As a corporate decision-maker, call center manager, IT manager or head of operations, are you prepared for the unexpected? Most organizations have some type of business continuity/disaster recovery (BCDR) plan in place, but will it meet your needs when the unexpected occurs? Can your backup facility handle the call volume that comes with disaster situations? Do you have enough agents available elsewhere if one or more of your centers goes down? Partnering with a virtual, at-home service provider can help minimize and even eliminate the impact an unanticipated event could have on your business and your customers. Learn more about how a virtual, work-at-home solution can protect you.
- Devastating hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and floods in the United States made 2017 one of the most extreme years in climate disasters and caused a record-high cost of more than $300 billion
- Outbreaks such as flu (which strikes as much as 20 percent of Americans each year2) and other pandemic situations have shut down businesses around the globe
- Up to 17 million workdays are lost because of influenza, causing approximately $7 billion a year in sick days and lost productivity
- Massive security network breaches affect millions of consumers, with the “worst year yet” occurring every year
Handling the day-to-day complexities of running a successful business can leave little time to prepare for events that may not even happen. The Society for Human Resource Management’s disaster preparedness poll, conducted 10 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, found that only 33 percent of organizations surveyed feel they are prepared for a disaster to great or very great extent5. However, potential business-interrupting events are on the rise, and having a business continuity/disaster recovery plan in place is becoming a higher priority.
From natural disasters and manmade occurrences to geopolitical risks and breaches of security, it is likely that your organization will face an unexpected event sometime in the future. Whether it affects your customers depends on how well you’ve prepared for it.
Although the terms “business continuity” and “disaster recovery” are often used interchangeably, they are two distinct steps in the planning process. Business continuity (BC) is a concept used in the creation and validation of a practiced logistical plan for how an organization will recover and restore (partially or completely) interrupted critical function(s). Disaster recovery (DR) comprises the processes, policies and procedures of restoring operations critical to the resumption of business, including regaining access to data, communications, workspace and other business processes6.
Both are important to resuming operations after a disaster.
Most large companies allot a percentage of their IT budget to disaster-recovery planning, and while it may seem like a significant investment, the financial impact of not servicing customers is much higher. Millions of dollars in revenue can be lost when phones aren’t answered or callers hang up due to extensive hold times. Of course, it is impossible to predict every event that could affect your service delivery, but the geographic diversity and advanced technology infrastructure of an at-home, virtual solution will ensure your customers are taken care of regardless of the situation.
Types of Disasters
Preventing service interruptions, whether from a “once in a lifetime” event or recurring seasonal activity, is critical in today’s highly competitive, 24/7 business environment. Business continuity and disaster recovery plans must take into consideration a wide range of potential calamities, including natural disasters, manmade occurrences, geopolitical risks, and health-related or seasonal events. In fact, extreme weather and power outages were the leading cause of implementing BCDR plans in 20147.
There seems to be no “safe zone” from the fury of Mother Nature. Dramatic and damaging weather patterns can affect all parts of the country and the world.
Offshore call center providers also feel the effects of storms and weather-related events. In the fall of 2013, thousands of people in the Philippines, Thailand and India were unable to get to work, stranded by high winds and floods. In 2011, the combination of an earthquake and a tsunami caused a nuclear disaster in Japan, bringing business to a standstill. Organizations using call centers in these areas scrambled to redirect calls to onshore resources; some were successful, others were not.
When existing sites shut down, companies that cannot quickly redirect calls or handle unanticipated call volumes risk losing customers. Is your contact center prepared for such an event?
The number of manmade occurrences closing call centers is on the rise. These types of events could include biohazard spills, bomb or terrorist threats, computer viruses or security breaches. They could also be as simple as a spoiled lunch in the refrigerator or someone burning popcorn in the microwave. While manmade events may seem benign on the surface, the result of closing a call center can be expensive.
