Business Continuity Planning – Keep Customers In The Loop

Managing customer relationships is obviously critical to the ongoing success of your business. As such, it is important to craft a plan for distributing information to your customers during and following a disaster event. The scope of your customer communications plan will vary widely depending on the nature of your business.

Obviously, not every glitch in operations will merit reaching out to your customers. However, if an event occurs that is likely to impact them, it is essential to communicate the details of the issue and explain the steps you are taking to mitigate it. This might mean direct communication to your customers, but it could also mean messaging via traditional and social media. Failure to do so can have a negative impact on the reputation of your organization.

Take the way Toyota responded to reports of self-accelerating vehicles back in 2009-2010 as an example. Instead of acknowledging the issue and assuring customers that the company was investigating the problem, the company opted to cite user error in a classic example of blaming the victim. The problem was eventually pinned on floor mats, gas pedal design and faulty electronics; and although Toyota spent billions to replace accelerator components, their initial response created distrust among customers.

You will also need to handle a wide array of incoming communications following a disruption. Depending on the nature of your business this could mean: support requests, high volumes of email and phone traffic, social media activity from frustrated customers, media interest—the list goes on and on. Your organization’s ability to respond to customer needs following an event will have a direct impact on reputation.


So, how do you keep your good reputation intact? It comes down to careful preparation. First, you must be prepared from a personnel standpoint. Carefully planning communications with customers is essential. You will need to be able to respond quickly and clearly explain the steps you are taking to resolve issues. All customer-facing staffers should be briefed and ready to deliver a clear and consistent message. You may want to consider using script templates, which can be adapted to address various events. Pre-scripted messages can be developed, approved by management and quickly distributed to customers following a disruption.

You also need to ensure access to communication infrastructure (phone, email, Internet access). This might mean redundant phone lines/services, hosted PBX systems, cloud-based email or redundant Exchange servers, etc. Larger businesses may need to invest in a secondary contact center to manage inbound and outbound communications. There are a number of vendors that offer call center services, temporary workspaces and even mobile data centers.

Testing or rehearsing all or parts of your customer communications plan should be considered essential as well. Testing is the best way to identify and resolve customer support weaknesses and communication infrastructure issues.