Preparing the Contact Center for Natural Disaster

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When expecting the worst, companies must prepare their best. Though we may have no control over the weather, technology allows us to predict when storms are headed our way, and preparation helps companies maintain service standards when customers need them the most. Here, Paul Logan, president and chief executive officer of Contact Solutions, speaks with 1to1 Media to provide tips on how contact centers can brace for impact and weather the storm successfully.

When expecting the worst, companies must prepare their best. Though we may have no control over the weather, technology allows us to predict when storms are headed our way, and preparation helps companies maintain service standards when customers need them the most. Here, Paul Logan, president and chief executive officer of Contact Solutions, speaks with 1to1 Media to provide tips on how contact centers can brace for impact and weather the storm successfully:1to1 Media: What are the most important steps to take when preparing your contact center for a natural disaster in the days leading up to the storm?

Paul Logan: The first step is employee safety and preparedness. Contact centers are a high labor force environment, which is a negative for incident management and control. Having more complete and effective self-service solutions help reduce the dependency on a contact center labor force. Employees need a clear outline of what conditions will dictate attendance and non-attendance at work, and how that communication is to be made. This is also an action that could be supported through an automated employee communication system. Why not let your self-service technology work for your employees as well as your customers?

The next step is potential customer communication. Will the natural disaster impact your service to customers? Are customers in impacted areas? If you have an automated solution that enables you to effectively communicate with your customer base, plus up-to-date contact information, this can be a benefit.

The third step is capacity considerations. How will the disaster impact your regular workloads? Some disaster temporarily decrease volumes, other create massive volume peaks. Again, managing a labor force while having a drop or surge in volumes is not ideal. The more you can control these surges through self-service technology, the better the outcomes.

1to1: During the storm, what can contact centers do to ensure things run smoothly?

PL: Geographic diversity. How local to the incident is your contact center? If you only have one, it leaves you at a disadvantage. Even companies with multiple centers often have limited geographic diversity. If your technology is also local, then the problem is expanded. Consider cloud technology--don't put all your eggs in one local basket! Also, look at having a portion of employees as remote workers. It will help manage fluctuating volumes. Use technology to help manage around the storm.

Don't panic. This is what contact centers are designed to do--handle volume surges at maximum efficiency. Leverage your process for volume management: optimized self-service, automated communications, additional staffing, remote employees, overflow centers, and vendors or groups.

1to1: How can contact centers recover if they experience any unexpected disruptions? How should they react?

PL: First, remember fundamental contact center management principles. High labor force environments are already volatile in nature. Staff turnover, shrinkage, and volume disruptions are already part of a contact center's life. Contact centers are designed to adapt to high volume scenarios; this may be just a little more extreme than the norm. Contact centers need to leverage their cheapest volume management asset, technology, and reduce the pressure or surge on their higher cost asset--labor. Every contact center should have disaster recovery and business continuity plans and ideally should have tested them.

In terms of disruption recovery, the first thing to do is communication. Manage customer and employee expectations. When can customers expect normal service? What is expected of employees? Understand the impact as soon as possible and the resource requirements to solve any performance issues. Leverage technical communication, self-service, ideally prior to the disruption, but if not, as soon as you are able. Having a self-service solution that enables real-time disaster recovery management, such as temporary messaging, queue messaging, and management and alternate center routing will be a benefit.

1to1: What skills can natural disaster preparations teach contact center professionals that they can then utilize even during times of calm?

PL: Contact center professionals need to master three elements: people, process, and technology. The people skills are typically the best as they are used on a constant basis. Natural disasters highlight the importance of the other two, process and technology. Understand what to do in a disaster scenario, which will typically entail some type of volume impact. What is your typical process to manage volume surges, from the moderate to the extreme? Hone that process. Make sure it works for customers, employees, and senior management. Contact center professionals are typically weakest around technology management. What can your technology offer you in terms of volume management? Is it a key part of your resource utilization plan? How are you migrating self-service tasks and communication to technology to reduce your dependency on labor?

The contact center is already a disaster recovery hub, but professionals are often bombarded with the pressure of short-term volume management rather than medium to longer term. It is important for them to take the time to understand and prepare the center for natural disasters, as those types of scenarios are a more frequent occurrence in a contact center.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION