This column is a challenge to write. Usually, I can sit down at my desk, assimilate my thoughts, and in a few hours have something solid to publish. But this time—not so much. You see a derecho came through the area on Friday night plunged our area into darkness. And along with the darkness went the phone lines, Internet access, and $300 worth of food. So, here I sit in McDonalds uploading the column. But this period of “nothingness” got me thinking about the past and how the situation would have been handled just five or ten years ago.
This situation is no good. Food is spoiling, the kids and dog are whining because it is too hot; and to top it off the City put in a water restriction—so no showers for anyone! But in today’s world, it is business as usual. I need to be available to my clients and I sit here shaking my head at the tools we have.
Batteries for laptops (which are a relatively new innovation in the scheme of things) can now last nearly an entire day. The cellular networks will allow for text messages despite not being reliable for data (email, etc.) during the storm. Many public businesses have free Wi-Fi access for computers. So the only excuse in a situation like this is a delayed response.
But you need to have an emergency plan in place. Because you have an issue in your office or home is really no concern of your client. All they know is that you were entrusted with their vacation dollars and are their advisor. When my lights began to flicker and the news reports began talking about the derecho (a term I had never heard before) and the potential damage, I put my plan in place.
- There was a pinned update to our Facebook page advising of the situation and a possible delayed response.
- An email was sent to all traveling clients and those scheduled to travel in the next two weeks suggesting text messaging might be a more effective means of communication—after all these are the priority.
- A message was posted to the website.
- A broadcast email was sent to our clients and prospects.
- The voicemail greeting was changed on the land and cell lines.
- A Tweet was sent.
Elapsed time: about 20 minutes.
In today’s environment, you cannot afford to have your clients think you have abandoned them. They likely will give you one shot and after that you are done. IT is imperative to be proactive and reach out. Our clients knew immediately that there was an issue beyond our control and understood that their concerns were a priority and would be handled—albeit a bit delayed. My office moved from my desk to the high-top table at McDonalds…to the little table in the corner at Panera Bread…to the section of town that was able to receive 3G service in my car. And at the end of the day, I shifted to a friendly bartender who allowed me to plug in my laptop and iPad to recharge for the next 24 hours while I sipped a cool beer.
Of course this is not limited to storms and natural disasters. Web servers crash or go down. How will you notify your clients of the disruption and give them an ETA and keep them apprised of the situation? What is your plan? Do you have suggestions for mine?
Because of this storm, nearly a million people were without power in Maryland and it will take days to restore. I can only hope that I am on the top of the list. But if not, at least I know that my clients will be okay.