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Census 2016: the Lesson for every small business

The Census debacle last night highlights what not to do in business. At the height of a system malfunction when millions of Australians couldn’t log on to the ABS website to complete their Census the Prime Minister tweeted how easy and important it was:

‘We filled in the census tonight online – v easy to do. And so important for planning better government services and investment for future. 

Even though it may have been a scheduled tweet from Malcolm Turnbull it could have been stopped before it went out.

How much credibility and trust has been lost in ABS and the Census as a result? This is not a good outcome, especially considering public trust was already wavering due to the requirement to reveal personal information.

The census catastrophe triggered an onslaught of ridicule on social media:

Got the Census website to work so I filled in everyone’s. If anyone asks, all 24 million of you stayed at my place last night.

#BREAKING: Australia to open borders to everyone as ‪#census2016 reveals dramatic population drop from 21.5m in 2011 to just 719. 

Australia really is punching above its weight at the Olympics for a nation of 763 people we’re doing amazingly well. 

The only people talking last night were frustrated Australians while the silence was deafening from those we needed to hear from most.

A handful of social posts from the ABS and Census about the website being down wasn’t helpful as we all knew that. If you’re going to communicate during a problem, tell your customer something they don’t already know and make it relevant.

Be Responsive. Failing to engage on social media when your customers could benefit the most is letting them down in a big way. There was a great opportunity here to engage with the Australian public and they’ve blown it.

The ABS has now admitted there were a number of hackers to the site. This doesn’t go over well after repeated assurances that the system was safe and data secure.

Any business that loses the trust of its customers on the subject of privacy and personal confidentiality will alienate customers and lose business.

This highlights trust being a big issue now for the Australian government and ABS, even more so than what it already was and shows what a lack of trust can do to a business.

Australians have been – and are continuing to – voice their displeasure at the demand to reveal private and personal information in the Census.

No one has been listening, instead shrugging off the concern and telling us it will be fine, which based on last night’s events we’re even less convinced.

A business that loses the trust of its customers won’t survive.

Any business can run the risk of facing a similar catastrophe like Census 2016, albeit on a smaller scale.

To keep damage to a minimum:

  1. Have a communication plan in place for when and if disaster strikes. Make sure you’re on the ball, and are available to handle problems.
  2. Be responsive on Social Media. There is nothing worse than a customer feeling as though they’re not being heard. Engage with them ensuring they feel you’re doing the best you can to make things right.
  3. Ask questions and act in the best way you can on their feedback.

About the author

M_IrvingMike Irving is a business consultant who founded and runs Advanced Business Abilities.

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