Planning for a Disaster in Call Center Management

In addition to managing a call center's daily operations, it is important to have a disaster and contingency plan for any organization that involves resources, equipment, and people.

As with a fire drill, the disaster and contingency plan must be rehearsed periodically at call centers for several reasons, such as emergency situations in the face of natural or human disasters; technology or power shutdowns; other situations that force a call center to shut down, halt, or modify operations, or occasions when customer communication is lost.

The more ways that a business can offer customers access to the company, the more options that become available in the likelihood of an emergency. This helps the business handle sudden changes more easily and with more avenues for customer contact, making it less likely that the business will lose that customer.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters such as flooding, storms, and snow can prevent people from reaching centers. In addition, they may affect power and telecommunication lines, resulting in network outages.


Construction can also frequently disrupt cable, power, and telephone lines, which is very disruptive to facilities such as call centers that rely on a steady flow of communication. Such disturbances can be localized or affect a small number of centers. Nonetheless, the cost of the associated downtime can be enormous. That is why it is important for call centers to properly plan out disaster and contingency measures. Ideally, these will never have to be implemented, but the staff are well-prepared and knowledgeable about what needs to be done.

Emergency Procedures

Below are suggested procedures to assist in dealing with emergency situations for many call centers.

1. Assess and identify key systems at risk.

In a disaster or emergency situation, it is important to be able to quickly assess and identify the key systems at risk. Examples include switching technology and data processing equipment.

However, other considerations unique to a business and its specific call center may apply. For example, perhaps the package delivery system is vital to a company's business operation. If the business is dependent upon the call center taking orders over the phone, what will happen when the call center is shut down? What if the business is able to take orders, but shipping is stopped due to inclement weather or other variables?

Almost every company is dependent on other companies for survival in some aspect as some task or service is outsourced to another company. Hence any business is at risk if these services stop or are halted.

When a company requires outside services, especially order fulfillment, personnel supply, and service and maintenance on internal equipment for continuous operation, there are basically two choices for the contingency plan.

Single Source Services:

In this case, the business must ensure that the vendors have enough redundancy or extra capacity to handle defined contingencies.

Multisource Services:

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In this case, a business ensures backup if the primary vendor has difficulty meeting contractual obligations. It is important to recognize that contingency planning has to be put into effect for every service offered by the business from communication resources to courier services. For companies that are service providers themselves (such as a cable company), the company must inform customers of contingency plans for continued service in case of snow, fire, or other short-term emergencies.
Facility Power Assessment

It is important that you conduct a cabling, wiring, and power assessment of the call center.This process must be thorough and comprehensive in order to be effective. Every wire and connection in the call center must be clearly mapped out with a pictorial interconnection diagram showing the connections between technologies. This includes being able to check the power protection status of every server, personal computer, switch, and node.

The cost of the associated downtime, meaning whenever a natural disaster or event forces a call center to shut down or cease operations temporarily, can be enormous. Contingency plans are not only necessary, they are imperative.

Lightning strikes can quickly short out all phone sets and headsets and thus can make telephone systems quite vulnerable. Hence, a protection mechanism should be put in to prevent outages in phone service. When a lightning strike occurs, a call center can often have working computers without the ability to answer incoming automatic call distribution (ACD) calls.

Select Manual Work Procedures

The contingency plan should include procedures for taking orders manually if the computer systems go down. Be sure to have enough physical hard copies of current and relevant product and service catalogs for every inbound call center. Every call center representative (CSR) must be able to offer basic pricing and ordering information to customers. In addition, train CSRs to handle customers when customer data are not available. Contingency planning will provide backup resources and procedures for handling a plethora of phone calls that flood in when the interactive voice response system (IVR) or auto attendant is down or not functioning properly.

What happens if the phone lines are shut down but still have Internet connectivity? A business may be able to address customer concerns via alternative means such as e-mail or text-chat.

The more access methods that customers have, the more points at which a sudden change can cause problems that may not be disastrous but may require special consideration. On the other hand, the more avenues a customer has to contact a company, the less likely the company will lose that customer to a disaster.

