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When Disasters Strike: Best Practices for Planning and Recovery

Over the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed devastating disasters including dangerous wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many of our community members live in the areas impacted, and several of our customers operate offices and contact centers in these locations. Our thoughts are with everyone who’s still working to recover from the historic flooding, winds, and fires.

We continue to feel inspired by the many ways we’ve seen members of our community step up in the face of tragedy to help provide relief.  The Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW) is on the ground in Orlando taking thousands of disaster relief calls. Their agents kept the phone lines open throughout Irma, many of them working 4-5 days straight, while their families braved the storm at home. Countless contact centers and offices across the country continue to collect donations and supplies to send to victims. And volunteers are stepping up to take calls so contact center employees can rest.

Disaster Recovery

As we reflect and respond to the latest emergencies, we thought it might be helpful to share some resources that will help you prepare if a disaster strikes your area. Here are a few articles/videos worth bookmarking.  Set aside some time to discuss these with your team. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to develop a disaster recovery plan.

Weathering the Storm: Best Practices for Disaster Prevention and Recovery

In this article, former ICMI associate editor interviewed Contact Solutions to learn how their contact center prepared for and responded to Hurricane Sandy. It all boiled down to three things: People, Process, and Technology.  Paul Logan, President and CEO of Contact Solutions, credits their recovery to a thoughtful six-step plan:

  1. Have a Plan: If you are running a contact center, one of the most important things you can do is create a plan that will dictate what will happen during a natural disaster or crisis. Preparation is 90 percent of the battle.
  2. Enforce Employee Safety & Preparedness: Contact centers are a high labor force environment, which is a negative for incident management and control. Having complete and effective self-service solutions helps reduce the dependency on a contact center workforce. Employees need a clear outline of what conditions will dictate attendance/non-attendance at work, and how that communication is to be made. This is also an action that could be supported by an automated employee communication system – why not let your self-service technology work for your employees as well as your customers?
  3. Consider Potential Customer Communication: Will the natural disaster impact your service to customers? Are customers in affected areas? If you have an automated solution that enables you to effectively communicate with your customer base, plus up-to-date contact info, this can be a benefit.
  4. Consider Capacity: How will the disaster impact your normal workloads? Some disasters temporarily decrease volumes; other create massive volume peaks. Again, managing a labor force while having a drop or surge in volumes is not ideal. The more you can control these surges through self-service technology, the better the outcomes will be.
  5. Geographic Diversity: How local to the incident is your contact center? If you only have one, it leaves you at a disadvantage. Even companies with multiple centers often have limited geographic diversity. If your technology is also local, then the problem is expanded. Consider cloud technology – don’t put all your eggs in one local basket! Also, look at having a portion of employees as remote workers; it will help manage fluctuating volumes. Use technology to help manage around the storm.
  6. Don’t Panic: Contact centers are designed to handle volume surges at maximum efficiency. Leverage your process for volume management: optimized self-service, automated communications, additional staffing, remote employees, overflow centers, vendors or groups.

Plan for Contact Volume Volatility

Having a plan is critical, but you should also expect the unexpected. It’s hard to predict contact volume during emergency situations, but it is wise to prepare for volatility. ICMI delivered a webinar on the topic and shared a related ToolKit. These resources are worth reviewing and also touch on another important aspect of disaster recovery: the ability to provide multilingual customer support.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Especially during times of disaster, being proactive helps to mitigate anxiety. One great way to do that: use social media! See how HFUW is serving their customers via Facebook Live updates. (And learn more about how they’re leveraging volunteers to manage call volume)

Pressure Test Your Service Operation

In this video, Brad Cleveland shares a personal story and issues a challenge. Consider how emergency drills might benefit your team. Train them to manage stressful situations, so when the time comes, they can confidently address issues as they arise.

Let Us Know How We Can Help

We will continue to monitor the disaster relief progress and will keep you informed of any content we see. In the meantime, please feel free to comment below and share your story. Tell us what you’ve seen in your community, how your team has responded, or how you’re working to prepare for the future. And feel free to share your questions, too! We’re here to help.