As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, Mother Nature is unpredictable. One minute, she’ll give us sunshine and blue skies, and in the next, a hurricane will be barreling down your door. While we can’t always fully prepare for Mother Nature’s wrath, ensuring that your business’ communication lines are in constant operation in the midst of a crisis should never be left to chance.
For any industry, loss from fires, floods, natural disasters and other calamities can be mitigated by a well-designed business continuity plan (BCP), inclusive of an IT disaster recovery plan, that will outline specific, predetermined steps to be taken to help the business recover. This is especially true for the call center industry, which your business may rely on 24/7/365. Call center destruction impacts employees and their families, and quite obviously, the client base that the call center supports, should services become temporarily or completely unavailable.
If you are currently outsourcing to an answering service that was hard-hit by Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma and had no business continuity plan in place, then you know firsthand how quickly communications can cease. Depending on the type of business you run, disaster recovery may not have been a major issue. But if you could not function without your offsite receptionists, then you were likely faced with a tough choice: can we stay afloat while we wait for the service to bounce back, or is it time to jump ship in search of a safer port-of-call?
Whether you’re working with an answering service, or you’re in the market for one, the guide below will provide an overview of the questions you’ll want to ask them to ensure that your business has maximum protection from any unwelcome events that may interrupt call center support. The more comprehensive the BCP, the more likely you won’t be dragged down with a sinking ship.
Power to the People
No, it’s not a rally cry. We mean power. Real power. Every piece of technology that the call center uses requires electricity. Ask these questions:
- What if your primary power source is cut off? Do you have a generator?
- If your generator goes down, do you have additional battery backup?
- How often do you check your backup systems to make sure that they are working properly?
- Are your building and systems grounded in the event of a lightning strike or other power surge?
VoIP and Phone Connectivity
A call center without phones is like a car without wheels. There’s not a whole lot the answering service agent can do other than sit there. Ask these questions:
- Are you using a hosted PBX with an automatic backup so that calls can be remotely rerouted to alternate lines, e.g., cell phones or voicemail?
- If you have an on-premises PBX system, do you have an SIP provider or hosted backup? (Centers with an on-premises PBX system will be at a loss to accept or reroute calls if the PBX fails, unless they are using an SIP trunking system or a hosted backup.)
- Is the system easily scalable for spikes in call volume?
- Do you have copper phone lines as a backup if all else fails?
- Do you have spare phones and VoIP connectors if individual devices fail?
The Data Dilemma
Many answering services provide more than message taking. They may be placing web-based orders, scheduling appointments online, managing your live chat channel, and more. Ask these questions:
- Are you running your data lines on a separate circuit than your voice lines? (The answer should be yes. If VoIP goes down, you may still have data. Or if data goes down, you may still have VoIP.)
- If data lines are affected, can agents access call center systems to work from home or from an alternate location, if necessary?
Servers and Networks and Software, Oh My!
Infrastructure. It’s an important word because it encompasses a lot of stuff. Call centers use a boatload of different software, they probably have a number of systems working off a shared network, and depending on their size, they might house a whole room full of servers. Ask these questions:
- Do you have up-to-date copies of all software applications stored in a safe place or available in the Cloud?
- How will calls be processed if your network connection is lost?
- If LAN connectivity fails, do you have a redundant router to provide an alternate default network gateway?
- Can the network be accessed remotely, if necessary?
- Do you have separate systems in place for things such as hold music, call recordings, and voicemail?
Servers and Databases
- How often do you check your servers to make sure that they are working properly?
- Where are your servers located, on-site or off-site?
- If the servers are on-site: 1) Do you have off-site backup?; 2) Are the servers housed in a separate room from the rest of the center?; and 3) Is the room well-ventilated, with a separate HVAC thermostat to ensure a constant temperature?
- If your backup servers go down, do you have Cloud backup?
- How often do you back up data? (The answer should be daily.)
How the Call Center Can Help
Aside from the above technical considerations, it’s important to know what your options are when assessing business communications disaster recovery. Ask these questions:
- What communication channels will you use to inform clients of potential problems?
- Do you have a service level agreement, or will you enter into one?
- Do you have a plan in place to colocate calls at another call center in case of emergency?
- Do you have a distributed workforce to help, such as at-home operators?
- Do clients have access to scripting software to make emergency changes or to download for their records?
- Will you provide credits for service outages?
What You Should Do if Your Call Center is Down
Just in case your answering service cannot recover from a catastrophic event, you’ll want to have a backup plan.
- Choose a point of contact at your workplace, and designate this person as responsible for informing all key players of the present circumstances.
- Unforward your phones, and determine how to triage calls.
- Ask your phone provider if they have a hunt group feature that will ring different numbers in succession until someone picks up.
- It may be necessary to send out an email blast or post to your social media account to inform your customer base of a short “transition time” while you’re reestablishing communication channels.
- Search for answering services that offer a free trial, and for ultrafast set-up, opt for the most basic script – name, number, and regarding. That will give you a little time to decide what will work best for your business.
What You Should Do if Your Call Center is Up, but Your Phones are Down
As many businesses recently experienced, you may be located in the danger zone while your call center is in the clear. In that case, you’ll need another checklist on hand to get through the days ahead:
- It is a good idea to have an emergency recording saved that will inform callers of existing issues and let them know when they can expect a return call. For example, “Thank you for calling. Due to the hurricane, requests are currently taking up to 72 hours to process. We will return your call as soon as we are able. Thank you for your patience.”
- If you do not have interruptions in cell phone or Internet connectivity, and you can view your call log via an online portal, then make sure that you have users set up or that the appropriate personnel know how to access the site.
- If you lose your business phone lines altogether, and they were forwarded when your system went down, you’ll need to ask your phone provider if your lines will remain forwarded or if they will have to be re-forwarded remotely.
- Have an alternate, simplified version of your script available in case your existing script contains transfers or reach protocol. Implement it as quickly as possible, either via your online portal or by requesting programming assistance from the service. If your lines are down, the operators will not be able to contact you, and this will lead to increased, unnecessary usage.
Even if we happen to know when and where disaster will strike, it doesn’t always mean that the area is prepped for a crisis. As a business owner, anytime you put your livelihood in the hands of another, you’re taking a chance. So, do your due diligence, research the questions we’ve put together, and have a disaster recovery plan of your own so that you’ll be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.