In the current landscape of customer service, brands must put themselves in the shoes of their end-users to stay competitive and differentiate themselves. The customer experience reigns, and frontline agents must deliver on customer expectations with reliability and consistency. But what about when crisis hits? If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that reliability and consistency matter and the best way to ensure that your foundation remains solid when the unexpected happens is to invest in a robust business continuity plan (BCP).
Business continuity is a daunting concept in the current global climate. At a time when just about everything you can think of in terms of goods and materials seems to be experiencing a shortage and it feels like each week, new crises abound, companies simply can’t afford to run short of excellent customer care.
We’ve discussed in the past how COVID-19 has impacted our approach to contact center redundancy measures. The pandemic continues to raise critical questions about preparing customer care for crisis situations and ensuring the capacity to serve customers. As you evaluate your business continuity plan (BCP) with your outsourced partner (whether you’re going to market or renewing with a long-standing partner,) keep the following considerations top of mind.
Redundancy measures have changed over the last 24 months. The top-tier option in our industry used to include the operation of a full hot site back-up in a separate geographic location. This was perfectly reasonable when a disaster would unexpectedly strike a single location, but today, it’s often unnecessary and would likely result in two empty offices instead of one. The business continuity benefits of having both on-premises and at-home built into your solution are broader and more cost-effective than the old school hot site model. The decentralized nature of this hybrid model is, in and of itself, better protection against a myriad of issues that could impact business continuity.
For our clients, leading up to March 2020, we had developed an effective hybrid approach of brick-and-mortar plus at-home support on a small scale – about 5% of our business was work-from-home. This hybrid model most benefitted clients who tend to be impacted by weather, such as emergency roadside assistance or same-day delivery models, for example. This approach gave us the ability to address intra-day and intra-weeks spikes with greater flexibility. Because we had been deploying work-at-home, we had a robust virtual training model and effective coaching and quality assurance processes in place prior to The Great Migration. When the world came to a stop in March of 2020, we transitioned almost all our on-site agents to work-at-home over the course of three days. By the end of April, we were operating on a model that was the reverse of our pre-pandemic model: we were 95% work-at-home and 5% on prem. As we look to the future, we expect to continue to leverage a hybrid model, probably eventually settling around a 50/50 balance adjusted according to each program and clients’ specific requirements.
In today’s world, BCP requires the ability to pivot tactics and strategies quickly and efficiently—and the location of your contact center outsourced partner is a serious factor in that ability. So, it’s important to zoom out and consider the infrastructure capabilities outside of the office where your potential vendor is basing your team. We’ve noted that there are true and valuable benefits to including some measure of work-at-home in your BCP, but it is critical that the infrastructure for remote agents offers reliable and robust telephony and internet connectivity to ensure agents have the speed and uptime required to support your clients from home.
Challenges, of course, are amplified when you have to maintain the highest security standards for sensitive programs where compliance with standards like PCI, HIPAA, and other enterprise data protection requirements come into play. Your partner should be conscientious of these issues, with plans in place to maintain compliance in any given scenario.
BCPs comprise numerous plans, including emergency response, crisis management, business department recovery, technology and infrastructure, and a host of other elements. When we are in the RFP process and are asked about BCP, our answer always includes a reference to customization. The last thing you want is a business continuity plan that doesn’t take into account your specific program parameters and requirements. It is not one size fits all.
Your outsourcer can, and should, take the lead in building the plan for your program, but you need to stay involved. Our recommendation is to collaborate on the BCP in the development of your initial Statement of Work and then review at least once in the term of the contract and again on each renewal. In other words, this is not a “set it and forget it” situation.
This is especially true with crisis management plans. Effective crisis management requires a defined team of specific roles on both sides of the client-partner equation who understand how the relationship between the two companies works. They must have the authority from executives to make decisions about how to address a critical situation. The fact is business continuity inevitably encounters a lot of unknowns and uncertainty. Buy-in, collaboration, and adaptability are key elements of a successful BCP.
It never hurts to look at real-world examples in our industry to understand the difficulties with BCP when outsourcing customer care. Consider the case of a major broadcast network: They had been satisfied with their provider for years amid normal conditions, but when the pandemic hit, the provider simply couldn’t pivot when the rules of engagement changed. Uncertain of what the next five years would even look like, the network took their search elsewhere, with BCP as the number one priority.
Even the most cautious leadership teams, who may be slow to react, need to consider every angle when working with an outsourced vendor on BCP. The simple fact is that you don’t know what to expect. With all manner of new crises and hurdles emerging every day, from vaccine mandates to natural disasters, you have to stay agile in order to protect your resources.
By now it should be clear that while an outsourced customer care provider is an invaluable BCP partner. Whether you’re in the market for a new partner or looking to extend with your current outsourcer, agility, decentralization, and robust planning complete with crisis communications action plans, are essential in today’s world.