Is Global Warming a Threat to the Call Center Industry?

By Steve Michaels

I remember picking up a USA today last summer and reading that the entire stock of air conditioners was sold out during that summer’s heat, which topped 112 degrees. I also remember that Costco ran out of snowblowers right after the “Snowstorm of the Century” hit the northeast part of the country last year. And just last month the Midwest was hit with an ice storm. Based on communication on industry list-serves, teleservice call center owners were again unprepared. It seems that some of us have a hard time getting ready for emergencies or disasters in advance and only react after the fact.

Leading scientists from all over the world say that if we, as a planet, continue along the current path we are taking, sea levels will continue to rise, in some places up to twenty feet. For those along the coasts, this could foretell impending disaster. Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize, shows icebergs melting at an alarming rate as one of the examples of this weather pattern change. Scientists have been stating that it will take centuries for this phenomenon to take place, but every year they have had to change their timeline.

“The weather is a changin’ out thar,” and few seem to be concerned. I guess we are all waiting for that 112-degree heat or a pile of snow to fall upon us before we do something. The same seems to be true for the call center industry. Although disaster recovery solutions are available, few are interested in implementing them – until it is too late.

Regardless whether you are in a disaster prone area, such as the entire East Coast, most of Florida, and the West Coast, or in a seemingly safe and secure area, this message may be for you. Here are some tips you may want to consider if you want to protect your business investment:

The Buddy System: Find someone who you trust with the same kind of equipment as yours and share your data and customer base. If either one of the systems goes down, then the other can take over. But a better solution would be…

The Multi-Buddy System or “Disaster Recovery” System: This buddy system works even better if there are multiple call centers working together. With two centers working together, one could not immediately pickup 100 percent of the traffic from the downed system. However, with multiple partners, the load of one call center in crisis could be much more easily absorbed if several call centers share in the excess. Even more prudent would be for these call centers to jointly purchase a system to handle all of their call traffic and install it in an off-premise location. Then calls could automatically be rerouted should one center go down.

Manufacturer Backup: Some vendors offer a hosted solution for their clients. This can be used for 24/7 operation or for emergency backup. One vendor is going to make off-site database backup a standard part of their system package.

Remote Agents: One suggestion that many call centers have started to incorporate is using remote agents. I have touted this option for years, but I have largely met with ambivalence from call center owners and managers who balk at the idea of their staff located away from the office. It seems they fear that they will lose control. However, it makes great business sense that if you are hit with any kind of disaster or emergency, even the flu, having your agents located away from your office is preferable.

I presume that you are now thinking that this guy in Montana is a nut. Well, I’m in Montana for a reason. I have been talking about changes for years now because we are going to have changes in our weather, as realized by the recent Hurricane Katrina. Some businesses don’t exist any more because they didn’t have a disaster recovery plan in place.

As we move into this new year of 2008, you may want to spend time and ponder what this guy in Montana has to say about the old adage, “Being forewarned is being forearmed.”  Don’t wait until the temperature reaches 112 degrees or you are buried up to your eyeballs in snow before you do something to protect the future of your call center.

Steve Michaels is a business broker with TAS Marketing, Inc. and can be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com. His website is www.tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection Magazine January 2008]

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