During the first quarter of 2020, I recall when COVID-19 started appearing more prominent in the U.S. we as a call center weren’t sure how everything would play out.
Though we had several plans in place for business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR), it didn’t involve an entire workforce working from home (WFH) as we were a brick-and-mortar call center from the time of inception.
The agents were tuned into the news and were getting anxious about what was happening. Our main goal was to keep our team members safe and, at the same time, meet our service level agreements (SLAs).
Our WFH Setup
The leadership team came up with a plan to use a virtual private network (VPN) for agents to connect to our systems and thereby assist callers from home. Though this seemed like a viable option, we weren’t sure if this would work.
So we decided to test this plan, which involved sending a group of four agents home with their equipment and then verifying if they could take calls. I pulled out an equipment cart and asked agents to take pictures of their computer setups. This would help them with identifying where each cable went e.g., for the Ethernet, their mouse or keyboard, and monitor in order to reduce their confusion and frustration when it came to setting up their equipment at home.
The IT team loaded the VPN onto their computers, and I then helped the agents to dismantle them and carry the equipment and personal effects to their cars. When the agents reached home, they set up their computers, logged into the VPN, and gave us the green light that they were able to take calls.
After an hour or so, we sent the next group of agents home and followed the same process.
Within less than a week, we had our entire team working from home. This was a learning experience for all of us. Yet we continued to meet our SLAs consistently.
We have had a few challenges along the way, but we have adapted and innovated. Some of these innovations included implementing micro-learning, the SharePoint site, and updating policies. We also relied more on our group chat to keep agents connected and assist with challenging types of inquiries.
When it came to training new agents, we switched from in-person to entirely online. We started with six agents that came in. At the end of their classroom training, we ended with all six agents who could successfully transition from the class to the call center floor. Click here to learn more about our virtual learning experience.
Managing Through the Threats
It is always a good idea to plan for possible threats that could prevent your call center from meeting its purpose. Having these BC/DR plans in place and communicating them to your leadership team creates a sense of someone to carry the torch if you’re unable to spring into action to save the day.
After mentioning the above point about communicating your BC/DR plan, a story comes to mind during my first month in the call center.
The fire alarm comes on and a loud voice tells everyone to evacuate the building. I run to the other supervisor’s desk, and if no one’s there, then I run to the call center manager’s office, but no one is there either.
I’m trying to identify what to do in case of a fire emergency, so I improvise. I ask the agents to log out from the phones and take whatever they need from their desks, take the staircase towards the front of the building, and exit the building. I ask them to wait for me in the parking lot.
I was able to make a few phone calls and get the emergency message to play on the phone line. After we were cleared by the fire department to go back in, it took me awhile to get agents back to the call center floor because I failed to identify that we had four parking lots close to the building. This was one of those classic “V-8” moments, where the actor smacks his head on the commercial.
It took me a while to get everyone back onto the phones, and our SLA did dip since we had several calls waiting for us once the emergency message was removed.
After this experience, I decided to take a more active role in identifying and formulating processes for BC/DR within the call center.
I created a pinup on every agent’s cubicle that outlined the process in case of an emergency, irrespective of a real fire, a fire drill, or tornado. It provided what to do based on the type of emergency and what to say to the caller.
Recommendations from the Experiences
Here are a few items that I learned from my experience as a leader in the call center industry:
- Use simple language when creating a BC/DR plan. Be as detailed as possible when explaining the plan regarding recovery strategies (mitigation steps), phone number(s) to call, resources needed, risk level, description, and would it involve training staff, to name a few
- Share the plan with your leadership team and even a leader from another department that works closely with the call center
- Create a backup plan if the current mitigation plan fails, and backup individuals if the responsible person(s) performing the activity isn’t available
- Store the plan on a shared drive, your company’s intranet, or SharePoint
- Identify estimated downtime, which allows your leadership team to communicate expectations to critical stakeholders, such as the client
- Determine if additional information needs to be collected for the plan, such as internet service providers (ISPs) your call center agents use for the internet if working from home
And lastly, I would like to leave you with a quote from John Wooden, “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”