By Chandler Harrison, Account Development Executive
Surprises are best reserved for birthday parties and bouquets. When disaster strikes, customers are actively seeking answers on the web, sending text messages and scouting out phone numbers to call.
Failing to adequately communicate during emergencies means risking potentially irreversible damage — starting on social media and ending at the bottom line.
Luckily, addressing emergencies with proactive communication has the opposite effect. From utilities to pharmaceuticals to cable providers, all companies can increase customer satisfaction and cost savings by addressing concerns before customers even recognize a problem.
But proactive notifications is just the first step. You also have to send the right messaging. Here’s how you can communicate during emergencies to turn a potentially dangerous situation into a positive customer experience (CX).
What counts as an emergency?
Before you can communicate during emergencies, you first have to identify them. Some are obvious, like a heart attack in a busy restaurant. Others may be harder to recognize, like a soon-to-be father trying to get to the hospital as his wife goes into labor.
Emergencies are wide-ranging and defined by the people experiencing them, so we’ll define them as any event or problem requiring an immediate or quick response. Typically, they fall into three categories:
- Present: An immediate threat to someone’s life, like a severe storm or falling through the ice;
- Probable: A risk to one or more person’s health or mental well being, like breaking a leg or losing insurance coverage;
- Potential: A danger to people by affecting the environment around them, like an oil spill or power outage.
But ultimately it doesn’t matter how we or you or your competitors define emergencies. It matters how your customers do. So step into your customers’ shoes and consider what they would consider an emergency situation.
After that, you’re ready to respond, so here’s how to use proactive notifications and strategic messaging to communicate during emergencies.
It’s a beautiful day on the beach. The sun shines on gentle waves, but the meteorologist couldn’t have been clearer: there’s a storm coming.
While storms present a high-stress information, they’re easy to predict, so you can engage your communication strategy early on.
For example, before Hurricane Harvey, West helped two major pharmacies send 282,000 voice and text notifications in two languages reminding customers to refill their prescriptions. The messages went something like this:
“SEVERE WEATHER: Your area may be impacted due to a hurricane. Pls check your Rx supply. Call or visit your pharmacy or text REFILL.”
The hurricane ultimately developed into one of the most disastrous tropical storms in U.S. history. It dropped more than 51 inches of rain in the Houston area, causing massive flooding that left thousands stranded in their homes.
One pharmacy approved emergency 10-day supplies for anyone who ordered a refill before the storm hit and stocked up on emergency supplies in their 128 stores within the impact area. In just one day, West helped them send 238,000 messages.
And before Hurricane Matthew hit Florida one year earlier, West helped one pharmacy send 1.4 million outbound messages in just 48 hours, advising customers of the same thing.
Those are proactive notifications, giving customers information they didn’t know they needed. And they’re a crucial piece in developing exceptional CX.
But the importance of proactive notifications doesn’t end after the emergency strikes. After Hurricane Matthew subsided, a utility company proactively sent 2.3 million messages informing customers about ongoing power outages and the cleanup process that followed. Read more about how these companies provided answers when they were needed most.
So after you’ve identified a present, probable or potential threat to your customers’ well being, here are a few points to consider before initiating a proactive notifications campaign:
- Don’t wait for a call, which could hurt CX and cost more;
- Consistently engage your customers when they want and on the channels they want;
- Follow government regulations and customer preferences;
- Use automation to handle responses;
- And leverage user data, historical behavior and real-time feedback to tweak messages.
That’s a lot to handle when you’re responding to an emergency in 48 hours or less, so find a communications partner with the size and expertise to reach all your customers and guide you through the process.
But the best communication strategy is nothing without the right message. Imagine if a school sent this text message to parents: “NOTICE: The school is on lockdown, so please keep your vehicles out of the parking lot until further notice.”
The office would be flooded with concerned calls. Why is the school on lockdown? Is my kid safe? And is there an active threat in the parking lot?
This message violates a few important rules to communicate during emergencies. Whether you’re sending a voice, text or email message, make sure to include these factors:
- Show empathy;
- Give specific details;
- Estimate when the emergency will subside or where they can find more information;
- Explain your reasoning.
Following these steps, the school’s text could have looked more like this:
“ALERT: The school is on lockdown due to a student altercation across town. Everyone is safe, but please stay off premises until the scene is cleared. Watch local media for updates.”
Remember, you have more space in emails or voice messages than in texts or social media posts, so tailor your message to fit the medium. Here are some examples for various emergencies:
Email — Utilities
Due to a damaged substation, we are experiencing scattered outages in your area. The map below shows our current outages.
Your expected restoration time is 6:15 p.m. We will contact you again if this time changes. We apologize for any inconvenience this disruption may cause and are working hard to minimize impact.
Your Utility Company
Voice — Pharmacy
This is an important message from your local pharmacy. Due to severe weather, we will be closing the store at 7 p.m., so please remember to pick up your prescriptions before then. If you need a refill, please press ‘1’ to be connected to a pharmacist. We expect to be open again by 8 a.m. tomorrow. We apologize for any inconvenience, and thank you for your patience. To hear this message again, please stay on the line.
Twitter — Fire Department
The #ForestFire has jumped Hwy 16 and is moving south. Please check out the map at FireDeptX.com to see if you need to get out of its path.
For even more information on how to communicate during emergencies, check out these tips to help prepare customers for a storm. And feel free to contact West Interactive Services at 800.841.9000 to learn more about our CX consultation.
So whenever the situation requires a prompt message, consider your CX strategy and how your customers want you to respond. You’ve got a lot of ways to contact them, so be proactive and reach out on the right channels so that big emergency doesn’t hit anyone by surprise.
Chandler has been with West Interactive Services since 2014. He graduated from Columbus State and has more than 10 years experience in customer service and developing the customer experience. As an account development executive at West, Chandler works closely with the sales, marketing and client relationship management teams to identify and develop business solutions with utility partners to improve customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty.