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Posted: July 27, 2012

Preparing for Mother Nature’s worst

Doing business during disasters

Rob Duncan

Colorado is in the midst of the worst wildfire season in a decade, with multiple active fires devastating the most beautiful parts of the state.

In Colorado Springs, hundreds of businesses were forced to shut down, causing devastating monetary losses. Surrounding states such as Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming are also experiencing the damaging effects of wildfires, while other regions across the country struggle to deal with natural disasters of their own including flooding, hurricanes and tornados. The harsh reality is that regardless of where you are located, you may find your business at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Offering Customer Service Without Interruption
Most companies have disaster recovery plans, including how to restore data systems, get employees back to work, or reinstate utilities. But most of these plans focus on what to do after a disaster, not during one. When small, local businesses are faced with impending closures, their customers typically are affected as well, which means they know the reason behind service interruptions.

However, for organizations with national operations, closing the impacted facility means customers will experience interrupted service, busy signals and long wait or hold times. These customers may not know what is going on and will instead blame the company for poor customer service, which can adversely affect your brand, damage loyalty and even cause customers to switch to a competitor.

In today’s highly competitive, 24/7 society, providing business continuity during disasters is extremely important. The way to do this is with geographically diversified operations in terms of both network infrastructure and employees. For example, Hewlett-Packard was forced to evacuate its office and data center due to the Waldo Canyon Fire (Denver Post, June 2012). To maintain operations, it used employees working from home and rerouted functions to HP facilities outside of Colorado Springs.

For businesses without nationwide facilities, partnerships with home-based, or virtual, customer care providers can provide important peace-of-mind in times of crisis because:

  • Virtual Agents are Always Available
    Virtual call centers recruit, train and manage employees across the United States. This dispersed workforce allows virtual centers to re-route calls to trained professionals in unaffected parts of the nation, maintaining proper staffing levels and delivering uninterrupted call resolution.
     
  • Extra Resources when They are Needed Most
    The nature of virtual model allows them to increase the number of agents available to answer phones within minutes. With no commute, home-based agents can simply pick up their headset, log on to the computer and begin taking calls immediately. One call to a home-based partner provides immediate access to extra resources at a time when providing service through brick-and-mortar staff is not possible.
     
  • Network Connectivity is Consistent
    Just as the workforce is distributed with a virtual contact center, so too is the IT infrastructure. Any reputable virtual center will have state-of-the-art Tier 1 data centers in multiple U.S. locations. Each data center provides a highly available solution with uninterruptible power supplies, backup generators and multiple electrical feeds from local power grids. Connectivity to these centers is also covered through relationships with multiple, reputable providers such as Global Crossing, Level3, AT&T and Verizon. Should unforeseen events sever connectivity to one area, virtual centers can seamlessly re-route connectivity to another network. Customers in unaffected areas will not experience any service interruption.

Perhaps your business has remained unscathed from severe weather or other service-impacting events. If so, that’s great – for now. If not, then you know how important it is to have a well-crafted, business continuity strategy for your customer service operation. Make a plan now before the next fire hits, because providing high-quality, consistent service at a reasonable cost is essential even when the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

Rob Duncan is Chief Operating Officer for Alpine Access, Inc., the leading provider of employee-based virtual contact center solutions and services. Recently named the best contact center and CRM outsourcer for client satisfaction by Datamonitor's Black Book of Outsourcing, Alpine Access' clients include 10 of the Fortune 100 companies in the financial services, communications, technology, healthcare, retail, travel and hospitality sectors.

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