When businesses shut down unexpectedly, customers who need help are unable to receive it. Where do they go? Especially in contact centers with hundreds of employees, the sheer volume of missed calls can dramatically affect a company’s financial bottom line.
Companies that outsource to offshore call centers assume the risks associated with geopolitical events in that region. For instance, in recent years Greece experienced financial turmoil that may have longterm repercussions in the global marketplace. In addition, the geopolitical situation in Egypt (an emerging outsourcing hub) led to an unprecedented nine-day Internet shutdown.
While these situations represent the worst possible scenarios, political events need to be considered when selecting a customer care provider. To make an informed decision, companies should perform detailed risk assessments to identify the potential for dangerous events and evaluate call center providers based on the unique characteristics of the country, region, government and economy.
Experts agree that at some point in the future there will be a global flu pandemic with major economic impact. Could your company continue to function if only 40 percent of your service delivery team was able to show up to work? If your call center was forced to close due to quarantine, would your customers continue to be serviced quickly, with high levels of satisfaction?
Should a flu or other health-related pandemic occur, businesses will face a variety of problems, including a reduced workforce, a contagious environment, employees refusing to travel for fear of infection, and a loss of efficiency resulting from increased time-off requests. Considering the devastating effects an outbreak could have on your business operations; advanced planning is critical
Not all disaster-related events are caused by external forces. Sometimes, a lack of communication between internal departments can create an unanticipated call volume. Take, for instance, a large technology company that launches a new product right before Christmas. Phone lines during the holiday season become swamped with calls about installation, resets or functionality questions. While the company may sell more product than predicted, lack of planning on the service side results in frustrated customers and bad publicity.
Service challenges created by companies can also occur when special-event advertising or promotional campaigns create a flood of incoming phone calls and customers can’t get through or are left on hold for extended periods of time.
Are You Prepared?
Traditionally, disaster recovery plans have been focused solely on creating redundancy. Most companies using call centers for all or part of their customer contact solutions have built their BCDR plans based on one of three options:
A second, company-owned facility:
- Second, “hot” call center facility outfitted with duplicate hardware
- Facility remains empty until an event occurs requiring its use
- Extremely costly
Third-party backup facility:
- Contract with a third party for use of their backup call center facility
- Full facilities and equipment available that can be activated within a few hours
- Facilities are typically run on a first-come, first-served basis
- In the case of an area-wide disaster, the facility may be occupied by another client and/or unable to accommodate all contracted partners at one time
- Most widely accepted option
- “Failover” or transfer calls to another existing facility or facilities owned or managed by the company
- Facilities may not have the capacity, equipment or trained representatives to handle the increased call volume
Since most companies only plan to use these resources in the case of a “disaster,” several important factors tend to be overlooked:
The human factor: In the event of a storm or regional disaster, employees may not be able to get to a secondary site or facility. It’s been determined that when flooding or storm damage affects a call center, employees living within a 30-mile radius are also affected. At a time when the greatest concern should be for the safety of your employees and their families, requiring travel to a backup site can be problematic. Some companies believe sending employees home with a laptop and phone solves the “disaster” problem. However, there is no guarantee employees will have the basic home office equipment in place or would be able to provide the appropriate security, privacy or connectivity.
The distance factor: Getting existing employees to a third-party recovery site could require a lengthy commute, expensive last-minute plane tickets or other transportation costs. Is it feasible to move enough employees to adequately staff a backup facility? Although companies can be insured for this “potential event,” many see it as a large expense for a “what if” event and are looking for a more cost-effective solution.
The capacity factor: Failover to another company-owned facility is usually the best option.
However, transferring calls to a facility that is already taking a full volume of calls can provide its own risks.
Consider this scenario:
- You have three sites, each staffed with 500 full-time employees Each site is typically 80 percent occupied, meaning 400 of the available 500 agents are working at any given time
- One site goes down
- Calls normally handled by the 400 agents at the closed center must be redistributed to the other two sites
- The two operational sites can only handle additional capacity for a combined total of 200 full-time employees (100 per center)
What happens to the remaining call volume? Even if you can get additional staff to the existing facilities, you are limited based on the number of available seats and equipment.
