This post was originally published in 2015. It’s message is even more relevant today. If your business is struggling with the current COVID-19 restrictions, please check out our VHT Covid-19 Assistance Program (VCAP) for free assistance at this time.
While the “snowmageddon” that hit the East Coast last month wasn’t quite as dramatic as what the media predicted, it certainly put many call centers on alert. The reality is that all call centers are vulnerable to major weather events, natural disasters, and system failures. And these devastating, unexpected events can send even a prepared call center into a tailspin. Those that aren’t thoroughly prepared are putting themselves at significant risk of losing customers, employees, and business.
Whether a crisis is caused by an act of nature, a labor dispute, a technical glitch, or cyber criminals, there are some fundamental strategies for effectively responding to an event and regrouping quickly to minimize downtime.
If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail
By far, the most important thing you can do to protect your call center in a crisis is to create and continuously maintain an implementable preparedness plan. There are two common types of plans that are both beneficial for call centers:
Crisis Contingency Plan
This is actually a collection of step-by-step plans created to enable the quick response to crises such as a power outage, a computer virus, or an illness amongst agents, all of which can happen on any given day.
Crisis Management Plan
Usually more of an enterprise-wide plan, this maps out how to respond to major events like an extended blizzard, earthquake, or act of terrorism.
Identifying Vulnerable Systems
Planning begins with identifying key systems at risk. Your network and phone system are probably the most obvious. However, any system that your call center relies on is vulnerable during a time of crisis. Because a call center’s operations are closely tied to many other areas within an organization, it’s important to consider the big picture when constructing an inventory of vulnerable systems that could be affected during a crisis. Anything that pertains to order fulfilment, personnel, maintenance, and your internal equipment needs to be evaluated.
Call centers also often use outside services that can be affected by an unexpected event. It’s important to identify these, too. Everything from courier and shipping services to the provider of office supplies should be evaluated.
Power, Cabling, and Wiring
Once every system that your call center relies on has been identified, it’s time to carefully assess the big three that connect your most important technologies – power, cabling, and wiring. A key component of an effective crisis plan is an interconnection diagram that will detail the power protection and connectivity status of servers, PCs, phones, and switches.
Not surprising, one of the most common causes of call center downtime is a failure of the electrical power system. It’s also one of the most costly call center crises. Without power, computer and phone systems can fail. Calls and data will be lost, and customers will become quickly frustrated.
Battery systems along with surge protectors and power conditioners that provide and maintain power to phones and computers are an inexpensive form of call center insurance that can maintain business continuity and protect data when there is a power outage. You can expect to spend about 10 to 25 percent of your hardware’s value on power protection technology. While this may seem costly, it’s far less expensive than having to replace damaged hardware, recover lost data, or win back aggravated customers.
Cloud-based technologies that can shift systems away from the call center during a crisis are worth exploring. For example, a VoIP phone system can easily be redirected to a secondary location. As well, setting in place a call deflection strategy that redirects customers to a cloud-based IVR system with contact back capabilities can help buy a call center time while they work to get their systems back up and running.
Creating Your Crisis Team
A crisis plan is only as good as the team that implements it. This is why it’s so important to identify key personnel you can count on during a critical time. The team should consist of individuals that offer a variety of technical, organizational, and communication skills. They need to be comfortable addressing the crisis using the protocols established in your crisis plan and focused on restoring operations back to normal as quickly as possible. The team must also be accessible 24/7, as crises don’t always strike between nine and five.
Testing the Plan
While a crisis can catch even the most prepared call center off guard, conducting emergency drills involving all staff can go a long way toward minimizing downtime. Everyone needs to be made aware of their role in keeping the center operating.
Create a list of the most likely potential risks for your call center. Do you live near an active fault line? Earthquake preparedness is a must. In other call centers, a blizzard or a labor dispute might be more likely. Practice drills based on the most likely crisis scenarios. From these, you’ll be able to determine what works and what needs to be improved.
Of course, an unexpected event that you never planned on can happen. Exploring general scenarios and having a deep understanding of the systems that are in place to protect your call center will help you and your team effectively respond to it.
At the heart of crisis planning is taking precautions to minimize downtime and to stay connected with customers. With multiple technologies in play within a call center, it is often an organization’s most vulnerable department. This is exactly why proactive call center crisis preparedness should be a top priority.