How you deliver when things are tough sets the tone for your future.
By MARK RIFFEY for the Flathead Beacon
No one in the Pacific Northwest has to be reminded that this is the worst fire season since 2003.
Depending on what you do a bad fire season could be a boon, a bust or a non-issue to your business. Over the last couple of weeks, we had communications and marketing oriented conversations focused on the folks whose businesses are placed at risk by a bad fire season.
There’s a different kind of business impacted by fires, natural disasters and similar events: those who provide things like tanker trucks, field rations and related convenience items, construction supplies (lumber, drywall, tools etc) and so on.
If a scene like this summer means that you will be extra busy for the next year or so, perhaps more, good for you – particularly if you are a trusted member of your community (business and otherwise).
However obvious this may seem, it needs to be said …
A reputation setting recovery
The way you and your staff serve your clients from now until the recovery is over – regardless of what’s being recovered from – will set the tone for your business’ future.
Some will eventually give you a second chance, but for most, this is the one chance your business will get to show its colors. It will seal the reputation of the business, its owner(s), managers and staff.
Captain Obvious, you say? Perhaps, yet we continue to see examples where businesses have behaved so badly that governments feel obligated to put “no gouging” laws into place.
The thing is, pricing is the least of your problems. People understand that pricing gets a little crazy when resources are constrained. Supplies are often harder to get, and they’re often competing for scarce transportation facilities including berth time at port, dock time at warehouses, much less truck drivers or semi-trailers to haul those supplies. Qualified people are in demand, which tends to create overtime hours.
Do your clients want to wait or pay overtime-related costs? Ask them.
Communicating the challenge
When these situations occur and drive up your costs, communicate the situation as frequently, quickly and clearly as possible. Communicate what you’ve done to try and work around the situation. Ask your clients for ideas and connections in their network that could help you serve them a bit better.
You never know when a client might have access to resources or connections that could solve a problem that’s simply “killing” you – and those things may be out of reach without a little insider help. Even worse, if these clients know what’s blocking your progress and they know their resources / connections could help but you keep telling them you have things under control – how could that damage your relationship / reputation?
It’s OK to ask for help.
Resource problems aside, be sure that any abnormal delivery timeframes, costs, staffing challenges or other potentially damaging issues are communicated well. Transparency works. Small businesses use it as a competitive advantage vs. larger, better funded competitors during good times, why not use it during challenging, resource-constrained times for the same reason?
“Call volumes are unexpectedly high, but your call is important to us…” – something you’d never say to a client before putting them on hold. Yet you only get this greeting when reputation damage is most likely to happen.
We don’t remember that the cable internet met its 99.9 percent uptime goal last year, but we remember each of the 43.8 minutes of downtime per month that this uptime goal allows for – and that the downtimes happened at inopportune times.
We remember when we consistently get a transparent answer or explanation.
The mindset that risks it all
The “they have no choice, I will get (and keep) the business no matter how I act” mindset can infect everything from sales and service to receivables and delivery. Once observed in one part of the business, it’s a matter of time until it crawls elsewhere.
I won’t belabor this, because the kind of business owner or manager who would let this behavior happen wouldn’t likely read this column. Check out the short 30 seconds it takes Vince Lombardi to describe the obligation that team members have to do their best on every play of every game.