Ensure Call Center Availability During Disruptions

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You've just launched a major direct marketing campaign. You've staffed your call center to handle the expected increase in calls. You've provided staff with training, scripts and the technology to handle the heavier volume. You're ready.


Or are you?


What happens if the call center goes down?


What happens to all you've invested in the campaign?


What happens to the people you've targeted who now can't reach you?


With so much on the line, it's no wonder that call centers are emerging as a strategic function within an increasing number of organizations.


No longer purely viewed as a cost center, call centers today are often revenue-generating enterprises.


Numerous factors have converged to spur this change, among them changes in technology, the competitive landscape and customer perceptions.


Taken as a whole, these issues have now elevated the stature of the call center to a customer interaction center. In fact, according to research conducted by Gartner Group Inc., Stamford, CT, more than half of organizations reported that their call center and customer relationship management applications are among the five most critical applications within their organizations.


If your organization is part of this majority - where your call center operations are crucial to your ability to conduct business, generate revenue and ensure customer satisfaction - having a plan to deal with a disruption is essential.


A program to ensure call center availability should focus on three key steps:


o Conducting a business impact analysis. This entails identifying the impact a disruption would have on your operations, measuring both quantitative and qualitative losses. This includes determining a dollar amount that you would lose as a result of downtime as well as salary and other costs you would incur for having idle call center staff. Also, remember to factor in indirect costs such as dissatisfied customers and lost reputation. This analysis will help you establish accurate recovery time, or RTO, and recovery point, or RPO.


o Establishing a realistic RTO and RPO. RTO is the amount of downtime your organization can tolerate as a result of a disruption. RPO is the amount of data loss you can tolerate. The more critical the applications, the more stringent these objectives should be.


o Ensuring availability. With an understanding of what the impact of a disruption would be, and objectives established for how quickly you need to recover operations, the next step is establishing your strategy. You must ensure the availability of call center functional operations, the data and the network.


Ensuring availability of functional operations entails identifying a suitable place from which your agents can resume operations.


Questions that must be answered include:


Does the site have the space to house your agents and the appropriate equipment for them to perform their jobs?


Can the site quickly be established, and does it have the network, capacity and technical staff required to quickly resume operations?


Is the alternate site on a separate power grid and served by a separate central office than the call center?


In the call center environment, data availability generally focuses on different types of data.


The first is general database information, such as customer accounts, that typically exists on an organization's data center servers. Your continuity program should include clear guidelines for connectivity to these servers from your alternate call center site.


The second type of data is the actual configurations on the interactive voice response and computer telephony integration systems.


Just as companies have procedures for backing up and storing data center information off site, similar precautions should be taken for the applications critical to their call centers.


In the event of a disaster, having backups of the IVR scripts, for example, is essential to restoring operations.


A third component of call center availability is the network. From the voice perspective, the most important aspect is putting a plan in place with your carrier ahead of time. Be certain you have the ability to reroute your toll-free service.


Also, make sure your local numbers can be remotely call forwarded. If you have neither access to your building nor remote call forwarding built in, most carriers will not forward your calls for you.


One of the most important questions is how to handle calls between the time a disruption occurs and the time your call center is back in operation at an alternate site.


For many companies, it's simply intolerable for calls to go unanswered for even the time it takes to relocate agents to an alternate site.


Options that companies can consider include making arrangements to switch their IVR application to a service bureau, or placing a duplicate IVR server at the alternate loc


• Sioban McCarthy is product manager at Comdisco's InTouchSM Solutions division, Rosemont, IL, which offers complete continuity services for companies' customer interactive centers.
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