Lessons from A Past #Snowpocalypse: It’s No Joke, Especially for Customer Contact Operations


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Allow me to set the scene… it was right before Valentine’s Day 2014, and I was facing my first snow storm in Charlotte. The entire Southeast was getting hammered, crippled from inaccessible roads. I know this may seem like a fun time to make fun of Southerners, but it in large part is our reality. Without significant state and local government infrastructure to plow snow, everything was closed. There really was nothing more to do than wait it out at home and hope your power didn’t go out.

Lucky for me, despite being snowed in at my apartment, my power stayed on and I was able to work, cook, and watch TV largely uninterrupted for 3 days. However, many of my friends and coworkers were not so lucky. From power outages due to lines snapping from ice accumulation, trying to manage kids who were also unexpectedly home from school, or dealing with limited connectivity not being able to operate outside of company firewalls, nearly everyone ranged from being far less productive than normal to completely offline.

Pause for a moment and consider the impact of all this to a company’s customer contact operation (that is, customer service, sales, tech support, or whatever is a company’s frontline of communication to customers)

Consider data from a recent CCNG study which showed 80% of organizations still leverage traditional on-premise, brick-and-mortar contact centers. Of those organizations, the same study showed that 20% have no BCDR plan. So, it’s easy to say they’re crashing and burning with employees unable to get to work. For everyone else, organizations would activate their business continuity plan which may consist of some combination of the following scenarios:

  1. Companies employ a “hub-and-spoke” model and allow employees who would normally work from the office “hub” to work from home.
  2. Companies shift volume to other in-house centers in an unaffected area.
  3. Companies shift volume to an outsourced partner.

Let’s review each scenario:
For scenario #1, CCNG data also showed that more than half of all contact center organizations do not have the ability for their agents to be fully functional from home. And that’s just the organizational component – consider the fact that the agent base of a call center in a #Snowpocalypse might not being able to work because of power or internet outage. Oh, and for employees who are able to log in and work from home, there’s still a likely drop in performance from working from different than usual environment- having to deal with kids, looking after family, etc. and/or extreme expense in incentives (overtime, contests, etc.) to encourage solid performance. From talking to my friends who are operations analysts at various companies – this was certainly the situation they experienced.

For scenario #2, while shifting volume to another center may alleviate weather related problems, customers will likely be dealing with long wait times. This is because it’s unlikely a company is able to staff additional resources at another center to cover the volume with short notice or, if they could, they would be paying a pretty penny in overtime as well. So it’s a double edged sword here – sacrifice the customer experience or pay up for the costs of staffing up.

Scenario #3 could be great or could be bad – it depends on the service. Considering outsourced providers other than Arise, nearly all would also struggle to staffing up resources in such a short time frame and there’s a fair risk of quality degradation – especially with offshore providers. In a recent Arise survey, we found that over 90% of people expressed frustration when encountering a language barrier with customer service, and over 1/4 reported being extremely frustrated.

Suffice it to say, the emotions of customer care, operations, and other execs in the Southeast were probably similar to the chaos reflected in the iconic image from Raleigh during this time, the “Attack on Glenwood Ave”.

Raleigh snow storm pic

It’s times like these where a 100% cloud-based customer management solution truly shines. Speaking from my experience at Arise, our cloud-based technology is able to easily shift calls to resources in unaffected areas and take on additional volume at the drop of a hat to enable 100% client uptime and quality results. You may remember Hurricane Matthew which also crushed the Southeast. During the storm, the Arise platform allowed affected clients to flex their customer service operations as high as 221% of locked forecast within one hour of request to ensure business continuity during the worst of the category 3 storm. On top of the ability to provide on-demand flexibility, cloud-based platforms provide a superior total cost advantage through facilities cost / CAPEX avoidance and efficiency benefits from the extremely high levels of utilization they are able to obtain.


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