Resiliency in the Age of Pandemic

FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE

Challenges and Priorities Survey

As we prepared for 2020 six months ago, few (if any) had a crystal ball that anticipated the kind of widespread disrupted brought on by COVID-19. Hopefully, your center was able to respond to the pandemic with the least possible impact on your customers or your staff. Yet chances are, things could have gone better.

We don’t know what the new normal looks like, or when it will be here, but we can’t assume things will ever be the same. This new era demands a new level of preparedness. If you haven’t had the time to create a robust business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan, put that item at the top of your “to do” list as soon as you are able.

A comprehensive plan BC/DR plan addresses events that can impact facilities (e.g., power outage, fire, storm, flood), people (e.g., virus, evacuation) and technology (e.g., network, systems and/or power failure). It takes into account volumes that exceed your monthly or seasonal patterns. And it should address events of various durations, from minutes to months.

The goals of a plan are:

  • Minimize disruptions caused by events
  • Continue operations when events occur
  • Recover operations after catastrophic events

As shown in the figure below, short-lived events may be absorbed with a slight reduction in service, and chances are customers will understand. The longer events, like the one we’re living in now (compounded by uncertain duration), can be make or break for a business and its customer relationships. Things you do for day-to-day optimization, like self-service, can help in an emergency. And what you do with technology matters more than ever as you build resiliency into your infrastructure and applications.

Technology can play a major role in supporting the resilience you need. Here are some of my favorite enablers in today’s marketplace:

  • Cloud technology: While a premise-based solution can support remote workers, it’s not inherently set up for anywhere, anytime operations like a cloud solution. Cloud has been rising for a while, and we can bet the pandemic has made it a preferred choice for even some of the most resistant buyers. In fact, many companies have scrambled over the last month to set up remote working, and the cloud vendors have pulled off some heroic feats. I encourage you to find the webinars and various other communications they’ve produced to show what is possible. Cloud offers agility on where people sit to do the work (including at home) and can quickly ramp up and down the number of users. And, a good cloud vendor has built-in redundancy in their systems, providing inherent protection for technology impacting events.
  • Self-service: Self-service, whether via IVR, web or mobile app, can aid the center and customers on a typical day and be a lifesaver in extreme circumstances. Combine it with cloud solutions that have the flex in capacity and you have a win-win.
  • Bots: Artificial intelligence is all the rage and holds much promise for both customer-facing and agent-facing capabilities. A bot can readily boost that self-service capability, even adapting to the current situation (e.g., frequent questions about new government programs). And a bot aiding agents can help when less experienced people need to pitch in to handle the volume presented (“all hands on deck!”). If you don’t have bots yet, focus on things like traditional self-service (per previous bullet) and knowledge management.

We have identified keys to success in developing, testing and executing BC/DR plans as follows:

  • Strong sponsorship. Success requires a culture that values (and sees the value in) these plans. That means allocating resources, investing in technology, and taking the time to test and update.
  • A cross-functional team that makes decisions and can lead execution. IT and business leaders and trusted “in the trenches” staff work together to address technology, operations and staff needs.
  • A comprehensive perspective that considers all elements—people, technology, processes, facilities—and the role of all parties (including vendors).
  • Detailed, thorough documentation routinely updated, accompanied by effective communications across the organization.
  • Perhaps most importantly, consider people first, and recognize that they will think of their families first.