How to Prepare For An Outage in Your Contact Center

By Dale Holub

Every contact center is at risk of experiencing an outage. Whether it’s a natural disaster, major power disruption, or an equipment failure, having a disaster recovery plan in place is a must for proactively handling an unexpected outage

Senior management teams frequently fail to understand both the complexities of call centers and what is required for recovery efforts. Yet, it is vital that each key member understands the call center’s critical functions and what is needed to bring a call center back on line in terms of cost, resources, and technology.

For many years, call centers only had two types of recovery options to regain communications. For larger organizations that had multiple call centers, calls could simply be rerouted to the centers that were functioning properly. For smaller, single location call centers, the best option was having a “hot site” available where agents could go to and calls could be rerouted. In some cases, the hot site facility would have their own agents available to cover until service was back up and running.

Yet, much has changed about call center operations in the last decade. Managing an outage has become much more complex for a variety of reasons, including:

• Call centers are now 24-hour environments with multiple shifts of personnel. This makes downtime extremely costly as well as inexcusable in the minds of customers.

• Many companies have downsized call center operations to just one location. With only one facility, calls can’t be shifted to another location when there is an outage.

• Call center agents are much more specialized than they once were. While specialization certainly improves the level of customer service, the negative result is that there are often fewer agents able to cover for each other when there are staffing issues due to an outage.

With these changes, creating a functional recovery plan is one of the most important tasks of managing call center operations. This means understanding the risks, documenting a plan, and finally testing it to ensure it actually works. Let’s delve into the primary components of each phase of recovery plan development.

Understanding the Risks

Many organizations develop a false sense of security when it comes to their call centers, particularly if they’re not located in an area that is at a significant risk of a disaster. However, the reality is that every call center is at risk, and as there is a greater reliance on telecommunication networks and infrastructure, the likelihood of an outage increases.

The first step to creating a recovery plan is to identify where there are vulnerabilities. These include operations, data, communications, and utilities. Once these are identified, the implications of an outage need to be reviewed. Understanding average call volumes as well as potential lost sales, damage to the brand, lawsuits, and possible fines is important to determining the needed investment in a recovery plan.

Creating a Plan

Once the risks are understood, the next step is to create a plan that contains the following critical elements:

• Recovery Strategy
• Recovery Processes
• Recovery Teams (management, leaders, tech support, call center supervisors, agents)
• Recovery Locations
• Emergency Contact Lists
• Call Handling Processes
• Emergency Recorded Messages

As you put together a comprehensive plan, the focus should remain on call rerouting processes and minimizing time frames for shifting calls to a recovery location and the costs involved.

Key members of the recovery teams should collaborate on plan development. This isn’t the job for one individual to tackle since there are so many considerations. A well drawn out plan will have input from senior management, IT, call center management, marketing, accounting, and possibly others. By all contributing to the plan, there will not only be a more applicable plan, there will be more buy in for implementing it if and when an outage occurs.

Testing the Plan

Even the best written call center recovery plan is worthless if it isn’t functional during an outage. This is why testing is so important. With high volumes of calls and the many complexities of the technologies being used, testing is perhaps the single most important part of the entire planning process.

Before launching an active test of all of your processes, it’s a good idea to first conduct a passive test to educate recovery team members on their roles and responsibilities. Once everyone knows the processes and what they need to do, active testing can be conducted to review how efficient or inefficient the plan is and where improvements can be made.

When you prepare for an active test of your recovery plan, you will need to clearly identify where you will test, what you will test, and who will be part of the testing. You may or may not want to test the entire plan at one time. Rather, it can be tested in stages or by creating certain outage scenarios.

After testing is completed, audit test results, and conduct follow-up testing as needed. Ongoing drills and tests are also a good idea to keep key recovery team members current on what they need to do if an emergency situation arises.

Hopefully, your call center will never have to deal with an outage caused by a natural disaster, major equipment failure, or wide-scale outage. However, it can happen, and the best strategy is to be prepared. With a plan in place and a team that is ready to act on a moment’s notice, your company will be in the best position to recover quickly and prevent any negative impact.

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