Disaster-Proofing Your Call Center

By Nicolas D’Alleva

Disasters that may potentially disrupt your call center can manifest themselves in different ways. In today’s world of heightened customer expectations and real-time tweeting and blogging about service interruptions that could tarnish your image, disaster-proofing your call center operations must be an essential part of your business strategy. Broadly, disasters can be classified as 1) semi-predictable and 2) completely unpredictable in terms of the impact of the disaster.

Semi-predictable disasters include power outages, hardware failure, and weather-related damage. In general, it is easier to plan for continuity of service in such cases, as most call centers have redundant power, redundant data storage, migration procedures, and equipment that allows off-premise agents to interact with customers in the event of the transportation difficulties that are common with weather related disasters.

Unpredictable disasters, such as a fire or a terrorist attack, are more difficult to plan for. Similarly, disasters may be localized to your call center alone or may be more widespread and affect an entire city, state, or even country. Regardless of the classification or the reason for the disaster, your customers expect you to be omnipresent and impervious to the unpredictable. Is this fair? Probably not, but as long as you know you are doing everything possible to thwart the inevitable, the uptime statistics are in your favor. It all starts with effective disaster response.

Effective disaster response includes two parts: 1) Ensuring that the highest priority activities continue uninterrupted and 2) reverting back to normal operations as quickly as possible.

Part 1: Prioritization for Disaster Recovery

The first step in disaster-proofing your call center is prioritizing the various components in your call center, since it won’t be possible to offer all services and meet all SLAs (service level agreements) while operating during the recovery phase.

Nature of Calls and Types of Customers: The first step in disaster recovery planning is to take an inventory of the various types of customer calls (or services) that your call center receives. After this, you need to identify the critical calls and the not-so critical calls based on the business objectives of the call center. If there are different levels of customers, such as platinum level, gold level, and so on, then you would need to prioritize these as well.

Once this has been completed, identify which calls and services cannot be stopped (even for a few hours), which ones can be recovered within a day, and which ones can be stopped until your operations are back to normal. A cost benefit analysis of loss of customer satisfaction compared to the cost of recovery options can help to make this prioritization exercise more fruitful.

Hardware Equipment: Once you have an idea of the reduced volume of transactions to be serviced during the recovery phase, it is easy to identify the components in your call center that require redundancy to be built in. While designing the network architecture of the call center, it is essential to identify the level of redundancy that you’ll need for each of the elements in your call center. It is also important to have adequate backup power available in the form of UPS and generators.

Vendors: You will need to build in redundancies at the vendor level as well; try to utilize at least a couple of vendors for your telephone services. This will ensure that a disaster at a single vendor site does not totally shut down your operations. You may also want to enter into preventive maintenance contracts and service contracts with your hardware vendors, so that an equipment failure does not result in long downtimes.

Call Agents: Depending on the skill sets needed to serve the high priority calls, you may decide to have a group of backup agents who can work from home to handle your calls in case your location is affected by the disaster.

Role of Management: You should have a disaster recovery team identified and trained on the necessary steps to be taken immediately after a disaster. Specific personnel should be identified to:

  • Inform and coordinate agents and their activities
  • Inform vendors and request service and support
  • Inform financial institutions to activate your emergency line of credit
  • Activate emergency scripts in the call center
  • Coordinate communication to stakeholders (such as organizations and callers) on the measures taken and alternate channels of service delivery provided (such as website, email, etc.)

Part 2: Getting Back to Normal

Once the immediate response is taken care of and the recovery phase operations have stabilized, your next focus must be getting back to normal operations. Filing insurance claims is an important step in this phase. Top-level management should meet to chart out activities that need to be performed in order to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

Once a plan has been prepared, it is important to communicate that to your clients so they continue to place their trust in your call center.

Nicolas D’Alleva is the owner of Specialty Answering Service (SAS), a global telephone answering service and call center provider.

[From Connection Magazine September 2012]

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