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Is Your Call Center Ready for a Disaster?

By Randy Saunders

Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, storms, power outages, terrorist never know when or how your business might be disrupted. But you do know that you must have a business continuity plan because customers don’t stop calling and emailing when you have an outage. In fact, volumes may increase. Your agents need to be available to customers. One negative experience with your company and you could lose that customer forever. Add the average number of customer contacts you have in a given time period and it is easy to see how quickly the damage to your business can multiply with any outage.

Large companies with established national or global operations typically have the resources to create redundant systems to overcome a local or even regional outage. If there is an outage or problem at one location, contacts are simply routed to the other open sites. However, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) typically don’t have the resources to build comprehensive disaster recovery plans and are left with few options other than rebuilding the system as quickly as possible.

Hosted contact centers to the rescue: Hosted contact center solutions provide SMBs with a cost-effective and reliable solution that minimizes business risks during an emergency by enabling agents to work from virtually anywhere. The latest hosted solutions require only a web browser, phone and internet access to provide the same complete contact center functionality as if the agents were actually on-site. Because all software and hardware are housed off-premise in a secure hosting facility, the “contact center” can continue to operate without disruption.

In fact, a hosted contact center can provide even greater flexibility and security than redundant physical contact centers. For instance, even if a company with multiple contact centers were able to re-route incoming contacts to one of their other centers, the remaining locations may not be able to handle the increased volumes or have the proper training to adequately handle the re-directed calls. A hosted solution enables you to automatically route communications to available agents wherever they might be. And if employees did have to be evacuated, re-establishing operations is quick and inexpensive, since agents only need a web browser, a phone, and access to the internet. This makes nearly any home or hotel a potential temporary outpost. The end result is the business continuity that your bottom line and customers require.

A virtual contact center for real-world events – and a global economy: Because the hosted solution places the hub of the contact center outside of the organization, it makes the virtual contact center a reality. By strategically locating agents in geographically diverse locations, you can dramatically reduce the impact any single event could have on the business. Far greater than even multiple contact centers, this can make the business nearly immune to local outages or disasters.

Fine Art By Hyatt is one company that can testify to the advantages of a hosted solution in an emergency. When Fine Art By Hyatt made their original decision to go with a hosted solution from Cincom Systems, Inc., a lot of factors other than emergency preparedness entered into the equation. However, when Hurricane Wilma stormed ashore less than 20 miles from the company headquarters in Naples, Florida, this ability moved to center stage. Larry Block, president of Fine Art By Hyatt, says “our agents in the Midwest and western states were able to cover the phones while we were covering our heads to protect from Wilma. We never missed a beat as far as taking customer orders was concerned!”

Under non-emergency conditions, a hosted solution can provide unmatched scheduling flexibility for agents and managers. It enables the business to employ the best agents available worldwide – creating a virtual contact center for businesses of any size.

The flexibility of hosted solutions also offers advantages during call spikes. Because no special hardware or software is required, you can quickly engage non-contact-center personnel to take customer calls. In essence, your entire organization can become a pool of backup agents for unforeseen load conditions.

The importance of multi-channel capability: A key component in the success of hosted solutions when addressing business continuity planning is the ability to integrate multiple channels. For example, if your customers’ phones are out of service due to an outage, they will try to utilize other channels of communication, such as e-mail, until they reach you. During Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attack, this situation became reality as millions of telephone lines and cell phones were inoperable; yet e-mails could be sent from many locations. The ability to substitute contact channels proved vital in this situation.

Also, if your business involves utilities, certain government agencies, and other organizations, call volumes are likely to increase during emergencies. The ability to direct customers to alternative communication channels that are operational or to agents located outside the affected area could be critical.  Today's hosted solutions make all of this possible.

Hosted contact centers on the rise: The business continuity and global business advantages of today's hosted contact center solutions haven't gone unnoticed by businesses. According to Datamonitor, hosted contact centers will be the fastest-growing sector of the market, and by 2008, will account for 38 percent of the global market. Additionally, DMG Consulting reports that by 2007, 20 percent to 30 percent of all new contact center seats will be hosted. By providing an economical and viable alternative to the on-premise contact center, a hosted solution enables SMBs to establish business continuity capabilities and global customer service that was previously not feasible. The end result is a leveling of the playing field for SMBs and minimized exposure in the event of a disaster.

Randy Saunders is the marketing director for Cincom’s Customer Experience Management products. He can be contacted at

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