Article : Implementing Disaster Response
Contact centers are becoming the main and often the only point of interaction organizations have with customers, clients, employees and the public. For that reason it is more important than ever before to ensure centers continue to function, even at a reduced level, or at the very least inform people what is happening when disaster strikes.
There are many methods and tools to enable contact centers to cope with or withstand disasters. The leading ones include:
These techniques are proven. Just before the wave of hurricanes hit the southeast USA in September 2004 contact center outsourcer AnswerNet Network rerouted contacts from its Melbourne and Orlando, FL and Mobile, AL sites to locations in other parts of the country. AnswerNet's staff customized messages and recordings for local clients.
Your contact center need not be a Fortune 500 firm to benefit from methods like shifting calls to other centers. Because AnswerNet's contact centers are small, versatile and networked its other sites answered the phones for clients such as physicians and local property management firms.
Home agents offer one of the best guarantees of continuity. By dispersing your work force you do not have to worry about evacuating and closing centers, moving into unfamiliar temporary offices, road closures, reroutes, security checks and delays.
I can attest to that. On 9-11-01 I evacuated my midtown Manhattan office, taking with me a laptop and my briefcase. I could not return home or to my office for two days. Instead I stayed in touch through the Internet at a friend's house. When I returned to my house I continued to work from there until I moved back to Canada that had been approved long before the terrorist attacks.
Some methods like directing contacts to home-working agents require managers to change how you supervise employees. Outsourcing requires you to trust a third party with your customers and data, at a price.
Before you invest time and money into your response assess the dangers. Voice/data outages are responsible for 35% of outages, Kurt Sohn, principal consultant with call center business continuity planning firm 180cc told Call Center Magazine in 'Planning for the Inevitable' published Sept.2003. Natural disasters account for 35% while man-made disasters: neglect, human error, crime and terrorism - whether real or fake - account for 30% in call centers.
The risks vary by location. If your contact center is in the Midwest you can be hit by tornadoes and blizzards; if it is an industrial area there are fire and hazardous chemical risks from accidents and derailments; if the facility is near an airport you can get security alerts or at worst terrorism.
Then ask yourself how vital to your enterprise or department is having your center continue to function in a disaster, and what is that downtime worth to you? How long can you afford to be offline for? What are the ROIs for the various response means? What are the comparative site risks and benefits? The Midwest and Gulf Coast/Florida have long had plenty of quality affordable labor for contact centers.
You may find your customers are just fine with an auto-attendant message. Or if your center is truly critical, like utility customer service, that you need home or outsourced agents.
Disaster planning and
Your plan should have incident managers, principal and backup authorized in writing by companies' senior executives to act on their behalf that will be listened to by all employees. They would be the go-to person in an emergency.
Incident managers should be bondable with no criminal records. They should have an interest and background in building infrastructure and technology. There is business continuity training and certification available through the Disaster Recovery Institute International.
You should also have your plan reviewed, to make sure all the steps are covered. Bob Mellinger, president, business continuity planners Attainium recommends having a knowledgeable third party, which could be a consultant or your local fire or police department to review the plan and offer advice. A third party will see and catch items you may have missed.
"If you have someone who is aware and trained to spot potential risks they will spot that and either correct it or draw it to your attention, " he told Call Center Magazine.
If you catch anyone who isn't obeying those rules have that person fired on the spot and let everyone in your centers know it. It takes one carelessly tossed butt to cause a fire that can kill many people and consume millions of dollars of property.
If you have 7x24 operation find out if the outside lights and cameras on. Ask building maintenance to clear walkways of bushes, dumpsters and other hideouts for criminals. If you have security drop in during a shift to see if the guards are doing their jobs, not sleeping on them. Smell for any signs of alcohol or illicit drugs.
Your best disaster resources are your agents and supervisors. Ask them to be aware for unusual sights, smells, sounds, activities and people and supply them with procedures to report them. If something is not right it usually isn't. That sense can save seconds, and lives.
About Brendan Read:
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Published: Thursday, November 4, 2004