Is Your Drain Cleaning Business Prepared for a Crisis?

WWETT Show presenter will discuss how pre-planning is the best way to minimize damage.
Is Your Drain Cleaning Business Prepared for a Crisis?
"I’ve found that pre-planning often helps avert mistakes from happening in the first place," says Heather Ripley, owner and founder of Ripley PR and a featured guest speaker at WWETT 2016.

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Heather Ripley, owner and founder of Ripley PR, a national agency that specializes in trades, has helped numerous service businesses through varying crisis situations. She has capitalized on her experience working with one of the largest home service companies in the country: Clockwork Home Services, franchisor of One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and Mister Sparky.

As a guest presenter at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show in February, Ripley will discuss the various types of crises a service business can face and how owners and management can better prepare themselves for a graceful recovery.

Whether it’s a damaging review, poor employee behavior, or an uncontrollable disaster, a crisis can only be straightened out if management is properly prepared. Ripley believes pre-planning is the key to minimizing damage to your business, its financial stability, its reputation and its standing in your community. Her session Is Your Business Prepared for a Crisis? runs from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, in rooms 140-142.

Q: How did the idea for the presentation come about?
A: During the past 10 years I have worked with hundreds of independent plumbing and home service contractors, and in the last three years my public relations agency has managed crisis communications and reputation repair for dozens of service businesses. One of the problems service businesses must deal with today that is different from just a few years ago is the proliferation of social media and home services review sites. They offer a platform for unhappy clients and an industry image that has been tarnished by a few unscrupulous home service repair businesses.

My agency specializes in the home service industry and has been retained to assist not only with crisis management after the fact, but we have developed a suite of crisis-planning tools and processes to prevent a small incident from being blown out of proportion into a full-fledged crisis. My goal in creating this presentation is to help home service businesses plan for a crisis in advance so they can conduct business as usual, and keep their reputations intact, even when faced with a crisis.

Reputation management and crisis planning are a must for any home service business. I hope this presentation will offer tips, helpful information and useful strategies attendees can use right away.

Q: What are some of the crisis situations you’ve seen a company experience? How were they overcome?
A: In one case a service business technician was involved in a heinous criminal act in his personal life. While this did not occur on a service call or involve a client, it did reflect poorly on the employer, a well-known service business with a very positive reputation in the community. We advised the business to maintain its image as a trusted service provider by immediately and publicly restating that while the existing policies, hiring practices and screenings were all done according to the law, and the more stringent business practices followed by this firm, it was deeply distressed by the recent event and offered condolences to the victims.

Q: How important is pre-planning for possible crisis situations? And does it depend on the type of crisis that may occur?
A: I’ve found that pre-planning often helps avert mistakes from happening in the first place. When businesses are made aware of the potential dangers that exist in their business or industry, they can prepare well in advance, making them able to be proactive rather than reactive. We’ve brought up potential situations that could happen with service clients and they’ll often tell us they never would have thought of that dilemma. We help them create a policy and train employees to prevent potential crises from happening.

Some crisis situations are not preventable or even on the radar (like potential criminal employee activity). But by having a plan in place that covers most known problems, businesses can focus on repair activities rather than getting caught off guard without any plan or steps to follow. Of course every crisis is different, but a solid plan can be adapted to most situations.

Q: What are the first steps a company can do to help overcome a crisis?
A: The first step is not to be caught without a plan. The next step is to have a statement ready to go that can be tweaked to cover most potential crisis situations. But the absolute most important reaction to a crisis is to be honest and own up to your mistake. Never try to hide a mistake because it will backfire. I have learned that when companies admit they made a mistake, people are usually pretty understanding — as long as the business doesn’t try to avert responsibility. Keep the communication avenues open and respond to questions. Always convey publicly what you and your business are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Q: What resources are available to companies that need help putting together a plan? 
A: There are online resources if businesses want to try creating a plan or policy on their own, but having seen what can happen to those who are unprepared, I cannot recommend that. I don’t recommend trying to clean up a massive crisis on your own. A business can actually make a situation worse without even realizing it until after the fact. And by then recovery is even harder to accomplish — even for an expert. Hire a professional to do this as soon as you hear about the potential crisis. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to clean up.

Q: What do you hope WWETT attendees will take away from your presentation?
A: I hope they’ll find at least one action item that they can put in place when they return from the event. Even if it is just to designate a specific person to be “in charge” during a crisis — you would be surprised how important that one step is when a crisis is in full swing. Too many cooks in the kitchen always make a bad situation worse, so if that one step is instituted, it will be a great first step. But whether you create your own crisis plan or hire an expert, you can’t wait until something bad happens to try to create a plan. You must respond quickly and seamlessly — that takes advanced preparation.


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