How to prepare for the unexpected in business

by Matt Carracher
20 February 2018
How to prepare for the unexpected in business
How does a business prepare for something that, by definition, is a complete surprise? The answer lies in best-practice risk management.

Business is not always smooth sailing as it is simply not possible to plan for every outcome. You may be able to predict season peaks in traffic and schedule new product launches, but what do you do when those unexpected things happen like a product recall, reputational threats, changes in regulations, overwhelming demand, or unexpected media attention?

Interestingly, history has shown that customers are quite understanding and typically forgiving when a brand suffers an unexpected setback. People realise that businesses are run by humans and that humans are not always in absolute control of every potential outcome. 

What customers will not forgive, however, is a poor response to such an event. That is where preparation, including a fully-briefed call centre team that is primed and ready to be brought into action at short notice, makes the world of difference.

So how does a business’s management team prepare for something that, by definition, is a complete surprise? The answer lies in best-practice risk management.

Prepare for overwhelming success

The idea of overwhelming success typically brings a smile to the face of a business manager, until they realise that ‘overwhelming’ can actually involve taking a turn for the worse. 

For instance, imagine a charity event (which we have also handled) where people are asked to ring in and donate. If those people have to wait on hold for too long, they will hang up and feel annoyed that a proper system was not put in place by the charity. It will damage the charity’s brand. But bring on board a suitable team filled with particular personality types and you can make that experience a seamless one for the caller who, as a result, becomes a new fan of the charity brand.

Here are some questions to ask when preparing contact centres for a campaign launch:

  • How can you ensure the call centre staff will have the knowledge and personality to match our product/brand?
  • Will the contact methods (phone, web chat, email) match the ones that our customers expect?
  • How can we ensure that our managers take away valuable learnings from the conversations your call centre staff have with our customers, and the data collected as a result?

Handling a product problem

A product recall is a good example of a sudden and unexpected need for mass communication to the broad consumer market. There has been a lot of news over the last few years around such issues as exploding smartphones and dangerous car airbags, both of which are perfect examples of such an organisational dilemma.

When such an issue arises, we’re sometimes approached to manage a rapid deployment of a workforce to handle telephone, email, online and SMS communications with concerned customers.

When you’re making a contact plan for an unexpected scenario, here are a few questions to consider:

  • What is the long-term value of a loyal customer?

  • If we don’t have a call centre ready to respond, what is the potential value of the damage that could be caused to the business if we don’t prepare for the worst?

  • What might an external contact team be able to teach us about our business and our customers that could be of value in the future?

Control the response

The event may be unexpected, but you can control the response. By responding quickly and making the experience as positive as it can be for the customer, it is possible to win new brand ambassadors from what was otherwise a terrible incident for the brand. As mentioned, a lot of organisations make mistakes and people don't mind that so much if the business works hard to rectify the issue. But a poor response just makes a bad situation worse.

Consider the recent situation in Hawaii whereby a nuclear warning was mistakenly issued by SMS to the population and broadcast on the nation’s TV channels. 

It took the state 38 minutes before a correction was issued – a lifetime when you think you are under nuclear attack. People thought the bombs were mere minutes away and were left looking for shelter and praying for their lives. The resulting anger when it was revealed that the alarm was false, was unsurprising.

Adding fuel to the fire of public outrage, it has since emerged that the Governor was unable to rectify the situation sooner as he had forgotten his Twitter password. 

While this is an extreme example, it highlights the importance of having tried and tested procedures in place for when crisis hits. Even the most outlandish scenarios can happen, as this situation proves, so spending the time to plot out how to deal with them is never a wasted exercise.

Unexpected business events, after all, can be made more manageable through preparation and planning, particularly through the scaling up of external contact operations to cover the ‘just in case’ scenario. Do it well and a negative brand experience can become one that boosts loyalty and wins new brand ambassadors.

Find out more about how we can help you serve your customers here or call us on 1300 725 628.

About the author
Matt Carracher
General Manager - Marketing Solutions