One of the distinguishing features of 2013 was the number and range of crises that took place in many parts of the world. We witnessed the terrible collapse of a building in India that was filled with garment workers, the typhoon in the Philippines, car bombings in the Middle East, the flood in Calgary, tornadoes in the United States and Mexico, the rail car disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec and many others too numerous to mention. Even here in Toronto we had a flood in July and the ice storm just before Christmas, both of which took direct aim at our home.
The two Toronto natural disasters provided me with ample opportunity to observe, first hand, the crisis management responses of some of Canada’s largest companies. In fairness to these companies, there were hundreds of thousands of homes that were affected by these storms. It takes time to restore essential services to that many homes and offices within a reasonable time frame. Heat and power were restored within 3 days after the onset of the ice storm; telephone, cable TV and internet service took more than a week.
One of the most important elements of any company’s disaster recovery plan is the way it communicates with its customers. While recorded announcements are helpful, it is important to be able to access a live person. With one of our major service providers, this never happened. Their phone rang but it was never answered. When I passed one of their service personnel in the street, he supplied with a Twitter hashtag where I could keep abreast of developments. My question to him was, what do you do when you have no electricity, no telephone service and no internet service?
Another large provider did answer their phones but their people were trained to not provide direct answers. They simply stated that they would be repairing our service the next day. For three consecutive days they provided the same answer but did not follow through. This was very annoying. A third large supplier did answer their telephones and did come by at their designated time. However their exterior technicians would not fix an internal problem and passed it off to an internal technician. This resulted in an even longer delay.
When I think back to the ice storm in Montreal about a decade ago, I recall that our freight brokerage business was able to support our Montreal based clients by using our Toronto customer service department as a back-up. In a crisis, whether natural or man-made, there are a range of problems that a freight company or shipper can face. In addition to essential services, trucks and rail cars can be destroyed, cargo and buildings can be damaged and people can be injured or killed.
Does your company have an effective back-up plan? Has it ever been put to the test? What is your plan to keep your customers up to date on your activities and what would you do to pick and deliver their products? Does your company have a generator to supply electricity? Can it transfer phone lines to other offices? Can people and freight be quickly relocated to other facilities to maintain the integrity of your business? Global warming and conflicts in many parts of the world are creating a much more unstable planet. While many New Year’s resolutions are dropped about as quickly as they are made, perhaps an effective Crisis Management Plan should go to the top of the list and be implemented as soon as possible.
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