Crisis averted

Let’s start with the obvious. No business ever wants a crisis.

Whether it’s an operational or financial snafu, a natural disaster or a serious injury, a crisis is always bad news. But unwanted as they are, no business is immune to crises.

The best you can do is work hard to avoid them. And in those unfortunate situations when they strike, do everything you possibly can to manage them safely and effectively.

Far as I can tell, the best way to do that is by learning from your mistakes.

Not every mistake you encounter in your business leads to a crisis. As a matter of fact, most probably don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about crisis management from a minor mistake.

Everything you do in your business provides an opportunity to learn.

A prime example is when you complete a repair order and the customer is back in your shop two days later because the truck failed again. Whatever you did to fix it didn’t work. Or even worse, in the process of fixing it you broke something else.

This isn’t a crisis.

Well, I guess it might be for your customer, but I wouldn’t consider it one for you. One truck needing additional repair shouldn’t cripple your business like an investment mistake, or a natural disaster. The Big Bad Wolf didn’t blow your facility down.

But it’s still a situation where you need to do your customer right, and it’s a great opportunity to learn.

One unfortunate but common byproduct of a crisis is how it can inconvenience your customers. It’s in situations like the one above — when you’ve inconvenienced one customer and need to make it right — where you can find methods for diffusing customer anger that work for you.

You should take what you learn in these situations — the areas where you excel and need improvement — and integrate them into your crisis management plans.

If your greatest strength in appeasing one irate customer is the immediacy of your response, you should immediately respond to customers in all crises. Get out in front of bad news. Let people know what happened, what it means to them, and how you’re going to fix it.

If a customer trusts your business, and trusted you when you talked to them after that faulty repair order, they are likely to trust you again in a crisis.

You can learn from close calls and neighboring tragedies as well.

You know what I’m talking about here: those situations when a crisis was averted not by preparation and training but pure luck.

Like when your forklift operator nearly toppled a warehouse shelf while rushing to load a truck. Or like when that service tech dropped a welding torch near a pool of diesel fuel on the shop floor. Or when your competitor two blocks over was leveled by a tornado and your building didn’t get a scratch.

Close calls like this can give you the chance to sit down and ask the ‘What if’ question. What if that diesel fuel would have ignited? What if the tornado moved up Fifth Street instead of Seventh?

These are the situations where you really build your crisis management plan, because these situations allow you the one thing any good planning session needs: time.

If a tornado knocks your building over, you don’t have a week to come up with your next course of action. You can’t sit on your hands thinking if an employee’s in the hospital with burns and your building is charred.

You have to act.

By doing so now, before a crisis, you will be ready when that unfortunate but inevitable situation occurs.

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