What Happens If The Worst Happens?
Call centre disaster recovery is a hot topic. Experienced contact centre and call centre managers have learned to expect the unexpected. Whether it’s a natural disaster, power failure, equipment failure or force majeure, at some time or another, there’s a significant chance that you will have to recover your call centre due to an unforeseen event.
Call centres are complex environments with multiple points of failure. The process of recovering from a disaster is often poorly understood by management. We consider the costs, resources and technology elements of recovering from a call centre failure in this article. We hope this will help you to write a disaster recovery plan for your own call or contact centre.
Historically, call centres typically adopted one of the following approaches to recovery:
- For larger organisations with multiple call centres, calls were rerouted to any centres that were still operational.
- For smaller, single location call centres, the best option was to maintain a separate, offsite “hot site”. Agents could be relocated to the hot site in the event of an emergency, and calls were rerouted to the new site.
But in recent years, managing a call centre outage has become much more complicated due to a number of factors, including:
- Call centres are often operational for 24 hours a day, with multiple shifts of agents. Customer expectations are higher in that they expect to be able to contact companies 24-7. Downtime is costly not just in terms of lost calls, but also in terms of the company’s reputation.
- Many companies now consolidate call centre operations to a single location, so calls can’t simply be sent to another location if there is an outage.
- Call centre agents generally have much more specialised skills. This significantly improves the level of customer service, but means that there is less flexibility when an outage causes resource issues.
- Creating a functional disaster recovery plan is a crucial task of managing a call centre. This means understanding the risks and consequences, drawing up a plan, and then testing it to ensure it actually works.
Many managers develop a false sense of security when it comes to their call centres. This is especially likely if they have not experienced a crisis situation in the past. If they are in an area with few natural disasters, many call centre managers are not aware of the potential impact of a serious situation. However, the reality is that all call centres are at risk. As an organisation’s reliance on telecommunication networks and infrastructure increases, the likelihood of a problem increases.
Creating a Disaster Recovery Plan for a Call Centre
1. Identify the Vulnerabilities
Include all aspects required to run the call centre, including:
- Operational aspects
- Physical premises
- Office facilities
2. Identify the Impacts of an Outage
Make sure all the relevant facts are at your fingertips. For example:
- Measure average call volumes across various time periods
- Quantify potential lost sales
- Assess possible damage to the brand
- Determine whether an outage could give rise to possible legal action
- Understand the extent of regulatory fines
3. Write a Disaster Recovery Plan
- Create a plan that contains the following critical elements:
- Strategy (the overall aims)
- Processes (what will happen)
- Recovery Teams (management, technical support (including suppliers), call centre supervisors, agents etc.)
- Responsibilities (who does what in the event of a disaster?)
- Emergency Contact Lists
- Call Handling Processes
- Emergency Recorded Messages
Inevitably, there will be a balance to be struck between minimising the time taken to shift calls to a recovery solution and the costs involved.
Key members of the recovery teams should collaborate on plan development and approve the final plan. This will ensure that all aspects are considered, but will also ensure greater ownership and buy-in if a crisis does occur in future.
4. Test Your Disaster Recovery Plan
The most crucial thing to consider when writing a disaster recovery plan (and the aspect most often forgotten) is that it is useless if it doesn’t work in practice. The only way to be certain that your plan will work when it has to is to perform a live test of the plan. Testing will flush out any glitches or details that mean that the plan may not work in an actual disaster situation. For example, if the mobile phone network is not working, how are you going to contact your agents?
Before launching a live test of your disaster processes, run a session to inform recovery team members of their roles and responsibilities in the event of a disaster. Active testing can then be conducted to review how the plan works in practice and identify where improvements can be made or where solutions are based on incorrect assumptions.
To prepare for a test of your disaster recovery plan, identify what you will test, at which locations and who will be involved. Create one or more outage scenarios to test different aspects of the plan. And don’t forget to test across all shift patterns, so that everyone is aware of what to do in the event of a disaster.
After testing is completed, review the results, and conduct a follow-up test if necessary. Test the plan regularly, and use different scenarios to ensure that all aspects have been considered. It’s a good idea for the scenario planner to be someone who was not involved in writing the plan, so that familiarity bias is not introduced.
The Future of Disaster Recovery
Advances in technology mean that the call centre is changing dramatically. Opportunities abound for agents to work remotely, either from home, or closer to home. As high-speed wireless internet connections become the norm, the need to have agents grouped together in the same location diminishes. This means that companies can save money on property and call centre technology.