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Plan For Call Center Disaster Recovery in 8 Hours or Less

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A good ol’ fashioned disaster can take your call center offline and do long-term damage at any point—so it’s good to have a solid recovery plan in place.

First, you should make a list of all your risks and their potential impacts, and then you can define your objectives and priorities.

Next, you’ll map out your team roles and create a communication plan.

Finally, make a point to document everything ahead of time so your plan will be there waiting for you whenever you need it.

What You Need Before You Start

Before you put together your disaster recovery plan, you’ll need a few things:

  • The right team: Your team is the cornerstone of any disaster recovery efforts. Everyone should have some knowledge of the plan so when things go down, they’re ready. Have key members and roles for your disaster recovery team in mind.
  • Examples of other call center plans: There’s no need to build your plan from scratch when you can learn from others who’ve been in your shoes when things went wrong. Find examples of other call center emergency plans and follow industry best practices when you build yours.
  • VoIP provider failover coverage documentation: If your call center uses VoIP services or other call center software, refresh your memory on their failover coverage. Look over and note their mechanisms for failover and minimizing work interruptions.
  • Critical systems and resources inventory: Write down your critical applications, systems, and other things your call center requires to run. Note which are top priority so you can focus on restoring those assets first if disaster strikes. Look for individual points of failure within each of these as well.
  • Multiple communication channels: Draw up a disaster communication plan. Outline how and how often teammates and external stakeholders will communicate. Next, set up the appropriate communication channels for them to do so. Make sure to use a variety of different communication methods, including those that can operate without the internet.

Types of Disasters You Should Prepare For

Call centers face many threats, both physical and digital, so inadequate prep can cause long-term physical, financial, and even reputational damage. A good plan considers every possible disaster and prioritizes them by their likelihood and potential for damage.

Natural disasters

Natural disasters can severely impact a call center’s ability to provide quality service, or even to operate in the first place. For insurance, they can knock down power lines, interrupt communications, wreck public infrastructure, and even damage your physical call center.

Each natural disaster type can affect your planning differently. For example, say you’re in a hurricane-prone area. Hurricanes cause lots of infrastructure damage and knock out utilities. In many cases, they can also call for physical evacuations.

On the other hand, maybe your call center’s geographical area is known for snow. Snowstorms can cause utility interruptions, but the more common issue here is that employees will be unable to get to the office. In this case, you’ll want to have a way to provide your employees with remote work options.

Cyberattacks

Just as mo’ money often means mo’ problems, more technology can mean more attack points for cybercriminals.

If your call center falls victim to a cyberattack, the attacker may gain access to sensitive customer information and sometimes even prevent you from performing both inbound and outbound calls.

Furthermore, even after dealing with a cyberattack, the effect may not go away anytime soon. Data breaches can compromise customer trust and cost a lot of money to clean up. Recovery involves finding, isolating, and eliminating the threat first—and then restoring any of your impacted systems.

That said, employee training is a preventative form of recovery, which is probably the best kind. Training employees on how to spot the various types of threats—such as phishing and ransomware—can prevent disasters from occurring in the first place.

Power and internet outages

Your call center leans heavily on electricity and the internet, so outages in either of these areas can put you out of commission and severely disrupt customer service. Something as simple as a squirrel getting stuck in a transformer can lead to an outage. Poor little guy.

Fortunately, you have more control over power outages than other types of disasters. For example, you can invest in redundant power sources (like generators and uninterruptible power supplies) to keep operations going if the power goes out. Just remember to test these regularly to ensure they’re ready.

Internet outages are a bit harder when it comes to minimizing downtime, but you can still find ways to contact employees through non-internet communication methods.

Health emergencies

Global and local health emergencies can cause severe and sometimes long-lasting disruptions to call center operations.

These situations may force call centers into long-term remote working arrangements and lead to being short-staffed if agents are out sick.

These events can also disrupt supply chains, impacting a call center’s ability to hit its KPIs. For instance, a shortage in computer chips can impact your ability to invest in the technology needed for operations, or even disaster recovery itself.

