Keep Calm and Resolve On: 8 Tips for Dealing with Dire Circumstances

by Patty Isnor in Customer Service Outsourcing, Patty Isnor

With contact centers spread around the globe, it’s inevitable that there will be unexpected external forces, from hurricanes to city strikes, which will impact call center operations. Yet, commerce must go on – deliveries are en route, orders hang in the midst, and customers affected by natural disasters require unique support.  While there is nothing that us outsourcers love more than predictability and patterns, we at Blue Ocean believe the possibility of crisis can actually be good for innovation in a call center.

In the face of adversity, how do you get the whole team aligned and on board? Here are a few examples of situations we’ve come across:

Transportation Trouble

More than 60% of our agents travel to and from work by public transportation. When a transit strike was looming, our HR team went into crisis preparation mode. Bringing Tech and Ops teams into the planning and brainstorming process created synergism and a sense of shared ownership. Implementing our own bus or van operation was not an option. We asked ourselves, how do we create a process that is easy to use, increases the odds of agents being able to get to work on time, and enables agents to help each other?


  1. Manage expectations. Make no bones about the fact that it will be hard. Make it a point of pride to overcome the unusual circumstances.
  2. Make it easy for agents to self-manage. In our case, we implemented a RideShare tool on our intranet.
  3. Think outside of your own walls. We created a Facebook RideShare Group for the business park where our centers are located so carpooling options were not limited to our own staff.
  4. Celebrate grit. We let agents know it would be a tough haul to get to work on time without the buses especially for the first few days. We threw pizza parties on the first two days of the bus strike to celebrate the small win of getting to work.

Our results: Attendance stayed steady through a six-week strike – in fact, there was a small upward blip in attendance! Agents and coaches coordinated rides with each other producing some remarkable stories of Good Samaritanism and strengthening bonds across teams.

Weather Woes

The Northeastern U.S. has experienced more than their fair share of brutal weather this year. Between Hurricane Sandy and major blizzards combined with nor’easters, businesses impacted by weather have had it rough. Our first tip, if your business is impacted by weather, is to outsource customer support to a partner outside your region who won’t deal with the same weather systems at the same time. But if a big storm is barreling down on your center, what actions can help you protect your grade of service while protecting your agents?


  1. Be realistic. If the wild weather does materialize, is it realistic that someone with a forty-minute commute is going to be able to get to work? Encourage shift swaps to get those who live farthest away off the schedule and those who can walk to work on the schedule. Our IT team uses Google mapping technology to good effect for this type of planning.
  2. Make communication extra easy. When faced with potentially challenging circumstances, we have agents and management opt in to short-term global text message subscription so we can disseminate information quickly to large groups. You know your Millennial workforce cannot resist looking at a text message as soon as their phone pings, but they may not bother checking their email for days on end. Word of warning: don’t abuse the privilege of text access. We reserve it for urgent situations only so as not to wear out our welcome.
  3. Make work a great place to ride out the storm. Remind everyone that your generators and redundant systems mean the lights are on and the Internet is working – no matter what. Have self-serve food available for the duration. If it looks like it might be a long haul, consider bringing in blankets and pillows and having soft seating areas where agents can catch 40 winks.
  4. Gamify the event. Can you build an incentive around overcoming the obstacles? In the case of one particularly nasty storm, we built incentives around the amount of precipitation in the forecast and paid 50 cents on the centimeter for agents with the grit to get to work.  (BTW, 40 centimeters fell so agents got an extra $20.)

Our results: In a recent heavy weather forecast, agents were rooting for bad weather and in the midst of the worst storm in two years, which came over a weekend, we had near perfect attendance center-wide. Team bonding was a nice by-product as was nurturing a culture of resilience where Blue Ocean agents see themselves as “tough enough” to get the job done under any circumstances.

Maybe your own customer service team has been directly affected by circumstances that turn a difficult customer situation into a dire one. Do you have a call center outsourcing partner you can rely on to handle sharp spikes in call flow? It’s never too early to consider gearing up your operations for the unforeseen and uncontrollable; contact us if you’re looking into outsourcing your customer service.

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