With Hurricane Sandy fresh on the mind of many North Easterners, it is a good time to continue the discussion about providing for such disasters in the call center world. No matter what the size of your call center, a Disaster Recovery plan can be an invaluable tool to have in place when you need it. Just like call center solutions, disaster recovery plans can, and should, be scaled to the correct size of your call center. Whatever the plan, it should account for the following points:
- Continuing Operations
Safety. The first concern of your plan should be the safety of your employees. Does the disaster recovery plan provide for alerting your employees of a potential disaster? Consider having a special email address you can use to send urgent messages to employees. Disaster@YourCallCenter.com for example. Of course, you will also need to have contact information for each employee. But what if employees can’t check email? In this case, you may want to consider having a toll-free number for use as a disaster hotline where outgoing messages can be recorded to get your employees the information they require and voice mail can be left by employees to voice their concerns.
Communication. Communication is a big part of employee safety as noted above, but you must also remember your customers and the people who call into your call center. Steps should be taken to ensure that two-way communication is also available in a number of different channels (phone, email, some social media outlets) in order to alert your customers about what is going on with your call center. A dedicated twitter feed may be used to send updates as your call center is coming back on-line for example. Again, establishing a customer hotline for use during disasters may be a good solution.
Continuing Operations. So how do you keep your call center running in the wake of a disaster? The key to this is diversity and redundancy. Some steps to consider in your disaster recovery plan:
Keep a portion of your workforce remote.
Having some stay at home agents is the easiest way to ensure a certain amount of geographic diversity. If your agents aren’t where the disaster occurred, then it is likely that they can keep taking care of your customers.
Use a cloud-based solution.
By using a cloud-based call center solution, you are geographically diversifying your infrastructure. As a bonus, it becomes easier to have remote agents with most cloud-based call-center solutions. Make sure that your provider is using proven redundancy by inquiring about how they protect their hardware. Good data-centers will have power redundancy, protection, fail-over and zero single-points of failure. Further, a good solution would allow you to repoint your toll free numbers and local DID numbers rapidly without the need to involve your provider.
Establish Standby services and solutions.
Depending on the critical nature of your business, you may find that it makes sense to have a full stand-by solution in the form of a fully outfitted remote site. Getting employees to that site may be difficult though depending on the disaster. Once again, cloud-based solutions shine here. Setup remote agents with multiple ISPs and then supply them with laptops and softphones to allow them to work from where-ever they find a good internet connection. The normal work station for an agent may include a hard-phone and a thin client but this will limit their mobility in the event they need to evacuate.
Maintenance. Once your disaster recovery plan is in place you will need to make sure that it is effective. Training your employees on the new system will be critical as will making a test run of the system to see that it works as expected. Best in class call centers will also insure that they are in a constant state of readiness by periodically staging drills where there call center agents switch over to the stand-by system in order to get used to the steps involved in doing so.
If you are set up with a properly conceived and executed disaster recovery plan, everyone your call center touches will know what is going on, what they are expected to do if anything, and how to perform in the safest, most efficient manner necessary to get the phones ringing again. Safety, Communication, Continuing Operations, and Maintenance are the steps on the path to keep calm and answer the phone.