Human error or disruption

People within your call center can cause outages accidentally through error or insufficient training. In radical cases, some people might cause outages deliberately in order to sabotage the company.

Step 1: Assess Risks

The types of risks you’ll face and their individual likelihoods will dictate the rest of your disaster recovery plan. Start by evaluating your company for all potential risks and threats. The previous section, containing the types of disasters, is a good place to start.

Consider the likelihood that each type of disaster could occur. Try to get a good understanding of each specific type of disaster and its consequences, too.

Step 2: Analyze Potential Business Impacts

After you’ve identified the risks, evaluate their potential impacts by doing a Business Impact Analysis, or BIA. This will help you see how each disaster could impact you financially, reputationally, and operationally.

After doing this, you’ll better understand what disasters to prioritize first and where to allocate the most resources.

Step 3: Note Your Objectives and Priorities

With the estimated risks and their potential business impacts in hand, you can iron out your disaster recovery plan’s objectives.

For example, your business objectives could include, but are not limited to:

  • Minimizing downtime
  • Protecting sensitive data and information
  • Reducing customer service interruptions
  • Guarding your reputation

You can identify your priorities and how best to accomplish each one of these objectives as a way of figuring out how to allocate your resources.

For instance, if one of your objectives is to guard sensitive customer data, you can invest in top-tier security measures and design disaster recovery procedures to reduce the chances that such data gets into the wrong hands in the first place.

Alternatively, if your objective is to keep customer service going, you can design processes and redundancies that allow agents to continue helping customers in the face of unexpected disasters.

Step 4: Assemble Your Disaster Recovery Team

While it probably won’t be up to par with the Avengers, your disaster recovery team will carry out and oversee the plan during a disaster.

A good practice is for your team to include people from every department. That way, you’ll receive input on the plan from every part of your business, and each department rep can explain the plan to their department. This makes the job of training everyone on the plan a bit easier.

Lastly, keep in mind that your team can also play a role in testing, reviewing, and updating the plan when needed.

Step 5: Create Your Communication Plans

Work with all stakeholders to plan how you’ll communicate in a disaster. Define all channels you have now and what could cause them to be interrupted. Come up with ideas for other channels to implement, along with procedures and responsibilities for using them during and after the disaster.

For example, think about what happens if the internet goes down, or if a cyberthreat locks everyone out of their computers. You should also consider how your team members will meet.

One answer could be via dial-in conferencing methods. This can help everyone meet fairly easily without an internet connection, as long as they have a traditional phone service.

Step 6: Document Everything

You will likely be writing things down as you go through your planning, but by the end, you should make sure you formally document everything without missing any details.

Write down detailed information regarding risks, potential impacts, objectives, systems, and more. Include step-by-step procedures for all responsibilities and tasks in any disaster. Put all relevant contact information in there as well.

Being meticulous with the details pays off when a disaster happens and everyone actually knows what to do when they read the plan.

Step 7: Implement Disaster Recovery Testing and Training

Nobody knows how well a plan works until it meets the real world, so you must test your disaster recovery plan when you put it together—and regularly thereafter.

Simulate disaster scenarios by testing critical pieces of the plan, like your plans for communicating and restoring your systems. Also try to observe how your disaster recovery team acts during these simulated disasters.

Look for strengths and weaknesses in the plan and gauge whether or not it’s ready for an actual disaster. If your plan isn’t ready, go back and shore up the areas that need it. If it’s your team that isn’t ready, you can fix that with training.

Keep in mind that training isn’t just for your disaster recovery team, but for everyone in the organization. Hold training sessions to teach your team the plan—that way, everybody will know the basics.

You can also make teaching your plan part of your onboarding process for new hires. Either way, you should continue to hold occasional training sessions to keep everyone fresh.

How Long Should Your Disaster Recovery Plan Take?

A lot can impact your plan creation timeline, so the sooner you get started the better. You also don’t want to rush it, as it needs to be thorough.