Identify Major Personnel

Who is on call? It is helpful to know who is on call during a problem and the specific responsibilities of those personnel. Brief every staff member on his or her responsibilities in an emergency. In addition, any working group brought together for call center contingency planning must include members from other departments, especially people from information technology (IT) and the facilities management departments to share knowledge openly and across all departments uniformly.

Each department must be informed of the effect of having call center failure on the entire company and on the company's revenue stream. By educating the entire company, employees are able to offer coordinated responses to problems that can impact data processing, order processing, shipping, and the availability of human resources.

2. Check out secondary contingency operating sites.

It is important to replicate call center functions in another location if the natural or other disaster is catastrophic or affects the central operation. Hence, equipping the CSRs to continue to operate from another location is essential. Disaster-oriented services offer a range of resources such as equipment, temporary facilities, data processing, and backup functions.

3. Audit disaster and contingency plans.

Contingency planning is essential to identifying all the elements necessary to the call center operation, including people, processes, and equipment. This also means planning for situations in which these elements will not be available with backup strategies offered for a variety of emergency conditions.

The second important aspect involves adding a technology net that includes backup power supplies, power protection, redundant trunks, and carriers. The next part involves having an audit of disaster and contingency plans in oder to ensure complete protection of the call center. This audit must document every aspect of the center. This ranges from wiring runs to home phone numbers of all critical personnel. You must also put down all these plans on physical paper in case of a network crash. Staff members must know where the plans are stored and have quick access to them.

Next, be sure to conduct emergency drills with all staff members to prepare them for a real emergency. They need to know what to do and when and how to keep the call center functioning and operational.
4. Identify potential risks. These can vary, depending upon the emergency and also the geographic location of the center.

5. Perform a power audit.

Power, by far, is one of the company's most serious resources for protection. When a call center goes down, company revenues actually stop flowing.

"Call center downtime" must be avoided at all costs. What is call center downtime? Downtime basically means customer calls are not coming in, orders are not being taken, and customers are getting impatient and even angry. They will then turn to other companies to meet their needs. Hence, it is vital to protect the center from power outages and put in a plan for this right from the beginning.

The failure of the electrical power system is one of the most frequent causes of downtime, forcing a call center "off the air," usually for a period of time. Backup power sources are thus vital to prevent downtime due to power outages. The IVR system is a technology resource that will be out of service in a power failure. When a call center has become dependent on IVR, it is an essential feature of the center's operations as it enables staff to handle a large volume of call traffic, promote customer satisfaction, and generate revenue. Sometimes, the IVR system handles all inbound calls or passes them through an ACD back to CSRs. The loss of IVR can be as serious as the loss of phone service.

Because power problems are the most frequent cause of phone and computer system failure, it is good to prepare for these outages. Spikes, surges, and brownouts happen as often as 400 times a year, according to nationwide consumer surveys. By far, power-related damage can be one of the most difficult types of damage to recover from, as it destroys hardware and wipes out data. In addition, numerous connections to trunks, networks, and peripherals increase the number of access routes for power surges. A call center with more interconnected components is more vulnerable to a power outage.

Uninterruptible power supply (UPS)

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is a battery system that sends power to a telephone switch or computer. Surge protectors are able to control high voltages that can surge down power or telephone lines, thereby destroying delicate equipment. Power conditioners also eliminate extraneous noise, adjust voltage levels, and offer clean power to telephone switches and computers. There are high-end UPS systems available that combine all of these functions in a single unit.

Power management software enables users to track power conditions throughout the network from a workstation. This kind of software also offers UPS with more sophisticated features, such as the capability of shutting down unattended equipment.

Power protection can be an inexpensive form of insurance for call centers. While the added cost is about 10 percent to 25 percent of the hardware's value, its value has been proven and also protects data in the event of a power outage. Call center data is usually far more valuable than the hardware, which is replaceable.

6. Identify what you need to protect, particularly critical systems.

7. Designate priorities.

What are the vital tasks and services? What can wait? Do you need to be able to provide service or take orders?

It is important to take precautions to ensure a minimum continuity of function and connection to customers. The call center is one of a company's most vulnerable departments because of its dependency on often complex core technologies. Yet at the same time, it is also very valuable because its operation is necessary for customer communication and often just for placing orders. Hence, getting it back on track is not only necessary but essential.