This article was updated on September 19, 2018.

Running a successful small business involves preparing for the unexpected. At some point, an emergency may force you to shut down your business for a few days, weeks or even months. In order to bounce back from this type of incident, you need to have a plan in place to maintain customer satisfaction during your down time.

Contact Your Customers Immediately

As soon as you realize you need to close down, you should start notifying your customers. If you have any patrons with an impending appointment, you should reach out to these individuals first via phone.

You can then inform the rest of your customers by uploading a notice on your website, changing the message on your answering machine, sending out an e-mail to your customer list or posting a sign on a storefront window.

Explain the Situation

When you're explaining your closing, you may feel tempted to go light on the details, especially if you feel embarrassed by the specifics of the situation. But this is how bad rumors start. Your customers may expect the worst and start to wonder if you're having serious financial trouble or were perhaps shut down by the health inspector. If you explain that it's a short-term closing due to a burst pipe or flooding, your customers will be more understanding.

You should also let your patrons know when you plan to reopen. If you aren't 100 percent sure on the date, you should give your customers an estimate and explain that you'll update them as the situation develops.

Decide How to Serve Your Customers During the Closing

Your customers might not be able to live without your services for an extended period. If you have to close your main location, you should think about whether it's possible for you to keep working from a temporary, remote location. Another option is to refer your customers to another local business in the same industry. While it's tough to send away business, this type of action will show your customers that you are putting their needs above your own, which can help you maintain customer satisfaction over time. Before you face a potential emergency, you should discuss your plan with another business owner to see if the two of you can work out an arrangement in which you cover each other's customers during a closing. Perhaps you can even negotiate a referral fee.

Make a Big Announcement for Your Reopening

When you're ready to reopen, you should reach out to all of your customers through your website, email and a sign on your storefront. If you want to truly build up excitement, you could launch a reopening promotion to get your business moving again. Be sure to offer a special discount to any customers for whom you had to cancel appointments.

An unexpected close will always be frustrating, but by following these pointers, you can at least help protect your reputation and your valuable relationships with your customers.

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