You can’t control everything in business, but you can prepare customers and control how you respond.
When the weather starts causing trouble, the problems may not be your fault, but your customers will be looking to you for answers. And proactive communication will go a long way.
From utilities to pharmacies to satellite TV providers, any business may be affected by a major storm. When the news first breaks, proactive communication is your first priority. Waiting until after the blizzard arrives or hurricane makes landfall is too late.
Helping to prepare customers improves safety, fosters good will and limits the damage you’ll have to repair down the line. Here are four best practices to implement before and after the storm hits:
1. Be proactive and clear.
Don’t avoid your customers because you don’t know all the facts, yet. Tell your customers what you know and provide updated information as it develops.
Send clear messages explaining what you are doing about the situation, and reassure them that their safety and services are a top priority.
2. Prepare customers with frequent updates across channels.
The news never reports that XYZ Company annoyed customers with timely and relevant communications.
Negative press stems from a lack of urgent, accurate information delivered to customers in easily digestible ways. A public service message in the newspaper or on TV is not enough.
When a storm is looming, a multi-channel approach is to the only way to completely meet the needs of customers with wide-ranging functional and emotional needs. Reach out to them with outbound voice messages, text messages, email and social media.
And don’t feel like you have to wait for big news to send an update. In stressful situations, people usually prefer too much news to not enough.
3. Identify what your customers really need.
Retailers must respond differently than utility providers. Figure out the special circumstances your customers need addressed and the different type of messages they will need to prepare before the storm, updates during and restoration efforts afterwards.
- “Due to severe weather forecasted for our area, XYZ Company will be closing at 3 p.m. today.”
- “We are experiencing outages throughout our service area due to severe weather. The expected restoration time for your area is 7:15 p.m.”
- “Anyone in need of assistance may go to City Hall for food, shelter and water. Please call 555-5555 if you need your prescription delivered, or call the Storm Crisis Hotline for other assistance.”
One retail pharmacy took it a step further. After flooding caused massive damage in West Virginia, West helped announce the opening of a mobile pharmacy to give their customers access to the medications they needed.
Within an hour, we helped spread the word to all the pharmacy’s patients who picked up a prescription in the past 90 days. The pharmacy’s above-and-beyond approach created exceptional customer experiences during a time of intense stress and provided a life-saving service to the town.
4. Be timely and caring
Your CX approach can’t just be functional. You need to serve your customers’ emotional needs, too. Providing pre-storm messages helps manage expectations and gives you adequate time to prepare, but it also makes customers feel genuinely cared for.
Keep the conversation going after the storm. Share realistic estimated times of restoration to allow customers to effectively manage time and determine best courses of action.
Provide humanized communication and highlight the hard work going into restoration. Take the time to fine-tune your messaging. It can make a considerable difference in customers’ perceptions of your brand.
When the sky clears…
Honestly, if you don’t have a communications environment set up before the meteorologist announces a storm, it may be too late to prepare customers properly.
As weather patterns change, the National Climate Assessment team predicts stronger hurricanes, winter storms, tornadoes, hail, damaging thunderstorm winds and flooding.
Unsurprisingly, this trend is causing considerable financial losses for communities at large. But having a strategic communications partner can lessen the impact.
One East Coast utility company partnered with West and saved $181,000 in one month by using proactive outreach to decrease inbound IVR calls. This led to 80 percent fewer inbound calls and an $84,000 return on investment.
Wayne LeValley from Duke Energy praised this kind of partnership after Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern United States in 2016.
“I’ve worked in some form of customer service for over 35 years, and I appreciate ‘excellent’ customer service. It was very comforting to have West there during Matthew to guide and direct me as a novice,” LeValley said. “I also appreciated West’s help walking me through the application so I could initiate a campaign myself. I was told West would take care of me and they absolutely did.”
With community and employee livelihoods on the line, companies must avoid trying to implement sophisticated communication strategies at the last minute. That only adds to customers’ stress and creates negative experiences in a time of crisis.
A solid technological infrastructure supported by strategy and ongoing consultation from an experienced communications partner is key to letting you prepare customers to weather any storm.
Check out our “storm kit” to see examples of best practices utility companies are using when disaster strikes. And give us a call at 800.841.9000 or contact us online for more information on how to keep your customers safe and informed before the next storm.