Planning is the Best Way to Minimize Disaster Impacts


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As hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast, it reminds me of the importance of disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) planning, something that too many contact centers neglect. Most enterprise leaders agree that disaster recovery and business continuity planning is critical, but all too often budget constraints prevent organizations from making the necessary plans. Unfortunately, hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, floods, fires and acts of terrorism remind us of how important it is to have strong DR and BC plans in place.

Preparing for a Disaster

The primary goal when preparing for a disaster is to build a plan to keep your contact center operating during a disaster. The strategy you choose will depend on your technical capabilities and resiliency, number of sites and their geographical dispersion, the percentage of work that can be deferred in the short term without major business ramifications and serious customer dissatisfaction, and how much you are willing to spend to keep your business going in the event of a disaster. Here are a number of ways to prepare your contact center and limit the negative impact and cost of disasters:

• Have geographically dispersed locations, if possible. Set up business continuity routing plans to move interactions from an impacted site to its back-up.
• Invest in contact center infrastructure that is resilient and comes with full back-up capabilities.
• Invest in a cloud-based contact center infrastructure solution as your back-up, but be sure it’s based in a different geography from your primary system.
• Establish a business continuity plan with your carrier(s) that allows you to easily alter your routing scheme.
• Be prepared to use self-service solutions as your primary customer interaction point for as long as half a day. This is not ideal, but if it becomes necessary, you should have an interactive voice response (IVR) application ready to be implemented. (Build these environments, and hope you’ll never have to use them.)
• If your contact center technology supports work-at-home agents, assign 20% of agents to be DR staff. Implement the technology needed in their homes, train them to use it, and test it once per quarter to make sure they know how it works. (Ensure that they have necessary bandwidth to handle calls and other types of customer interactions.)
• If work-at-home is not an option and you don’t have a second site in a different geography, find an outsourcer in a different region that can provide back-up agents and technology on short notice. The outsourcer’s agents must be trained and have your systems and processes available to them. (To ensure that they are ready, they should be tested every quarter.)

Testing is Key

In a worldwide benchmark study on contact center disaster recovery, DMG found that only 36.7% of companies were confident that they could operate without serious impact on service quality and the customer experience during a disaster. This percentage is low because a majority of contact centers either do not have DR and BC plans or are not keeping them up-to-date. This same study revealed that only 4.7% of companies test their DR and BC plans on a monthly basis. This leaves 95.3% of contact centers at risk of a major meltdown in an emergency, which is not a position that most of us want to be in. The best plans won’t help if your staff does not know what to do and the technology does not work. So, it’s essential to run a full business continuity test once a year, and test various aspects of the plan on a quarterly basis.

Final Thoughts

Nobody likes to think about disasters, but whether they are “acts of God,” such as a hurricane, or man-made, such as a terrorist attack, they happen. Not every company will be hit by unexpected events, but all contact centers should be prepared so that they can mitigate the impact on their customers and bottom line without putting their employees at risk.

Donna Fluss
Donna Fluss is founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations and technology consulting. DMG helps companies build world-class contact centers and vendors develop and deliver high-value solutions to market. Fluss is a recognized authority and thought leader on customer experience, contact center, workforce optimization, speech technology and real-time analytics. She is the author of The Real-Time Contact Center and many leading industry reports.


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