Is Your Business Disaster-Proof?

By George Mwangi

With the rise of extreme weather in recent years, have you given thought how your business would survive a major disaster? Many companies put off developing a contingency plan until the last minute and unfortunately pay the price. Taking the time to set up systems to ensure that your company is able to function in the face of unforeseen circumstance is a critical part of business planning.

So what exactly is disaster planning? Well, there are a number of components. We’ll look at some of the most common.

Succession Planning/Chain of Command: Although you never want to think about getting ill or passing away suddenly, this is an important issue to consider when it comes to your business. You should have a documented and clear succession plan, naming individuals who would step up in the event you become temporarily or permanently unable to run your company.

Succession planning is not just about designating a new chairman or CEO; it also ensures that your brand image and the experience your customers have grown to expect will continue uninterrupted. Therefore, take some time to think about who you would want to run the company in your absence and distribute a copy of your succession plan to your senior management team.

Customer Service/Call Routing: Another key area to think about is customer service. In the event of a storm or power outage, will your customers be greeted by a busy line and endless hold times? This is seriously damaging to the customer experience and your company as a whole. However, there are options to avoid this scenario.

Many companies outsource their entire customer service operations to dedicated companies. These outsourced or “virtual” customer service centers have a number of benefits built in. In addition to allowing the business to maintain an efficient, low-maintenance customer service option, they have built-in functionality in case of emergencies.

The best companies have more than one office, preferably located in different states. This allows the different locations to cover for each other and does not limit your ability to service your customers due to regional weather issues.

Another option is to use a customer service firm in the event of an emergency only. With a virtual call center, you can set up a plan to route calls from your office to their lines in the case of an emergency. This can usually be done by calling into a specified number and entering a specific code, which will then divert the calls. Using a company outside of your geographical location provides assurance that your calls will still be answered if your location is hit with heavy storms or a natural disaster.

Cash Flow: Last but not least is ensuring continued cash flow through your business in the event of an emergency. In some circumstances, this means having an ample reserve set aside to cover customer defaults, business expansion, and miscellaneous unforeseen expenses. It is always important not to run on too tight of a margin, as this allows you to be flexible in meeting the needs of your company.

In addition, it is important to have emergency and long-term contingency plans in place. If a warehouse is destroyed or you experience a bad sales year, would you have ample funds to recover or see you through the dry spell? Planning for unforeseen financial situations, as well as natural disasters and management shakeups, is a smart move and one that may make all the difference in the your company’s ability to weather the storm.

As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.”

George Mwangi is general manager at Call Desk Inc, a privately owned customer service organization based outside Portland, Oregon.

[From Connection Magazine April 2011]

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