Executive Focus: Help Your Business Weather a Disaster
With the hurricane season getting an early and intense start, I can’t help but be reminded about the devastation from last year’s storms. Even if you don’t live in a hurricane zone, read the disaster preparedness tips below, because disasters in all forms (e.g., earthquakes, terrorist attacks) can strike at a moment’s notice. Moreover, natural disasters in other parts of the country can greatly affect your business.
Devise some measures in your company to assure the continuity of your business in times of emergency. Most importantly, always have a plan B. Last year one of my clients was out of business for an entire week in its heaviest mailing season due to a hurricane. All of its internal systems (e.g., call center, Web site hosting) were in one place. When the electricity went down, so did the business. By the time the next hurricane hit three weeks later, the company was better prepared. Executives worked quickly and had a backup call center ready in time.
1. Write a short disaster plan, and make sure all department heads are familiar with it. Get your vendors, especially operations vendors such as Internet and phone service providers, involved. Focus especially on those vendors who can help you restore your business and communicate your status to customers. Publish a list of all emergency contact numbers for your key personnel and vendors. Include their home phone and cell phone numbers and home e-mail addresses as alternate means of contact if main communications channels go down.
2. In the computer business there’s a saying: “There are two types of computer users -- those who’ve lost data, and those who will.” Always back up your data, and keep multiple copies off-site in different locations. I cannot stress this enough.
3. If you manage your call center in one location, find an external call center to act as an alternate. Depending on your budgetary constraints, there are a number of approaches you can take. For example, you can opt for a simple and inexpensive backup call-center alternative. In this case, you’d pay for just a small block of call-center time with minimum staff training. Its customer service reps would tell your customers when they expect your company to be up and running again, and of course, they’d take customers’ names and phone numbers for callbacks.
Or you could opt for a more comprehensive backup call-center alternative -- that is, you could set up a completely redundant operating system (e.g., database, order processing), so your customers won’t even sense that a disaster has struck your physical location. This way, if you must quickly switch over operations to an outside service provider, you’ll be ready.
Also, ask your phone service provider to devise a way to forward calls should the need arise.
4. Make friends with your Internet service provider (ISP). There’s nothing worse than trying to access a Web site and getting the generic message: “This Web site cannot be found.” If you host your own site, be sure your ISP can, at the very least, post a splash screen telling your customers about when the site will be operational again, and provide them with alternative contact information for your company.
5. A couple of quick notes for mailers not in prime areas for disaster: Stay in touch with vendors in affected areas, as they may not be able to meet their obligations. For example, if you use outside design, pre-media, printing and other vendors, see if they’re still able to meet their timelines for you. More importantly, remember that after a natural disaster such as a hurricane, cleanup takes time. Postal service can be interrupted. Moreover, your customers most certainly will be focusing on their own recovery. Partner with the post office or your mailing house to be sure you don’t mail to the affected areas until they’re ready to receive it. If you’ve already pulled the trigger on a particular mailing, be sure your analysts factor in potential lowered response rates in all reports and future plans.
While this is not a comprehensive list of what to do in an emergency, I hope this sparks some “what-if” discussions in your business.
Jim Gilbert is the former vice president of operations and direct marketing for Under The Canopy catalog. Currently, he is a catalog and direct marketing consultant and freelancer. He can be reached at (561) 302-1719, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Gilbert has had a storied career in direct and digital marketing resulting in a burning desire to tell stories that educate, inform, and inspire marketers to new heights of success.
After years of marketing consulting, Jim decided it was time to “put his money where his mouth was" and build his own e-commerce company, Premo Natural Products, with its flagship product, Premo Guard Bed Bug & Mite Sprays. Premo in its second year is poised to eclipse 100 percent growth.
Jim has been writing for Target Marketing Group since 2006, first on the pages of Catalog Success Magazine, then as the first blogger for its online division. Jim continues to write for Total Retail.
Along the way, Jim has led the Florida Direct Marketing Association as their Marketing Chair and then three-term President, been an Adjunct Professor of Direct and Digital marketing for Miami International University, and created a lecture series, “The 9 Immutable Laws of Social Media Marketing,” which he has presented across the country at conferences and universities.