Tip

Protecting contact/call centers

Call centers, also known as contact centers, answer large volumes of incoming phone calls and direct them to people who are suitably qualified and trained to

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answer them. Getting the caller to the most appropriate agent can be a very complex process. Anything that prevents or interrupts the smooth call-processing flow can disrupt or disable the contact/call center.

Every step of the call answering and call connecting processes requires highly specialized systems, software, databases, protocol-based interfaces among a variety of specialized ancillary systems (e.g., interactive voice response, computer-to-telephony interfaces) and highly trained personnel.

Call centers leverage the Internet and specialized network protocols and services to bring callers to the system. If any call center network assets are disrupted, or the network protocols used by the call center are compromised, calls cannot be processed.

As call/contact centers blend voice communications technologies with advanced data systems and specialized features, many of the tips we provided in an article called "Protecting voice communications" can also apply to contact/call centers.

In this article, we will highlight unique call center attributes and offer tips to help you protect them from unplanned incidents.

General tips

Incoming calls to call centers originate in the switched telephone network and also the Internet, so make sure you know all the paths into your call center system, and identify primary and alternate paths over which calls can be completed in an emergency.

Once voice calls are answered, they typically route to a system that automatically answers them, called an automated attendant. Be sure this function is included in backup and recovery plans. Calls that enter from digital networks or the Internet may be routed in a similar manner for processing. An automated attendant or an interactive voice response (IVR) system may process calls based on caller responses to qualifying questions. Tables containing the questions and routing guides are critical business assets and must be regularly backed up, with copies stored in a secure location.

Sometimes, callers have the option to leave a voice message or even an email or text message. The software that provides these unique functions should be backed up and an emergency plan to recover and restore these functions should be in place and periodically tested. The same is true of online "chat" functions that support text and voice communications with a trained agent.

Today's contact/call center systems are very sophisticated, with dozens of specialized features. To understand your system vendor's views and services for disaster recovery, invest time with a company representative to find out how the vendor can fulfill your uptime requirements.

"Skills-based routing," for example, helps route calls to agents whose experience and qualifications match the caller's requirements. Be sure to protect the database containing these critical factors.

Call/contact center systems with many locations are usually interconnected by a wide area network (WAN) of high-speed voice/data communications facilities. Regularly review the network topology for single points of failure and work with your carriers to identify and implement network resilience.

The people factor

Building a team of call/contact center agents is probably the most important activity in running a world-class contact center. Cross-training agents for multiple tasks ensures there will be people available to step in when others cannot.

Train all call/contact center agents on business continuity/disaster recovery plans and their roles and responsibilities in a disaster. Exercise the plans regularly (e.g., monthly or quarterly).

Ensure that the call/contact system supports working from home and that all network connections can be quickly replicated; this ensures that the agent can work as usual even if from home. When testing this capability, determine how long it will take to re-establish the system in work-at-home mode.

Working with external companies

When building DR plans for your call/contact center(s), invite all vendors and carriers to participate in the process. This way you can increase your ability to identify and prevent potential incidents while being able to quickly recover contact/call center functions. Have vendors participate in network and system DR tests.

Ensure that your network operations center (NOC) has sufficient monitoring and analytical capabilities so you can identify network anomalies and address them before they escalate into major outages.

Summary

Protecting call and contact center systems and networks requires a commitment to fully understanding all aspects of the system and supporting infrastructure, the business requirements for the call/contact center, and the human requirements. Capitalize on all the components to establish a comprehensive and dynamic disaster recovery capability.

About the author:
Paul Kirvan, CISA, FBCI, has more than 24 years of experience in business continuity management (BCM) as a consultant, author and educator. He has completed dozens of BCM consulting and audit engagements that address all aspects of a business continuity management system (BCMS) and which are aligned with global standards including BS 25999 and ISO 22301. Kirvan currently works as an independent business continuity consultant/auditor and is the secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA chapter and a member of the BCI Global Membership Council. He can be reached at pkirvan@msn.com.

This was first published in October 2012

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