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Lessons Learned from Contact Center Disasters

Each month, ICMI asks a question about the contact center industry to ICMI’s Top 25 thought leaders and our team of featured contributors. We then share their thoughts with you.

Here is this month’s question:

Aside from the pandemic, think back to a business disaster that you and your team faced. What are some lessons you can share that may apply to others in the field?


Mike Aoki, Trainer and Speaker on CX and Sales, Reflective Keynotes, Inc.

Probably the best example that comes to mind is one from early in my career. I was with a telecom company when they had a network issue. As a result, the contact center was flooded with angry customer calls. To cope, management offered paid overtime to encourage agents to temporarily put in extra hours. The leadership team also canceled training, which I agreed with in this extreme case. They also changed their IVR greeting to provide callers with information regarding the outage. Plus, they briefed agents on the issue status and estimated time to fix. That helped, since agents had information they could pass along to customers. Overall, communication, both internally and externally, was the key to coping with this extreme challenge.


Afshan Kinder, Partner, SwitchGear

You may have heard the expression death by 1000 cuts. I will flip the expression to say that it wasn’t death by 1000 cuts but learning by 1000 times! Allow me to explain:

It wasn’t just one “disaster”, but so many small ones that helped me learn to think outside the box for solutions to keep our team members and customers happy. During these “lessons”, I also learned how to do it while ensuring I wasn’t spending department budgets like I won the lottery.

The biggest challenges were ones that happened without warning, such as:

  • A power outage that extended over 30 hours
  • Billing issues where customers were double billed or not billed incorrectly
  • Hazardous weather conditions (ice storms, heatwave, non-operational HVAC, etc.)

Other types of challenges faced were:

  • Acquisition of other companies and the ingestion of their employees and client base into our company
  • The launch of new customer facing technologies

Here are my lessons learned:

  • The first step is to always have a clear communication strategy and plan to keep your employees and customers updated at predictable milestones. Silence in these situations is not golden. It is important to provide a status report and set expectations of those who are directly touched by the situation. Put someone in charge of this full time to overcommunicate.
  • These types of situations cause high call volume despite the best deployed call mitigation strategies. My learning was to make sure I didn’t succumb to C-suite pressure to hire a bunch of warm bodies in these situations, but instead to make sure that customers were connected to the right people for more one-and-done calls. Customers will forget the wait time five years from now, but they will never forget the way they were treated. Don’t hire warm bodies and put them through a “fast track” training program as your first step. To staff up, train the team with the quality and support they deserve.
  • When your “occupancy” stretches to 95%, you are asking for trouble with burnout. Get your first line leaders to drop all projects and meetings. Give your team members extra breaks to take a breath and recalibrate. Leaders should be there for their team to provide support and coaching. More often than not, when service levels are poor, coaching gets canceled. Make sure that the opposite occurs.

Headshot of Jim Iyoob

Jim Iyoob, Chief Customer Officer, Etech Global Services

From my experience, here are some steps to help:

Have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

Having a well-defined BCP that includes details such as remote work arrangements, backup power, CTI, and communication channels can help the company quickly resume operations and minimize the impact of the disaster.

Invest in Cloud-based Technologies

Moving to cloud-based technologies can help organizations overcome the challenges posed by natural disasters. Developing an integrated cloud infrastructure to keep the organization operational during challenging times and enable agents to work remotely with full efficiency.

Establish Encrypted VPN

To ensure data protection, allow your remote working teams to connect via an encrypted VPN network. This further ensures the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information during such unprecedented times. Configure the systems in such a way that any impending failure sends alerts across the organization.

Information Backup and File Share Integrity

Backup data at facilities away from your center at a third-party service provider. Therefore, if your organization's network is compromised, it wouldn't impact the backup and you can easily restore the information from the third-party service provider.

Conduct Regular Disaster Recovery Drills

Organizations should regularly conduct disaster recovery drills to check the effectiveness of the Business Continuity plan. It should also nominate point of contact for each responsibility so that the team is aware of what to do. This further helps to identify the drawbacks of the plan and provides opportunities for improvement.


Jeremy Watkin, Director of Customer Experience and Support at NumberBarn

In the world of providing customer support for SaaS products, we're no strangers to issues and events that alter our typical way of operating -- some of these are caused by world events and others from self-inflicted bugs and outages. In the face of such events, it's only natural for a contact center leader to freeze like a deer caught in the headlights, not knowing what to do or how to respond. That's why it's so critical to have plans in place so you know how to respond in the midst of a crisis. When you know what your next step is, you're less likely to buckle under pressure. And don't forget to review and edit your plans and procedures during and after the event based on what worked and what didn't work.