Call center services can do a lot to alleviate the burden of answering the phones and managing customer service during a normal business day, but they are even more valuable when disaster strikes. Whether a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence or an electrical grid failure threatens your ability to provide the quality service your customers have come to expect, call center services could keep your phone lines open and manage them with a friendly professionalism that doesn't skip a beat.
How do call center services help your business operate during a natural disaster, and how do they stay operational under the same conditions? Better yet, how can they help you get back on your feet when the storm settles? Here's a look at how call center services can help you during and after a natural disaster.
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The threat of natural disasters to small businesses
Natural disasters occur in many different forms in all geographies. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or fires, no small business is immune from the fury of Mother Nature when it strikes.
"We see disasters across all geographic areas, and the vulnerability [to small businesses] is always on keeping support services up, telephone services especially," said Kathy Gray, business development director for Xact Telesolutions. "Every area has vulnerabilities, but if you're wise, you're preparing for it."
The best way to prepare for a disruption in communications service? Establish another point of contact for your customers before disaster strikes. Call center services often handle after-hours and weekend calls for many small businesses, as well as any overflow when call volumes spike during business hours. However, even if your small business doesn't utilize a call center, you can contract with a call center to manage your phone lines if a natural disaster occurs.
"We have a client in Fayetteville, North Carolina, whom we support, but we don't usually handle their main line," Gray said. "They routed their main line to us to direct calls to other call centers in the country in preparation for [Hurricane Florence]."
Call centers and disaster recovery services
It's not just during a natural disaster that a call center service comes in handy. Call centers are also useful partners following a disaster when you're busy picking up the pieces and returning to normalcy.
"Should [a small business] be away longer than they imagine, they need to have a plan in place with a call center to be supported by that partner while they're away," Gray said.
Call centers can be retained to act as short-term customer service staff if you or your employees are unable to work, or you're preoccupied with the recovery efforts underway in your area. For particularly large disasters where an area is thrown into disarray for a long period of time, small businesses can rest assured that a call center partner is continuously delivering customer service to anyone who calls in.
"After Hurricane Katrina, for example, people were out of work for months at a time," said John Coulter, director of business development for Five Star Call Centers. "We staffed up so that we could handle our clients' customer service while their employees got back on their feet and returned to work."
How do call centers stay operational when disaster strikes?
Outsourcing operations to call centers when a disaster occurs is one thing, but how can call centers avoid disruption to their own service if they find themselves in the heart of a disaster? Every company is different, but the best call centers have redundancies in place to ensure they can reroute calls and manage the volume at other locations throughout the country.
"The way a call center should be placing that volume is redundant across multiple locations so they never find themselves in a position where they cannot answer for a client," Gray said. "We have placed agents in 20 states. We have data centers bunkered down in three places in the states, so if one center is impaired, the call routing just switches out."
At the core of it, call centers simply have a larger and more redundant infrastructure that ensures there is always an available location that can handle your small businesses calls, even if one location finds itself in the midst of a natural disaster or other service disruption.
"Small businesses often don't have the technology and the redundancy that we have in place today. It's not cost effective for them to have multiple phone switches, generators on site, and multiple locations," Coulter said. "Call centers, in general, have multiple phone providers, multiple internet providers and multiple locations. If there's a flood in South Carolina and it hurts a small business, I've got four locations to transfer calls to and keep supporting customers." [Interested in call centers and answering services for business? Check out our best picks.]
Have a plan in place
When it comes to disaster planning, it's best to have a plan and not need it than need one and not have it. Having a preliminary discussion and establishing a relationship with a call center service is one step toward establishing a comprehensive disaster plan to keeps things running even if you can't physically get to your business.
"For anybody, it's about having trusted partners," Coulter said. "Preparation is always key. Many people don't think about business continuity until disaster strikes and then it's too late. Make sure you have internal policies and procedures documented to get another team up and running."
"My advice is to plan ahead, don't wait for the event to come your way," Gray said. "Protect your business, make a plan with a call center partner and engage with someone who has the infrastructure where calls aren't leaning into one area of the country."