Managing Your Contact Center When Disaster Strikes

The recent barrage of natural and human-generated disasters are reminders that it is important to properly prepare your contact center to serve customers navigating extreme circumstances. Taking steps to adjust your call center operations in the event of a natural or human-generated disaster will help you control the customer experience journey, avoid compliance complaints, and protect your brand image.

Texas and Florida were rocked this year as back-to-back storms waged war on both states. First, Harvey proved to be one of the most destructive storms we've seen in a decade, damaging more than 100,000 homes and forcing more than 1 million people to evacuate. Irma followed, earning the title of most powerful storm in the recorded history of the Atlantic. After battering the Caribbean, Irma hit Florida, destroying property and leaving 5.7 million customers without power. Both storms sent shockwaves throughout the country as millions were impacted by the complete destruction of homes and businesses.

Organizations across the country showed compassion for those affected by the hurricanes through social media posts, relief funds, volunteer work, and more. These humanitarian efforts can go a long way in building brand engagement, but for many of these companies, what is equally important is adjusting your business processes to the needs of your customers. This is especially true during extreme circumstances.

Here are four tips to help you better manager your contact center operations during disasters:

Data is your friend.

When disaster strikes, the scope of impact can be unpredictable. In the case of a volatile tropical storm, a sudden shift in course could unexpectedly send the storm directly toward a region full of your customers. To make the right decisions about suspending calls, it will be important to have the latest and most comprehensive data available.

Collecting and analyzing up-to-the-minute news on power outages, evacuations, and weather can be quite the task. Thus, it is important to develop a process that allows you to quickly sort through this data to make appropriate call suspension decisions. Not only does this improve efficiencies, but it can help you provide customers with a compassionate approach that won't easily be forgotten.

Adjust your call schedule.

The last thing you want to do is gain a reputation as a creditor or contact center that wouldn't stop calling a customer in the middle of a devastating disaster. Implementing an effective, responsive call suspension process is key to avoiding Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) compliance complaints and lawsuits from harassed consumers.

Scheduling calls to customers days before an impending disaster is another adjustment you can use to accommodate consumers. Reaching out before a big storm hits can give you an opportunity to show your customers that you are thinking about them and are concerned about their well-being. It could also be your last chance to get an update on the status of affected accounts before communication is not an option.

Be Proactive.

One of the things I always recommend in addition to call suspension is taking proactive action. Think about the ways your customers will be accessing information in the event of a natural disaster. Make a point to send encouraging messages through different platforms like your website, email, and SMS to let your customers know that you are thinking about them and their needs.

Additionally, companies should explore creating a skills-based routing group for inbound customer support. When calls start to trickle in from customers affected by a natural disaster, having a team on hand with the appropriate training can enhance their customer experience journey by ensuring that customers receive exactly what they need precisely when they need it most.

Communicate clearly.

Avoiding communication issues is essential to providing quality customer service in the face of disaster. Yet, poor communication is a common problem I often see creditors and contact centers fighting to overcome. If you do decide to suspend contact for a specific region, it's important to make sure this is communicated clearly through the entire organization. This is especially important for creditors who contract with multiple contact centers, as disparate customer treatment can quickly tarnish a brand reputation and expose the company to compliance issues.

The steps I've outlined throughout this piece center on the understanding that successful communications during disasters begin when you put people first. As such, contact professionals must take the time to understand the needs of their customers during disastrous times and adjust their processes accordingly. Not only will this help improve the brand image, but will also help ensure long-term success.

Justin Martinez is president of Contact Relief. Prior to his current position, he served for 15 years as vice president of operations at United Recovery Systems, where he was responsible for call center performance, strategy, process improvement, optimization, and regulatory compliance. He brings 25 years of call center experience in traditional third-party, first party, customer service, and debt purchasing.