The overall process, from risk assessment to scheduling training and testing, can be done in a few days—maybe one day if you’re really locked in and work on several stages simultaneously.

An example timeline could look like this:

  • Risk assessment, BIA, and objectives: one to three hours. If you miss any of these, you’ll be unprepared. You also want to gather feedback from all stakeholders, so allocate more time here if needed.
  • Assembling the disaster recovery team and developing communications plans: one to two days. This won’t take as long if it’s clear who will be best for the team and if employees are willing to volunteer. However, it may take longer if the employees you select are particularly busy.
  • Documentation: one to two days, then ongoing. This comes down to how fast you can organize and draft up a written plan.
  • Training and testing: one to two days, then ongoing. Training and testing might take the longest, and you may need to run a few iterations. In any case, you should have a full plan at this point.

Be aware that there are a few things that can cause delays:

  • Agent or stakeholder schedules
  • Disagreements over communication methods
  • Complex company operations
  • Major changes in operations during planning stage

Best Practices To Ensure Your Call Center is Always Ready

Once you have a plan, you’ll need to ensure everyone knows and is ready to carry it out if the scenario ever calls for it.

Notify the team

Set up an orientation session to go over the plan’s elements and get the process going. Cover the specific roles of the disaster recovery team in addition to employees who aren’t part of the team. That way everyone knows how they are or aren’t involved.

This step gets everyone on the same page and helps secure buy-in from staff members.

Make copies of the plan

In a real disaster, the original version of your plan could be damaged or lost. On top of that, if you or whoever is responsible for overseeing the plan is unavailable for some reason, the team may be unable to access the original version.

For example, if a disaster were to injure you and you are the only one with access to the plan, your team can’t do much. Thus, it’s crucial to make several copies and keep them in multiple formats and locations.

First, make at least one physical copy for each disaster recovery team member. Make them keep it somewhere safe and secure, but also accessible. You may even want to make more than one per person and have them keep those in separate locations, such as one at work and one at home.

Next, give digital access to everyone who needs the plan. Find a secure digital format to distribute the digital version to team members.

Now you’ll have physical and digital formats in multiple locations. If your systems go down, the physical copies are there. If your systems are still up but you can’t access the physical copies, the digital copies are there for immediate use.

Train, practice, and refine

Since regular training and practice are key, carry out disaster recovery simulations to see how the plan fares against real-world situations.

Look for weaknesses or gaps in the plan. Take notes and meet with your team after each simulation to see how you can fix them.

Remember, this is also a chance to give your agents some experience performing their recovery-related duties.

Lastly, although running simulations can feel awkward or pointless, training and refinement will drastically reduce a real disaster’s impacts and help the call center get back online sooner.

Plan for changes

Many things can cause your plan to become obsolete if you don’t update it, including:

  • Team members leaving the company
  • Moving to new locations
  • Changing work arrangements, such as moving to a hybrid or remote model
  • New technology
  • New threats

Select a few people to look over and update the plan regularly. If those people leave the company, have backup individuals ready to take on those responsibilities.

Choose high-quality providers

Disaster recovery plans can work a lot smoother when your software providers are helpful. This includes providers for your IT, data storage, and other critical services.

Look for providers whose solutions come with strong security and reliability features, and whose teams will work closely with you in case of disaster.

Accommodate remote workers

Remote work arrangements can create extra challenges, particularly if technology or internet connections are impacted.

For instance, dial-in conferencing helps you hold meetings during cyberattacks or outages, and it requires very little to set up and gain access to a meeting.

Beyond that, hold information settings for remote employees and ensure they feel involved and ready for disasters.

Free Call Center Disaster Recovery Checklist

To summarize, here’s how you can get a disaster recovery plan ready in eight hours or less:

  1. Assess risks
  2. Analyze potential business impacts
  3. Note your objectives and priorities
  4. Assemble your disaster recovery team
  5. Create a communication plans
  6. Document it all and make copies
  7. Implement testing and training

The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be ready to handle any threats to your call center.

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