CEO ZRG SPEAKS ON IMPORTANCE OF CALL CENTERS

PAGE REPORT
Mar 06 - 12, 2006

While most call center managers agree that a customer's satisfaction is vital to a company's success, most don't realize that their call center is their profit center. A customer's satisfaction relies heavily on whether he can get through to an agent and he makes that connection, once he is helped properly. Downtime - whether due to a natural disaster or something man-made - means a barrier in that connection or lack of proper information reaching customers. Therefore, Downtime in a Call Center can cause serious harm to a business.

ZRG is a technology company providing call center solutions (hardware/software tools, equipment, gadgets) in Pakistan and abroad since 1994. Most of the customer service call centers in the country are using call center tools from ZRG. The company has extensive background in planning and deployment solutions for multi-node, multi-application call centers. The following are some excerpts from a recent interview in which Mr. Ayub Butt, CEO of ZRG International gave some insight on dealing with business continuity and disaster recovery in a Call Center environment.

Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS A CALL CENTER TO A BUSINESS?

AYUB BUTT: Companies are using call centers to deliver answers, information, resolve complaints, take orders and a wide range of valuable services by telephone and other channels. A call center is the electronic version of the entrance door of a service center for customers to virtually visit and get things done. This spares a customer from physically going to a service center, it saves time and today's customers like it very much. This makes it important.

Q: WHAT TYPES OF THINGS CAN CAUSE DOWNTIME IN A CALL CENTER?

AYUB BUTT: Downtime in a call center spells disaster for the businesses that rely on call centers as a primary method of providing services to their customers. Downtime means customers cannot get through and this can cause irreparable harm to a business. Downtime can be due any number of reasons, but there are three main categories. Natural disasters like flood, earthquake; man-made events like labor strikes, law and order situation, sabotage, civil works-related damage and technical or mechanical failures of equipment, power outage, telecom or data network outage, etc.

Q: WHAT CAN A BUSINESS DO TO PLAN AGAINST DOWNTIME?

AYUB BUTT: Due to the increased importance of the call center, a business needs to consider disaster recovery and business continuity planning or BCP (Business Continuity Plan). BCP is a process to ensure that critical operations will survive and continue in the event of downtime.

Q: WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN A BCP?

AYUB BUTT: A good Business Continuity Plan can be taken to greater details, however, the most essential elements for a call center are a disaster recovery or DR site, an evacuation plan and a mechanism to re-route customer calls.

Q: WHAT IS A DR SITE AND WHAT SHOULD IT INCLUDE?

AYUB BUTT: A DR site is an alternate location where agents and managers go and start assisting customers without any interruptions. Companies can consider either a Cold DR site or a Hot DR site.

A Cold DR site is an alternate location that is equipped with the same capabilities as the primary site, perhaps with lesser seating capacity and access to data that is periodically updated or refreshed. Hot DR site is a location with identical setup and access to live data at all times. Then there is a new concept of functional DR method in which a call center is spread over two or more locations and distributing the calls over these locations. In this scenario, each site acts as a contingency site for the other and can be used for load sharing and balancing, overflow handling and back-up support. This approach may be a little expensive in the short term, however, it protects a business against downtime, provides powerful capabilities and possibilities and results in significant cost-savings in the long terms.

An alternate approach could be to have Home Agent setup. In this method, in the event of a disaster, agents are asked to login from home and perform their jobs such as call placing and receiving, reviewing forms, processing requests, etc. With this approach, no physical site is required, however, the backend site where all the data and communication systems are placed must have a Hot DR site.

There are several companies that provide DR locations and call center technology solutions for setting up DR sites such as IBM, ARY, ZRG, Apollo, Al-Futtaim, Siemens and Optimum Technology.

Q: WHY IS AN EVACUATION PLAN IMPORTANT?

AYUB BUTT: People are the most valuable asset for a company and are not as easily replaceable as equipment. Therefore, in case of a disaster during office hours, the premises should be vacated in a managed, organized and calm manner to ensure the safety of the most valuable asset. This requires that a proper evacuation plan must be specified and regularly drilled. One or more persons could be assigned to act as Manager Evacuation to exclusively carry out the evacuation as per guidelines of the company.

Q: WHY WE DON'T SEE SUCH KIND OF EXERCISE DRILLS TAKING PLACE?

AYUB BUTT: There are some companies that regularly conduct these exercises. I think that there is a need to highlight the importance of such drills and urge the managements to invest some time in considering this important aspect of business continuity. Premises evacuation could also be the responsibility of building management/association to make this a regular practice.

Q: WHAT ARE THE KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR CALL RE-ROUTING MECHANISM?

AYUB BUTT: BCP must specify a fail-proof alternate for the telecommunication network. There are two main considerations in this area. First is the ability to receive and place calls on the same premises through an alternate telephone network. This helps during the times when the primary site is physically okay but the telecom network services are disrupted due to problems with the network provider. Imagine the scenario where the calls stop coming on your PRI lines due to severed lines, etc. Second area is the ability to transparently receive and place calls from an alternate DR site. This is required in case the primary physical location is unavailable and the operation must be carried out from a DR site.

There are several companies offering services for alternate telecom network services such as TeleCard, MultiNet, etc.

Mr. Ayub Butt is the CEO of ZRG International (Private) Ltd. He has an extensive background in working with leading call centers and has helped deploy the most successful call centers in the country. ZRG International (pvt) Limited - ZRG [www.zrg.com] - is involved in the development and enhancement of customer interaction systems and call center solutions. ZRG is the undisputed leader in the customer contact center solutions in the country. More information can be obtained by sending an email to info@zrg.com.)