The cost factor: Costs can rapidly add up without careful planning.
Unanticipated expenses include:
- Overtime pay for agents working longer hours to handle the increased volume
- Travel costs and living expenses for employees who are sent to work in other facilities
- Cost for manpower and technology to ensure the failover site is working efficiently
- Penalties associated with longer wait times, more abandoned calls, etc.
Consequences of a Disaster
When a call center closes, even for a short time, customers still need help. Callers who are unaware of the disaster will become frustrated when faced with busy signals or long hold times. Regardless of the reason, service interruptions can have a devastating impact on your customer base and long-term business vitality.
Here are a few of the unintended consequences of being ill-prepared for a disaster:
- Decreased customer satisfaction: Longer hold times, high abandon rates and lower first-call resolutions can all add up to a bad customer experience. According to a report by Genesys, 71 percent of consumers have ended relationships with a company due to poor customer service, 61 percent ended up moving to a competitor and 39 percent were lost or abandoned completely, deciding not to purchase from anyone8. The same survey places the average cost of a lost customer at $289 per year, resulting in a loss of $83 million to the overall U.S. economy due to poor customer service.
- Tarnished brand/reputation: Customers depend on you to be available when they need you. If their needs are not immediately met, consumers are not afraid to communicate their dissatisfaction in public forums. The common rule of thumb is that for every customer who complains, there are at least 25 who do not. Additionally, each unhappy customer will tell eight to 16 others about their dissatisfaction. With the advent of social media, these numbers can easily reach the thousands, if not millions, in a matter of days. Consequently, poor customer service can affect your company’s reputation and brand in ways that are not easily reversed.
There is a Solution
Fortunately, these problems are preventable. Companies that partner with virtual, at-home models can quickly redistribute call loads to experienced agents across the country and provide uninterrupted service to customers regardless of the situation. Virtual, at-home contact centers provide a proven, scalable, ondemand solution that can meet your BCDR needs without draining resources. The inherent nature of the business model has a built-in plan for the unexpected:
- Geographically dispersed workforce limits the impact of regional events: By using a widely dispersed group of agents throughout the country, the effects of a disruption in the event of storms or other regional issues are drastically minimized. In other words, employees within an area affected by a weather-related occurrence are only a very small percentage of the overall available workforce. This means that instead of re-routing a majority of calls, businesses only need to make small adjustments (similar to the amount usually made to accommodate everyday problems such as flat tires or sick children). These changes can happen in real time or within minutes, significantly minimizing the effect on the business.
- Greater staffing flexibility: Virtual, at-home service providers utilize a mix of full- and part-time representatives to provide greater flexibility and an ability to adjust staffing as needed. Through a sophisticated workforce-management scheduling system, trained agents who are not scheduled to work can volunteer to take additional calls or extended shifts. Should the need arise, managers can reach out to these “on-call” agents and have them sign in to take calls, providing instantaneous rampup for unexpected call volume.
- Trained, knowledgeable staff provides greater brand continuity: Virtual call center employees are thoroughly trained by knowledgeable facilitators using the latest adult e-learning methodologies and technology. These are not “temps” or “fill-in” personnel; they are trained and experienced in handling calls for the specific client or program, resulting in the seamless transfer of information and culture so quality levels are not affected.
- Seamless integration: With the ability to ramp up in response to emergency situations, any overflow or additional calls are handled efficiently and effectively. In fact, many clients have found that customers didn’t know they were operating any differently
Real World Solutions
SYKESHome offers proven, real-world solutions for business continuity and disaster recovery. Here are a few examples of the effectiveness of the SYKESHome solution:
- A large, well-known technology company with a faulty server experienced a system outage that prevented users from accessing their accounts. At 5:00 a.m., they called SYKESHome, asking for assistance in handling the additional call volume (which was 50 to 100 percent more than existing volume during certain intervals). Within an hour, staffing was increased to accommodate the added volume and callers were unaware of the outage.
