Networking

Keeping the lines open when disaster hits the call center

Tips for designing a call center disaster plan


How would you provide call center support if the corporate headquarters building were suddenly off-limits for an extended period of time? That’s one of the questions call center managers have to answer when writing disaster recovery plans. If you don’t have such a plan in place, here are a few tips that might come in handy when you get around to designing your plan.

Can you reroute your support lines?
One of the first things companies must do when looking at disaster recovery options is to find a suitable place to set up alternate operations. The separate work site should be easy for employees to get to, and it should provide plenty of Internet bandwidth. Perhaps more important, though, you must be able to transfer your telephone numbers to the alternate work site.

Recently, I wrote a disaster recovery plan for a small manufacturing company with a single location and customers all over the country. Those customers place orders and request product support almost exclusively by telephone. If the company for some reason had to move its operations to another location, all incoming phone and fax lines would need to come too.

“We have an agreement with a company to provide us all the space, equipment, and connectivity we need if we have to set up shop elsewhere,” the client told me. I asked about phones and was told, “We have our old multiline telephone system in storage, and it still works.”

However, there was one detail that was overlooked until we started filling out the recovery plan with detailed instructions: No one had contacted the telephone company to confirm that the company’s numbers could be rolled over to the alternate location.

This customer-friendly company had acquired three smaller companies in recent years. For the convenience of those customers, all of the old toll-free numbers were kept intact, and they rolled over to the new corporate headquarters.

All together, they had these incoming lines:
  • Three 800 numbers from recent acquisitions
  • Two 800 numbers for technical support
  • One 800 number for sales support
  • Two 800 numbers for receiving faxes
  • Two local lines

In this day and age, you wouldn’t think that rolling those lines over would be that much of a problem. Here’s the catch: The alternate location was across a river in a neighboring state. There were so many issues associated with reestablishing telephone support at the first alternate work site that the company changed course. It found a different location on the same side of the river. Now, in the disaster recovery plan under “recover telephone services,” there’s a single-line instruction that looks like this:

"Call the phone company at (000) 555-1212 and say, 'this is <name> from <name of company>, and I request that you roll our telephone numbers over to <name of alternate location>.'"

You don’t want your customers to get a fast busy or an “out of service” message when they try to call looking for help. Plan ahead to ensure that your telephones will work wherever you set up temporary operations.

Publish two emergency contact points
Most IT teams have emergency pager numbers for key vendors, and they keep an inventory of emergency pagers and cell phones to be carried by the lucky folks who are on call. But if there’s a temporary interruption of telephone service to the help desk, or if the help desk is inaccessible for whatever reason, how will corporate end users get through to you?

Of course, there’s one school of thought that says, “In an emergency, IT won’t have time to answer calls from users because they’ll be dealing with the emergency.” However, if you want to plan ahead, consider documenting in your plan two points of emergency contact with the help desk. That way, anyone in the company who has access to the disaster recovery plan will have some way to reach tech support if absolutely necessary. The contact points can be as simple as these:
  • Emergency tech support telephone inbox: (000) 555-1212
  • Emergency tech support e-mail: techsupport@some_Web-based_account.com

Make sure you document the fact that no one will be checking those resources for messages except for when the company’s normal communications systems are unavailable. One other thing: Don’t forget to document in the IT team’s plan how to check messages from those accounts.

Script the safe responses
Once you’ve set up your operations center in an alternate site, you may receive calls from people trying to gain access to information about the company and the disaster. As a rule, it isn’t within the help desk’s scope to answer questions about anything except support of company systems. Scripting standard responses for use in an alternate work site helps prevent the spread of incomplete or incorrect information to the media and to the company’s customers, employees, and business partners.

So how can you ensure that a help desk analyst doesn’t inadvertently say something to a reporter or a nosy competitor? One way is to put in writing the rules you want your analysts to follow. For example, if you want all calls from the media to be referred to the company’s public relations representative, write a script for your help desk team that says something like: “Media contacts: The help desk is for tech support only. Please contact the public relations department at (000) 555-1212.”

You may also want to script specific answers to frequently asked questions. For example, if someone calls and asks what happened, the standard response by the call center analyst should be something like, “The public relations department will make an official statement when the assessment is complete.”

Additional reading
Looking for more information about how to implement a disaster recovery plan? Check out this help desk disaster recovery plan checklist, which provides suggestions for things the help desk should store in safe, off-site storage.

If you’re investigating disaster planning and recovery solutions, check out this disaster recovery e-book, which provides tips, insight, and advice on disaster recovery and preparation.

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