Frost & Sullivan: Preparing Your Contact Center to Handle Customers During a Disaster

A recent Frost & Sullivan highlights the importance of customer contact preparedness for disasters, pointing out that they are at the heart of business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) strategies, as they are the go-to information centers in times of calamities and disasters. Due to the vital role they play in disseminating information, there are wide arrays of BC/DR-enabling methods and solutions available to handle all kinds of events.

Disasters account for more than a thousand deaths and billions of dollars of damages in the United States annually, according to sources such as the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), the National Fire Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Labor. The sources range from natural events, such as storms and fires, to workplace violence.

"The importance of information during times of such distress has made a strong case for advanced and multilayered BC/DR methods," said Frost & Sullivan Information and Communication Technologies industry analyst Brendan Read, in a statement. "This enables contact centers to plan, respond and recover from natural and man-made disasters."

With the rise in mobility and advent of social media, customers expect real-time updates on delays, disruptions and changes to the products and services they purchase. However, Frost & Sullivan's survey of more than 250 IT managers in 2012 revealed that only 31 percent of the respondents claimed their organizations are prepared to handle outages and disasters.

Customer contact organizations face two challenges when devising and implementing effective BC/DR programs. The first is balancing the potential risks and losses from adversity and the investments needed for putting in place effective BC/DR solutions. The second challenge pertains to enterprises' lack of motivation to deploy these solutions due to the unpredictability of these events.

"While an enterprise should be able to construct an impact model based on potential lost sales and productivity, the case may weaken when it comes to factoring in probabilities," said Read. "The investment in the solution is based on acceptable risk, which is hard to determine without solid data about the likelihood of occurrences."

The BC/DR solutions that will find the highest uptake are those that support customers, employees, and operations and yet minimize capital investments and operational costs. Some of the methods to achieve this include selecting sites away from vulnerable areas, "multishoring," enabling employees to work from home, placing applications and data in the cloud, employing multiple backup and response tools and channels, alerting customers through proactive customer contact, and improving contact center access control.

Effective BC/DR depends on the development and maturity of cloud/hosting to supply and support applications and data. The solution's success also rides on cloud vendors' deployment of redundancy, including active-active server backup, geo-redundancy, and onsite generators.

For BC/DR to be wholly functional, wireless communication should be prevalent. While social media has proven to be a useful alerting and interaction tool, it is effective only if the recipients have Internet access. Nevertheless, even with Internet access, the bandwidth can fluctuate wildly in the aftermath of a disaster. Hence, there is a huge need for a multilayered approach, such as inbound and outbound IVR and SMS/text.

"The incremental costs of providing full business continuity versus business disruption also should be considered," Read said. "Finally, all BC/DR strategies depend on how well these plans are drafted and kept up-to-date, and how effectively the staff is trained to handle them. These measures must also include methods to protect their most important assets, which are their employees."