- A financial services client was affected by brush fires, forcing them to evacuate their call center. They asked SYKESHome to fill the gap. SYKESHome agents picked up the additional call volume, adding 113 hours from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. By Monday morning, their center was up and operational as if nothing had happened.
- A technology company launched a new product and expected a significant increase in call volume. To accommodate the demand, SYKESHome recruited, hired and trained 1,200 agents within six weeks, including many individuals who had direct experience with the company’s product(s). Not only were consumers communicating with knowledgeable, well-trained agents, they were also talking to fellow users of the product. The client continues to be impressed by SYKESHome’s responsiveness and innovative solution(s) to meet their needs and strengthen brand loyalty among consumers
- During Hurricane Sandy, a healthcare client had to close their existing brick-and-mortar call center due to flooding. They asked SYKESHome to handle the call volume while their facility was closed. Employees assigned to that program were asked to volunteer for additional shifts and volumes. The time slots and additional schedules were filled within one hour of the client’s request. Additional staffing levels were run for three days, adding 456 hours to handle this call volume.
- A government services client anticipated the need for 190 additional representatives to accommodate their seasonal demand. SYKESHome was easily able to recruit, hire and train additional personnel. Within three months, agents were handling almost double the normal number of calls and chats.
- The brick-and-mortar call center in Egypt used by one of SYKESHome’s largest clients was closed during political unrest. At the same time, its Oregon center was severely understaffed due to a flu outbreak. Meanwhile, its center in the Philippines was understaffed due to severe storms and flooding. SYKESHome was able to ramp up to fill the staffing gaps and handle the higher call volume.
- A large international retail chain experienced a power outage in one of its brick-and-mortar centers. The company needed additional representatives to handle the excess call volume. SYKESHome quickly adjusted staffing to meet this need. Four hours later, the client called again. Another site was down. The client authorized overtime and asked if SYKESHome could also handle the volume from this site. Within one minute after the initial request, a request was sent asking for volunteers to log in early or stay past their shift. Within 10 minutes, additional representatives were available. As a result, the abandon rate the client would have otherwise experienced due to the system outage was minimized.
- Based on staffing forecasts, a client predicted additional call volumes during the back-to-school season. They asked if SYKESHome could extend shift hours. Within two minutes of their request, additional staffing was secured for two weeks to assist with higher call volumes.
- A large financial services client was forced to close their brick-and-mortar call center in Houston during Hurricane Ike. Executives contacted SYKESHome 24 hours before the scheduled closure of their center. SYKESHome added 22 percent more representatives to handle the calls from the closed center without customers being aware of the closure. The company was able to protect and even strengthen its brand name and reputation.
How can the Virtual SYKESHome Model Help You
Be prepared for the unexpected. If you have a business continuity and disaster recovery plan, review it. Does it guarantee that your customers will continue to receive quality customer service when faced with an unanticipated event? If not, it’s time to investigate how a virtual, at-home solution can offer both you and your customers protection no matter what happens. SYKESHome offers premier capabilities in everyday and emergency/disaster situations.
From a technology perspective, SYKESHome provides easy access, proven security, compliance and scalability through a cloud-based system. Constantly monitored by seasoned IT professionals, business is conducted in the cloud every day — not just as an option for disaster situations.
On the “people” side of business, the geographically dispersed workforce and flexible scheduling capabilities available through SYKESHome make it possible to provide adequate staffing in any emergency situation. Most home-based employees can easily accommodate increased hours, often with extremely short notice and clients have trained, knowledgeable and dedicated professionals taking customer calls, which helps maintain brand integrity and creates strong customer loyalty. SYKESHome agents are truly an extension of the companies they serve — in any situation.