customer will be sympathetic if you explain how the event is causing you or even other customers to suffer. So, don't ever start a conversation with, "You think YOU'VE got it bad?"

Make sure that customers believe that their individual concerns are your only issue. A passive voice comes in handy here. "My deliverable time frame needs to be pushed back" is better than "You'll have to wait until I finish meeting other customers’ needs."

4. Sneak in shorter jobs

You can create more satisfied customers when you sneak the shorter jobs in between the more lengthy ones. When you squeeze a two-hour job in between two one-week jobs, the customers with the longer time frames will probably not notice, but the quickie customer will think favorably about your company when they have bigger jobs in the future.

Today's disaster can be tomorrow's victory.

One way to ensure that your customers remain loyal is to consistently deliver products or services on time. Since most people have experienced their own fair share of troubles in this regard, they are often surprisingly flexible when disaster strikes, particularly when you go to the ends of the earth to try to meet their needs

Even in extreme situations, such as when you have to temporarily send them to a competitor to get the job done, they know exactly how much you value their business. Do whatever it takes with finesse and they'll reward your loyalty by coming back to you when you let them know that you're ready.

About the author

Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at She also has an action figure made in her likeness.