West Corporation

Posted on January 8, 2018 by West Corporation 



Incident Response Plan: 4 Steps to Take When Bad Things Happen

By Chandler Harrison, Account Development Executive

Despite your best intentions, things don’t always go according to plan. Those moments threaten the brand image you’ve worked hard to create, making a good incident response plan crucial.

But an incident response plan helps in more than emergencies, like power outages and natural disasters. All kinds of unexpected events cause stress for your customers. So whether it’s a crashed website or a rumor on social media, you need to think quickly about how the issue will affect people and how you can proactively respond.

Unfortunately, moments like these also create the most stress, making it hard to quickly create a helpful response. But if you’ve found yourself in the midst of a problem, follow these four steps to contact the right people and send the most relevant content.

1. Know your audience

Content will vary by channel and audience, as well as the type of situation you find yourself in. Therefore, an incident response plan must be fluid while preparing for a few common customer groups.

Whether you’re responding to an emergency, outage or an unplanned event, there are generally three types of customers you need to reach out to:


These people are not directly impacted by the situation, but they are aware of the incident and will call your contact center to find out what’s going on. Proactively sharing information with curious customers builds trust and lets contact center agents focus on more important matters. These customers may care about:

  • A power outage in a nearby neighborhood
  • How their bank responds to a data breach
  • Grand opening sales at an under-construction shopping center
  • Comments from friends about poor service


These people are usually customers who don’t know something has gone wrong, but the incident could cause them direct harm, discomfort or personal stress. Low awareness is no reason to keep them in the dark. Sharing information about harmful or embarrassing situations helps build brand loyalty. Events affecting unaware customers include:

  • An approaching storm
  • Flight delays
  • Digital security breaches
  • Changes to your business’ operating hours


Worried customers are highly aware of the situation and are experiencing high impact. Because these customers are very likely to contact you, a quick proactive response is crucial. Customers may become worried during:

  • Active power outages
  • A website crash
  • Interruptions in service (e.g. T.V., internet, cell phone, etc.)
  • Natural disasters

2. Set your priorities

In some situations, your contact center may be receiving calls from all three types of customers. When that happens, allocate your resources to high-impact-high-awareness calls first based on the Proactive Communication Priority Curve.

Proactive Communication Priority Curve for your Incident Response Plan

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what situations you believe require a response. It matters what your customers believe, and if you don’t keep them informed, they will be flooding your contact center. So step into your customers’ shoes and consider how you can make the situation more bearable.

And remember to proactively ask customers to opt-in to notifications, so when issues do arise, you’ll be armed with consent and contact information.

3. Choose the right channel

Proactively communicating with customers through their preferred channels is a proven way to decrease inbound calls while freeing resources to focus on other high-priority operations. But not all channels are made equal. Each has unique benefits and are appropriate in different situations. Consider how to use each of these channels in your incident response plan.

Outbound Voice Messages

An outbound voice message gives you plenty of room to share important information. There are no character limits like in SMS text messaging. But this is an audio-only channel, meaning your customers have to remember everything they heard. If you’re passing along numbers, dates or addresses, an email or text message may be more appropriate. And make sure to follow all compliance regulations before calling.


Email messaging also has no character limits, and you can add graphics or maps to help customers understand the message. But with any email, you take the risk of your message getting lost in no-man’s-land: the spam folder. Avoid spam words like “free” and “now” to increase your message’s chances of making it to the inbox. There are a few regulations to know about email, too, so review those policies to remain compliant.

Text Messages

Text messaging is an important piece of every incident response plan. This low-cost option lets you personalize information and allow customers to continue the conversation. But you’re only allowed 160 characters per message, so make every character count. Consider sending a link to your website where they can find more information. Like voice and email messages, make sure to follow compliance regulations before sending.

Social Media

This channel isn’t a necessity in your incident response plan, but it can help you share frequent updates with a massive audience. Post useful information, but don’t consider it a replacement for personalized texts or phone calls.

4. Send the right message

When Bad Things Happen Get Proactive_Incident Response PlanFrom utilities to travel, proactive communication is important in all industries, but the way each company responds to unexpected situations may vary. Therefore, the right message begins with on-boarding. If your employees are well trained and have the right attitude, you can count on them to step up the plate.

Also, make sure they have enough data to respond effectively. Do you know your customer? Do you have the most current demographic data and contact information? Looking at the entire journey, this is where some fall short.

Collect contact information and encourage your customers to opt-in to receive messaging. Then check out our eBook, When Bad Things Happen: Get Proactive, to see how businesses in multiple industries could respond to six different scenarios to maintain or improve the customer experience, ease minds and significantly reduce inbound calls during each event.

For the best response, prepare for the worst

When it comes to creating exceptional experiences, getting proactive is the best way to “wow” your customers. By incorporating multiple channels — including voice, SMS, email and others — into your incident response plan, you can turn unexpected events into major wins.

For more advice on communicating when things don’t go according to plan, check out our blog post, How to Communicate During Emergencies. Or for personalized advice on proactive notifications, call or text West Interactive Services at 800.841.9000.

When disaster strikes, it pays to have a plan in place. Continue to update your incident response plan to provide the maximum benefit to all your customers — no matter what happens.

Chandler HarrisonChandler 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.

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