Is It Possible To Have A Positive Customer Service Attitude When It Comes To Business Continuity?

Let me open with a brief story I’m sure everyone can relate to.

Not too long ago I was teaching an Incident Command System (ICS) class in a distant city that required a couple of days overnight travel.  One evening, I had a lot of work waiting for me following a busy class day.  In an effort to get as much done as possible I decided to get something quick for dinner and simply eat it in my room while I worked (and everyone thinks traveling is so luxurious!).  I decided to get something from one of the national franchise chains that was a short drive from my hotel.

In addition to an exceptionally long wait after I placed my order, I found the order wasn’t complete upon returning to my hotel room. Now, I’m really not a complainer, but I do feel compelled to speak up when I receive poor service and conversely, I also speak up when I have had great service.  So, I accessed the company’s website and commented on the service difficulties I encountered.  Within ten days (timeliness issue), I received a confirmation from the local restaurant recognizing my comment and mentioning they would send me a certificate to cover the meal I had purchased (appropriate action).  Three weeks later (timeliness again), I received the certificate – which is good only in the distant city that I’ll probably not be back to for some time, if ever again (I guess it was too much to send me a certificate that I could use anywhere that’s convenient for me, the customer).

Beyond simply having a poor customer service experience, this situation got me wondering how, as business continuity planners, our customer service impacts what we deliver.  Too often, business continuity is associated with lengthy and costly BIA’s with results that are questionable, plans that take too much time to develop and are never used, and exercises that take too much time and cost too much money.  By taking a business continuity customer service viewpoint, I think we can change perceptions, deliver valuable results, and strengthen relationships.

Yes, we do have customers.  They work in the business units our plans are written for.  They are the senior managers that fund our programs and to whom we provide feedback.  They are the auditors who review our plans and programs for compliance.  It’s important for us, as business continuity professionals, to recognize who our customers are and make sure we are treating them as if our jobs depend upon them, because they do.

Listen – Often we here “that’s not what I said” or “they didn’t consider what I told them”.  To provide top-notch customer service we have to listen.  Talk less, listen more.

Strive to meet customer expectations.  Your customers don’t know much, if anything, about business continuity planning.  Why should they?  Isn’t that why they have us?  More than likely, participating in a Business Impact Analysis, developing a plan, or conducting an exercise is something your customer has been forced into by someone else.  In the end, they want to get through the process as quickly and cheaply as possible with little to no pain.  But you won’t know for sure unless you ask.  When engaging a customer for the first time, ask up front what their expectations are.  Engage in a discussion to clarify expectations and deliverables.  Only then will you have a good idea as to what the customer wants.

Don’t simply address the immediate need.  By all means solve the immediate need quicker, cheaper, faster than what the customer expects.  But in the process, look for opportunities that aren’t even on the customer’s radar yet.  Maybe it’s a risk issue, a process or training issue, or maybe it’s a recovery issue.  Whatever it is, identify it and have a reasonable solution to present to the customer BEFORE the customer perceives it the problem.  Doing so will cause the price of your stock to go up.

Keep the customer informed – Make sure you are providing regular and timely feedback that is meaningful to the customer.  Remember, address their expectations.

TIP (from FEMA):  Thanks to the keen insights and stellar feedback of the private sector, the FEMA Private Sector Division and FEMA National Exercise Division took innovative steps toward consolidating the whole community approach to emergency management. This year the agency created five distinct options for the private sector to participate in the National Level Exercise 2011. 

The “Option 4 – Self-directed Tabletop” with complete facilitator notes is available now for download at: www.fema.gov/privatesector/exercises.shtm . The exercise is posted online in both Adobe pdf and PowerPoint formats for your convenience with full download instructions for each.  This self-directed table-top exercise is a scaled down version of the full level play, designed to fully simulate the catastrophic nature of a major earthquake in the central U.S region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ).  It includes three mock news videos, and interactive discussion and planning questions, including emergency management planning tools for employees and community members with disabilities and accessibility needs.

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One Response to Is It Possible To Have A Positive Customer Service Attitude When It Comes To Business Continuity?

  1. Hank Straub says:

    Tim – this was a excellent article with recommendations; not just problem identification. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate the take-aways provided.

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