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The Way You Manage Disaster
by Siddharth Sehgal


According to Encyclopedia Britannica, an emergency is an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action, urgent assistance or relief.

You might have seen businesses around you doing a disastrous job in disaster management. Few days ago the southern part of United States was hit by a snow-storm. The weather was so severe that south was virtually disconnected from the rest of the country. Flights were suspended, Airports had to shut down, roads were covered with snow, communication lines and basic utilities were severely affected due to the blizzard.

I was among the passengers, whose itinerary was disrupted as a result of the storm and were stuck at the Chicago’s O’Hare international airport. It was a state of emergency and called for an immediate assistance to the marooned passengers but the airlines failed drastically in handling this situation.

Being the customer, I realized how frustrating and exhausting it was to look around for help and the worst part of this experience was ­the airline’s inability to support its passengers. Every time someone went up to the desk asking about the possible next flight, schedule, alternative options or anything related to solving the problem. Their answer was either no or we don’t know or we can’t say anything right now. It was haphazard, uncoordinated and exasperating. In urgent situations people desperately look for solutions and it becomes difficult to face the situation if they don’t have them.

It won’t be wise to assume that sea will remain calm all the time. From environment to economy everything is susceptible to storms and tornados but it’s up to the organizations how well they save themselves and their customers. I have read cases where companies went to unprecedented lengths to aid their customers in extreme conditions. Walmart was lauded for its efforts to help people afflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Let’s take the example of the fiercely competed IT sector, companies try hard to resolve the customer issues right in the first call itself. Having seen this process myself, I found out that customer complaints and issues are always on the top of priority list. They put everything aside until the problem is fixed. They had to be extremely service oriented in order to survive. We are living in an age where we have number of options at our disposal when it comes to choosing a product or service. Companies are investing both time and money to be more and more consumer centric.

One important step that can be taken by companies to become more responsive towards abnormal situations is by training and empowering its frontline employees to take necessary decisions to help customers. Several European airlines have developed means and programs to support their passengers in severe operating conditions especially, in winters. These measures not only increase the trust of consumers in the company but also it’s more profitable for them in the long run.

Testing circumstances separate the extraordinary from the ordinary. In my opinion, any organization can outlive a turbulent situation, whether it’s a calamity or a recession, if it’s ready to plan and go ahead an extra mile for its people.


The Author

Siddharth Sehgal

Siddharth Sehgal is a graduate student in the engineering management program of University of Alabama at Birmingham. Besides being a management student, he is a columnist in the newspaper kaleidoscope, director of community relations in the Intercultural committee of UAB and founder of a student club that promotes the Hindi language and Indian culture in the UAB campus.

Many more articles in Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2011 by Siddharth Sehgal. All rights reserved.

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