Natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy always trigger a spike in demand for many field-based services, from cleanup and property maintenance to roofing and equipment repairs. Handling customers in those situations — people who may have lost their businesses or homes — requires a special combination of sensitivity, diplomacy, and attention. Here are a few critical do’s and don’ts from customer service consultant Ron Kaufman — author of Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet:

Do …

Be prepared: A lot of the legwork needs to come before the storm hits, Kaufman says. By having a plan for dealing with the storm already in place, you won’t rush into a poor decision during or immediately after. “Staff up, build scripts, design plans, organize processes,” he says.

Be proactive: Part of that preparation should include getting in touch with your existing customer base in the storm’s path. “Communicate with your customer base prior to a crisis,” Kaufman says. “Educate your customers how to prepare and respond.” This builds trust and credibility, and provides a real service.

Be positive: People — including your own techs — are likely to be in all different states of shell-shock. It’s important for your company’s employees and managers to stay focused and remain positive and empathetic. “Be part of the solution, keep the vision of success alive in your team, and in your customers,” he says.

Be accessible: Your customers need you now — so make sure they can get ahold of you. “Staff up,” Kaufman says. Open up multi-channel support lines, whether it’s phone, online, social media or chat. It may be necessary to go to a temporary 24/7 support offering.

Be responsible: The aftermath of a storm is an opportunity for your company to forge an identity in customers’ minds. Did you keep your promises? Did you follow up? Did you follow through?

Be personal: Perhaps most importantly, just be human. Your customers are people, many of whom are dealing with some heavy stress. “Get and give names,” Kaufman says. “Be empathetic. Have a heart.”

Don’t …

Lose your compassion: Wading through a flood of calls and service requests may feel overwhelming, but it’s crucial each customers is still treated carefully. “Be sure you’re not telling customers, you’re not the only one going through this, or your case number is …,” Kaufman says.

Lose information: Service organizations need to bring their A-game — misplacing a customer’s files, or frankly anything that adds to the stress and confusion they’re already dealing with, may lose you that customer forever.

Lose your cool: “Customers are counting on you as an island of sanity and hope in the storm,” Kaufman says. Is that a tall order? Absolutely. But your efforts here should pay off later, when those customers remember your company’s professionalism during a hectic time.

More: How Field Service Goes to Work in Natural Disasters.

Click here to download a free whitepaper, “Five Steps to Make Field Service Profitable.”

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.