As one fifth of the country is preparing to feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy, many of your business customers are scrambling to operationally “batten down the hatches” at their organizations. It is an intense time when people are struggling to get out of the office and off the roads, as well as minimize the impact that the hurricane has on their businesses when the storm passed.

How to Use Your Private Online Communityto Help Customers During Hurricane Sandy

The importance of a centralized private social network for customers only grows when the offline world is in chaos. Having provided online community software for over 10 years, Socious has compiled the following tips to help your organization be there for your customers, even when your company is disrupted by the storm too.

Though these tips were compiled during Hurricane Sandy, they apply to helping customers during to all bad weather.

Serious weather events help put things in perspective. It is also important to note that these tips assume that your customers, employees, and partners are safe. It also assumes that they have an internet connection and a SaaS hosted online community software platform (You can’t help your customers if your server room is flooded).

Be Extra Human

Hurricanes and other serious storms temporarily introduce a new purpose for your online customer community. It is an opportunity to use the reach, social features, and relationships that your community fosters to help your customers get through a highly stressful time.

Go above and beyond your usual engagement tactics and customer support to provide relevant information about hurricane preparedness for your market. Customers don’t need you to provide the latest forecast, but they will greatly appreciate product and industry-related tips and discussions to make running their business in an emergency as easy on them as possible.

Alert Customers

Let your customers know that your organization is stepping up and has a plan for helping them with this small piece of getting through the storm.  Use the built-in email tools to notify customers that are both in the hurricane’s path and those that are going about their normal workdays. Let them know about the role your community is going to be playing in providing support during the storm. This serves two purposes:

  1. It drives customers affected by the storm to the community to get what they need.
  2. It lets non-affected customers know that this is where the action will be so they can assist other customers.

Also, direct customers to your private customer community in your “inclement weather” message on your customer support line’s IVR recording.

Focus the Community and Discussion

Potentially catastrophic weather is not a common occurrence. People go their whole careers without having to deal with a storm that shuts down their office. Since this is not something that people do often, the way that your customers use your products or services are different during a disaster than it is on a normal business day.

To help your customers with things that they may be unfamiliar with, highlight the resources available to them by setting up designated group in your private community to help customers during the inclement weather. This makes it both easy for people to find support and easy for people to come together to help out.

Rally the Troops

Many organizations have scaled back their customer support operations until the storm passes, only handling mission-critical support issues, like a customer’s system being down.

In preparation for a hurricane or other major weather event, designate reliable remote employees, customer leaders, and partners to standby in your online community. They can be your frontline to answer customer questions, direct them to helpful content, and quarterback connections with other experts who hold the answers to urgent customer needs.

Give Customers Space

It should go without saying that customers have multiple competing priorities during an emergency. Personal safety and supporting their family’s emergency preparedness plan are top among their priorities and should be at the top of your organization’s mind too.

While work-related activities are not as important as basic safety needs, you can shape your response around helping your customer take some of the stress out of the disruption to their workweek. However, let customers engage on their own level. Keep in mind that engaging in your online community may not a high priority at the moment.

Go Mobile

Encourage customers to take the discussions with them. Your customer community mobile app enables customers, employees, and partners to assist one another from anywhere. Even when Wi-Fi is down, the mobile community is accessible (assuming that cell towers are still available).

Highlight the mobile discussions and other functionality in your email and recorded messages. Also, emphasize the mobile platform in the online community so that community members can stay connected when they have to step away from their laptops or lose power. Customers can use the community mobile app to ask product questions, as well as basic street opening-type questions and neighborhood updates.

Private Online Community Takeaway

Incorporate the flexibility and reach of your private customer community into you disaster preparedness plans. Both your company and your customers’ organizations take extreme weather very seriously. You can use the private online community, where your customers are already engaged, to help them get through the storm with minor changes on your end – beginning with the tips above.