By Donna Fluss
Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy last fall, remind us of the importance of disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) planning, something that too many contact centers neglect. Most business and organization leaders agree that disaster recovery and business continuity planning is critical, but often budget constraints prevent organizations from making the necessary plans. Unfortunately, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, floods, fires, and acts of terrorism remind us of how important it is to have strong DR and BC plans in place in the contact center.
Preparing for a Disaster: The primary goal when preparing for a disaster is to build a plan to keep your contact center operating during a crisis. The strategy you choose will depend on your technical capabilities and resiliency, the number of sites and their geographical dispersion, the percentage of work that can be deferred in the short term without major business ramifications and serious customer dissatisfaction, and how much you are willing to spend to keep your business going in the event of a disaster. Here are a number of ways to prepare your contact center and limit the negative impact and cost of disasters:
- Have geographically dispersed locations, if possible. Set up business continuity routing plans to move interactions from an impacted site to its backup.
- Invest in contact center infrastructure that is resilient and comes with full backup capabilities.
- Invest in a cloud-based contact center infrastructure solution as your backup, but be sure it is based in a different location from your primary system.
- Establish a business continuity plan with your carrier(s) that allows you to easily alter your routing scheme.
- Be prepared to use self-service solutions as your primary customer interaction point for as long as half a day. This is not ideal, but if it becomes necessary, you should have an interactive voice response (IVR) application ready to be implemented. Build these environments, and hope you’ll never have to use them.
- If your contact center technology supports work-at-home agents, assign 20 percent of agents to be DR staff. Implement the technology needed in their homes, train them to use it, and test it once a quarter to make sure they know how it works. (Make sure they have the necessary bandwidth to handle calls and other types of customer interactions.)
- If work-at-home is not an option and you don’t have a second site in a different location, find an outsourcer in a different region that can provide backup agents and technology on short notice. The outsourcer’s agents must be trained and have availability to your systems and processes. To ensure they are ready, they should be tested every quarter.
Testing Is Key: In a worldwide benchmark study on contact center disaster recovery, DMG found that only 36.7 percent of companies were confident that they could operate during a disaster without a serious impact on service quality and the customer experience. This percentage is actually low, because a majority of contact centers either do not have DR and BC plans or are not keeping them up-to-date.
This same study revealed that only 4.7 percent of companies test their DR and BC plans on a monthly basis. This leaves 95.3 percent of contact centers at risk of a major meltdown in an emergency, which is not a position anyone wants to be in. The best plans won’t help if your staff does not know what to do, and the technology does not work. So, it’s essential to run a full business continuity test once a year and test various aspects of the plan on a quarterly basis.
Final Thoughts: Nobody likes to think about disasters, but whether they are weather-related, such as a hurricane, or man-made, such as a terrorist attack, they do happen. Not every company will be hit by unexpected events, but all contact centers should be prepared so they can mitigate the impact on their customers and bottom line without putting their employees at risk.
[From the February/March 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]