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Is your contact centre protected against disaster? Four things to think about

Business continuity plans for the contact centre should include not only IT recovery, but also alternative working facilities, says Steven King, business development manager at ContinuitySA.

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, and for many companies, large and small, a contact centre is the most important channel for interacting with them. And yet, despite its importance, few companies have a comprehensive disaster recovery and business continuity plan in place for their contact centre.

Estimates vary, but it seems there are around 160 000 contact centre agents working in South Africa, the majority of them in small contact centres with between one and 50 seats. This is an indication of just how reliant business and government is on contact centres for delivering customer or citizen service, and in the case of outbound contact centres, gaining new work or updating customers/citizens about new developments and products.

"Too many companies think that making provision for IT disaster is enough when it comes to their contact centre - and IT is certainly the focus of both legislation and codes like King III," says Steven King, business development manager at ContinuitySA. "IT is certainly crucial, but when it comes to the contact centre, there are other considerations, among them your people."

King argues that whereas many back-office functions can, at need, be performed by employees from their home computers or mobile devices, this is not possible for contact centre employees. Voice communication is critical during or after a disaster, and even if they cannot access data, agents need to remain available for customers. In other words, business continuity plans for the contact centre should include not only IT recovery, but also alternative working facilities.

"It's also worth bearing in mind that many contact centre agents are heavily incentivised, so that an interruption affects their earnings dramatically, putting the company at risk of losing its best agents," King notes. "And remember that if an outbound contact centre falls silent, there will be a knock-on effect on sales and thus overall growth."

Some contact centres must also comply with industry regulations and this must be factored into their business continuity planning. For example, voice recordings need to be held by companies in the financial and emergency sectors.

One of the most important elements of any business continuity plan is regular testing. This is particularly important for contact centres given the complexity of their infrastructure and service levels.

King believes there are four key factors to consider when planning business continuity for contact centres:

* Remember that a contact centre is more than just technology: make plans for where your agents are going to sit and function as a unit. The contact centre might be located at a recovery site for longer than anticipated, so acceptable working conditions are a must. In addition, news of a disaster always means an increase in call volume, so make sure sufficient seats and infrastructure are available.

* Understand the implications for your reputation and brand. If the face of your company goes down, you will suffer some reputational damage. This will help you to put in place the right level of contingency planning.

* Check that your service providers have their own business continuity plans in place - and that you are happy with them.

* Test, test, test. A 'real' test should be conducted every six months, with your agents physically working from the disaster recovery site for a day to see how things go.

"Losing your contact centre will be hugely damaging to your business," King concludes. "Time spent understanding what you need to put in place to keep your company's lines open is well spent."

ContinuitySA

ContinuitySA

ContinuitySA is Africa's leading provider of business continuity management and related services. The company boasts some of the continent's most highly skilled and qualified business continuity and disaster management experts who help companies, organisations and government departments of all sizes prepare for and deal with all eventualities. These include potential threats, events, incidences and unforeseen or sudden disruptions due to human error or natural events.

ContinuitySA also provides a variety of hosting solutions, ranging from co-located to fully managed virtualised environments, with their primary focus being to ensure its clients are able to address the resilience and recoverability of their IT services. These hosting services are complemented by managed backup and recovery services, virtual server replication and high availability solutions to satisfy any level of continuity requirement.

ContinuitySA operates the largest recovery facilities in southern Africa. It has a number of recovery centres in southern Africa with over 20 000 square metres of recovery facilities in Midrand, Gauteng. Smaller sites have been located in Cape Town, Gaborone, Botswana and Mozambique, and a joint venture has been established in Mauritius.

ContinuitySA. Our business is keeping you in business. Additional information about ContinuitySA can be found at www.continuitysa.com.