Better Call Center Continuity via Home-Based Professionals

By Mary Naylor

Most healthcare call centers have comprehensive continuity and disaster recovery plans. However, unprecedented weather events (such as Hurricane Katrina) and widespread utility outages (such as the blackout of 2003) have added to the ongoing fear of future terrorist activities and compel organizations to take their planning efforts to new levels. Moreover, recent concerns regarding the threat of a potential worldwide flu pandemic are driving managers to rethink historical planning. Companies are looking to change the fundamental way business works in an effort to remain operational during previously unavoidable disruptions, some of which could last beyond the normal lapses that are traditionally anticipated in business continuity planning.

Historically, the focus has been on ensuring that the data of their patients, customers, employees, and the organization was secure during a business interruption and that their technology provided for backup and redundancy. Yet, business interruptions today could easily extend past a few days. Given the increasing complexity of most organizations, including hospitals, doctor’s offices, insurance companies, and disease management centers, call centers need to ensure that business continuity planning accounts for people and processes to continue during an interruption. This is in addition to the security of their data and the operation of their technology.

Moving from a centrally based workforce – one where all employees work from traditional office facilities – to a decentralized, home-based workforce (or some combination thereof) is perhaps the single most significant step that a call center can take to ensure that its people and processes will continue working during virtually any business interruption.

If a healthcare or medical call center successfully moves its workforce home, or outsources to a company that uses home-based workers, known as homesourcing, it will mitigate many risks related to potential disasters and business interruptions. Providers of virtual contact center solutions are homesourcing experts, utilizing the skills of home-based customer service representatives nationwide to manage patient and customer care, rather than using outsourced foreign agents or traditional facility-based contact center agents.

For a company caught in an emergency, virtual contact center solution providers can mobilize teams of dispersed workers on short notice. For example, when a pandemic, natural disaster, or terror attack prevents people from reporting to their places of work in one region, a virtual contact center can mobilize workers in other regions to process calls and critical communications. These calls, if left unattended, could debilitate an organization.

In regard to virtual contact center solution providers, a proactive healthcare executive can capitalize on their expertise in two additional ways. First, virtual contact center solution providers can work with organizations in advance of a crisis, preparing them to be operational and self-sufficient by:

  • Advising on the infrastructure, technology, communications, and security needed to move all or some of the workforce home
  • Training the organization’s workforce on effective telework implementation
  • Establishing processes and practices which will help ensure that the organization is prepared to deal with business interruptions, often without needing to depend on outside assistance at the time of crisis

Second, virtual contact center solutions providers can serve as an outsourced partner to provide home-based workers on an ongoing basis as an extension of the organization’s workforce. In this way, the organization utilizes the homesourcing expert’s workforce as its decentralized solution to supplement its own workforce for a portion of its call volume throughout the year and in emergencies.

While much technology exists today that enables telework, there are many additional considerations that each organization must take into account; this makes the undertaking of telework more complex than some organizations anticipate. Issues relating to individual work style and motivation, organizational communication and culture, and management style and interaction all must be considered, discussed, and sometimes adjusted. Policies and procedures must be reviewed and updated to account for the new way of working. In addition, communications vehicles must be implemented to support the new environment.

The effort will pay off in abundance. Higher employee satisfaction and retention rates, in addition to lower costs, have all been reported by organizations that have already made the move. Plus, the business will be better protected from interruption – the ultimate goal.

Mary A. Naylor, a 20-year veteran of the concierge services industry, is founder and CEO of VIPdesk, a provider of virtual contact center solutions serving Fortune 1000 clients and their collective 20 million customers.

[From the April/May 2007 issue of AnswerStat magazine]