By Jim Becker
Not every disaster is as horrific as Hurricane Katrina, but call centers can also be affected by lightning, fire, water damage, telephone and electrical outages, and other natural and man-made catastrophes. All can impact your center, but the bigger impact may be on your callers.
How can you lessen the affect? First of all, good planning and communication are essential. No one expects a problem, but if one occurs, a center should be prepared. Trying to cope with an outage or worse, without prior planning, can be disastrous for a medical call center.
Where do you begin? Start with involving your staff in preparing a detailed plan. They can help identify specific areas of your business and clients that need to be addressed in case of an emergency. Then, perform regular system backups. Depending on your call center’s needs, once a week might be an acceptable practice schedule. Those who are “critical”, such as medical and emergency-type calls, should back up their system more often; maybe even daily. Store the back-up information away from your main call center. Alert your managers and key staff as to where it is and what to do if there is a need to use the backup.
Electrical outages due to lightning and power interruptions can be a problem. Make sure you have reliable back-up power. Test the back-up power system at least once a month. It is not uncommon for batteries and other parts of the system to fail over time. Be sure to replace batteries according to your manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Again, make sure your managers know what to do if you lose power. If the power goes out for an extended period of time, you may have to supplement your battery-based power back-up unit with a generator. Not all off-the-shelf generators will meet the power needs of a call center. You may need to run the power through a line conditioner to minimize power spikes, surges, and variations in voltage.
Also, key components in your system could fail. Power spikes, heat, and time all take their toll on computer components. Be sure to have spares of critical parts, such as the processor board, power supply, and disk drives. You may also opt for key telephony interface cards for operator station ports, T1, ISDN, DID trunks, and business lines. You may also want to consider pooling spares with other call centers in your area that use the same system. Don’t rely on counter-to-counter deliveries of key components. Heightened airport security makes this difficult, if not impossible.
You may consider a small back-up telephone system as a standby unit. If your primary system fails, having a small back-up system can provide your operation the opportunity to take calls for key lines or functions. Again, make sure your managers know the switchover procedure if your primary system fails, as well as the method to contact your local telephone company to redirect lines to your back-up system or to another location. You may want to set up an agreement with another medical call center that if they have a problem, or if you have a problem, either could redirect lines to the other call center so that service would be continued.
Having remote agents may also be part of your plan. Inclement weather could prevent call center agents from traveling to a central location. Staff members who have the ability to work from home would still be able to process calls and provide your callers with the service they expect. Remote stations can work via direct telephone lines or over the Internet. Some system manufactures provide both options. Neither can be set up on short notice. Plan ahead and have the capabilities in place before an emergency so that remote access is available when you need it.
Considering today’s complex computer-based systems, having a service contract in place with your system vendors could be some of the best insurance available. There is nothing more frustrating than having a problem with your system and then finding that technical support is not immediately available, or if it is available, it is very expensive.
Keep in touch with your power company and telephone company. Have key contact information readily available. Make sure your managers know how to contact them in case of an emergency. If you rent or lease space, make sure you work with the property manager so you can get immediate access to the power relay area and the telephone junction area. Make sure you have adequate insurance to cover fire, water, or electrical problems that could cripple or destroy your system and operations.
Once you have developed your emergency plan, be sure to share it with your managers and employees. Keep a copy of the plan, with all contact information, readily available at your call center and another copy off premise. You may need to share your plan with your key stakeholders and your financial institution or insurance company. Review the plan every six-to-nine months and update contact information for the telephone, power, building management, insurance, and technical service immediately when it changes.
Having a well thought out and readily available emergency plan can be some of the best insurance your center can have. You may never need it…but if you do, it could save your operation.
Jim Becker is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Amtelco. He can be reached at 800-356-9148.
[From the August/September 2007 issue of AnswerStat magazine]