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December 12, 2007

When Bad Weather Disrupts Your Business Do You Have A Back Up "Client Communications" Plan?

images.jpegIt is the beginning of winter and it has struck the midwest with a fury.  And this unexpected ice storm has wreaked havoc on millions of homes, businesses and home based businesses.  Many home based businesses rely upon their cell phones, internet and cable or DSL for communications to clients.  For the majority, it is the sole basis of communications.

What happens when your power is down for 10 days during an unexpected emergency?  Or you conduct business communications while traveling via your iphone, blackberry, cell phone, internet and you hit an unserviced area for an extended period of time.  Unfortunately, this has happened to my good friend Grant Griffiths.  First, an unexpected death in the family had him travelling to California in the mountains where internet and cell service were challenging at best.  He did not know this.  How could he.  Then he comes back to Kansas City to be hit with a major ice storm which knocked out power, for hundreds of thousands, indefinitely.  For him, intermittently.  The result is the same: client communications are interrupted abruptly.

While the event was unforeseen, a plan for such an event should have been in place.  Fortunately for Grant, he has many friends who communicated to his clients for him spontaneously.  But that leaves the pressing and important issue:  what do you do when you can't communicate via instantaneous technologies and you are dealing with clients not just in your immediate area suffering the same fate as yourself (and who, generally, will be more sympathetic) but across the country or the world?

First, all this should be communicated to the client at the onset of the relationship, regardless where you live.  It could be snow storms, floods, wildfires.  It doesn't matter.  In the event of an emergency orchestrated by mother nature what can the client expect regarding communications?  For instance, in the event of such an emergency, imagine if you have in place a plan whereby the client knows if there is a serious weather condition impacting where you work they can contact another law firm in another part of the country, or a fellow blogger who will post the emergency status for where you work?  (Yes, they can watch the news, but honestly, you can't rely upon that.  Nor is it good planning.)

For instance, I live in the Northeast and we are expecting a significant Nor'easter this weekend.  I will notify my clients ahead of time via e-mail that communications may be interrupted.  I will also advise them to check the blog of (fill in the blank) if e-mails or phone messages are not returned within the agreed to number of hours. Or if for some reason they do not receive the scheduled phone call for a consultation they should contact so and so.  The individual I have this arrangement with will seek to contact me and if I still remain unavailable, they will post (if they are a blogger) or notify my clients as directed.  Kind of like checking the news for school cancellations.

While my clients do not have pressing legal matters, regardless the business, when someone relies upon communications and you primarily rely upon technology in all its incarnations for those communications (as most of us do), when the lights go out your clients have the right to information.

Have you set up an alternate client communications plan for just such an emergency?  Your input would be appreciated.

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Comments

Grant Griffiths

Great post Susan. How to often do we take for granted that our cell phones, wifi and other communication tools will just work. I know next time I travel, I will check to make sure I have available to me what I need to continue to work when and where I need to.

Craig Raphael

Here on the coast of Oregon, high winds are frequent but in December of 2007, we had a hurricane and we were all without power, cell phones, and everything else for 6 whole days!

This sure makes your life hell when you're running an online business. I couldn't even gain access by driving anywhere because the roads were closed due to downed trees on the highways!

Good post and great point!

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