The Iceman Cometh to my Municipal Water Pipes

Justin Seibert | | ,

You know what I like? Running water. Turns out I’m a big fan. Oh sure, I never had a poster of the Department of Water & Power hanging next to Mario Lemieux on my wall, but maybe I would now if my wife let me decorate anything in our house. She told me I could have one room, but I hardly thing a converted garage without heat or access from inside the house counts. At least my Al Bundy Polk High cut-out can hang out there.

During the most recent big freeze, a pipe burst in my water district, cutting off water flow for over 24 hours. Not knowing what caused the problem originally, I went over to a neighbor’s house to see if she had water. She said no, so I went back home and called the Ohio County Water Overlords or whatever they’re officially called.

And I called. And called again. And called again. And called again. I don’t know how people dealt with utilities or cable companies before the advent of one-touch redialing.

Eventually I got through to someone. An interminable wait was to be expected – it happened Saturday afternoon and affected thousands. Lots of people were calling and all at the same time. Certainly they couldn’t have handled those calls, or could they have?

[Note #1: Follow me along on the logic here as it applies to a normal business. They’re a utility and don’t care about losing clients, but similar crises could happen to your company. Note #2: I’m not suggesting the OCWO follow my suggestions – they put their resources to resolving the problem and I’m not interested in paying more taxes to have someone take my call sooner or better inform me.]

3 Steps Your Business can Take to Better Handle Crises:

1. Have a Web site.

Have it designed with a content management system that allows anyone with basic computer skills to edit and upload changes. Password protect the content management system to ward off fraud and hackers. Then, as long as you have someone in the office (or someone drives in at the time of crisis), you can put something up on the home page alerting everyone about said crisis. Or if you don’t want to draw that much attention to your problems, keep a separate page that people can visit to learn more.

2.Have a phone system that allows you to put a recorded message on it.

Everyone that calls the customer service line gets the following message: “We’re currently experiencing some specific mysterious difficulties. To learn all current details please continue to hold. If you are calling for another reason, please press 3 to go to our main menu. Be aware that hold times are extremely long to speak with a representative and none of our representatives have any more information than what we are now going to tell you on this message.”

3. Have adequate phone staff or contract out to an answering service.

Good answering services cost more but are often well worth it. Their reps answer the phones quickly and will read whatever interactive scripts you provide. Be sure to test out your service or in-house staff yourself periodically to hear the quality of the reps and see how long your clients are waiting. You can bet potential clients won’t stick around past a couple rings.

The above tips are incredibly helpful in preparing for a crisis, but ought to be considered for other reasons as well. Consider:

– Do you want to change information on your Web site (your most controlled, often most public presence) regularly and quickly and with people that don’t necessarily know html, php, CSS, and other types of programming and coding?
– Call volume spikes can happen for other reasons, too, like successful advertising campaigns. You did something right to get people to call; don’t waste that money and effort because you couldn’t handle incoming calls quickly enough.
– Many answering services are adept at not only taking down messages, but also at selling and up-selling.

Sorry it’s been so long between posts. I’ve been swamped with urgent and important issues recently, but just hired someone new that I think will help free up some time for blogging and general rabble rousing.

Justin Seibert

About The Author

Justin Seibert is the President of Direct Online Marketing. Justin holds a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. He contributes a wide range of online business-oriented topics, including the subject of exporting. His contributions can be found on publications such as the Pittsburgh Business Times, Advertising Age, SES Magazine, and La Voz del interior. Justin and his family enjoy learning about new cultures during their travels.

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