• January 2, 2004
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

CRM and Crisis Management

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The citizens of Southern California faced one of the state's biggest natural disasters last fall when threatened by the widest reaching wildfires in the state's history. Yet, thanks to hard working volunteers and professionals, as well as the use of some innovative CRM technology (although virtually untested in such a large natural disaster), disaster relief efforts at the American Red Cross were made considerably easier and far more effective than previous relief initiatives. Nearly 6,000 people were forced out of their homes and roughly 3,000 were left homeless. The emotional impact of such devastation often compels people watching TV news coverage of the event to take action. "There was such an emotional impact watching people on television being forced out of their homes," says Gayle Falkenthal, a spokeswoman for the San Diego and Imperial counties chapter of the Red Cross. Technology helped the Red Cross manage the response to its disaster relief efforts in ways it has never done before. Within one hour after the blazes were reported the Red Cross contacted Kintera, an electronic knowledge interaction provider for nonprofit organizations, to build a Web site exclusively for wildfire disaster relief efforts. The site (www.sdarc.org) needed to accept credit card donations; provide important area information; and offer an online form for volunteers to fill out, detailing their contact information, the location in which they wish to volunteer, and the times they are available. Remarkably, less than two hours after the call to Kintera the Web site was up, and four minutes after its launch, the site collected its first financial donation. Unlike previous methods of waiting for a telethon to make a donation or sending a check in the mail, thanks to the Web site "people had an opportunity to do something immediately," Falkenthal says. The Red Cross has collected more than $4 million for relief efforts, of which more than $1 million was donated online. More than 1,000 people registered through the online forms to volunteer their time for such services as serving food, managing shelters, and answering phone calls. "It was surprising how specific people were in the online forms regarding how they wanted to volunteer," says Harry Gruber, president and CEO of Kintera. "Some have a nursing background. Some people like to talk on the phone. Some like to go out in the field. And they offered their help based on whatever they are good at." Other technology companies contributed to disaster relief efforts, including the Partnership for Academic and Community Excellence (PACE), a voice-driven CRM company for the K-12 education market. PACE partnered with EnvoyWorldWide, a provider of voice-driven, real-time notification solutions, to help schools streamline the dissemination of time-sensitive and urgent information. Participating schools were able to use the PACE Crisis Management solution to inform parents on school closures, event cancellations, and the safety of their children. ChartPACE delivered more than 120,000 messages, primarily through the PACE Crisis Management solution, in less than one week during the wildfires. Lesson Learned
  • Be proactive with voice and email blasts.
  • Use a Web site to provide detailed information.
  • Collect as much customer contact information as possible.
  • Update contact information often.
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