Disaster-Proofing Customer Care

Contact centers have become the arteries of organizations, enabling customer care, retention, and income. When disaster threatens or strikes, take effective measures to protect your centers and the services they provide. Most people probably do not realize that a disaster has hit your contact centers when one has. If you provide a critical service such as electricity, gas, telecom, water, healthcare, or transportation, your customers expect you to be there. Your call volume may jump and callers may be impatient and worried. If the affected contact centers were handling income-producing calls, such as inbound direct response, signing up new clients, or outbound telemarketing and collections, you could lose customers and revenues. To ensure customer service, retention, and income without spending money unnecessarily, analyze the loss of your contact centers to your organization. Look at how long they have been down, and what this has cost you. Begin by disaster-proofing your contact centers. You can avoid costly downtime by detecting and fixing trouble spots, like leak-prone hot water tanks located above computer rooms and phone switches that are not connected into backup power circuits. Take steps to minimize contact volumes while retaining service and revenues. See which contacts you can divert to interactive voice response (IVR), Web self-service, or into voicemail. Are there programs you can defer, like outbound surveys? If there are services that live agents normally handle, such as order entry, tell your customers on the autoattendant: "We are experiencing an emergency that is impacting our ability to serve you. For quicker service please use our voice menu, visit our Web site, or leave a message." Make sure you have emergency scripts and pages prewritten for quick uploading. All contact centers should have battery-powered uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs). They enable sites to ride out brief power outages; they also permit orderly shutdown and data backup if centers must be closed. Contact centers that must stay open need onsite generators hooked into UPS systems to eliminate power fluctuations that can damage computers. To control generator size and cost, determine the minimum number of workstations that you need, and which circuits are essential to keep your centers operational. For example you can, in most cases, get away with keeping the air conditioning, which consumes huge quantities of electricity, off the backup power circuits; an exception is if your site also has a data center that needs constant cool temperature. Arrange beforehand for a skeleton crew to staff your phones during disasters. Many employees will not stay if there is an imminent threat, or if they have young children or elderly parents who need their care. Be prepared for unexpected disruptions. When BellSouth, anticipating an evacuation order during Hurricane Ivan that never came, ended its local phone service in Mobile, AL, our contact center there was forced to shut down. Our team reached the telco, explained our situation, and they quickly reconnected the service. Avoid making outbound calls from contact centers that are threatened or have been hit with disasters. You then keep phone circuits free for essential services. There will be disasters that will force shifting contacts to other facilities. You can accommodate the extra volume at remaining sites, or ask outsourcers to handle it. If you go it alone, make sure you have extra desks, phones, and computers at the backup sites. When events threaten or occur, ask staff to stay longer, arrive earlier, and come in on their days off. The manager of our Santa Rosa, CA, contact center, one of several that took calls rerouted from our Florida sites that were hit by Hurricane Frances, paid overtime and brought in sandwiches for the employees. If you outsource, query vendors about their disaster response methods. Because there will be events that will prompt outsourcers' contact centers to close, select those firms that have networked sites located around the country and/or in Canada. Set out your requirements in writing. A large utility client stipulated a multilevel disaster recovery plan in its contract with us. It includes assigning calls to sites equipped with UPSs and generators, routing calls to backup sites, offsite data backup over multiple routes, and multiple Internet connections. Whether contacts are handled at backup sites or at outsourcers' centers, devise agent scripting ahead of time. These staffers will then have the basics to meet most callers' needs and to handle sophisticated inquiries put in escalation procedures. Plan the rerouting ahead of time for seamless switchover. When hurricanes threaten our contact centers, we begin reroutes 72 to 48 hours ahead of landfall. Clients' catalog, e-tail and direct response order entry, and customer care calls were diverted to alternate sites without their customers noticing any difference in the service. Most important, make sure your customers are kept in the loop--by providing quality contact center services, you and your customers will successfully get through disasters together. About the Author Gary Pudles is CEO of The AnswerNet Network. Please visit www.answernetnetwork.com
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