Avoiding Disaster Before It Strikes

4/19/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

It has been a bad winter
and now, with the end of
the El Niño cycle, hurricane
prognosticators are warning
of an above-average hurricane

Forecasters predict eight
hurricanes will form in the Caribbean
this season, with four
of them potentially Category 3
or greater storms. (Category-3
hurricanes are rated at winds
of 111 to 130 miles per hour.)

What does this mean for
cable system operators? It’s
time to review business-continuity
and disaster-recovery
plans. It’s also time to make
arrangements to ensure your
customer-care strategy has
the potential to shield you
from the storm.

How do you plan to offer uninterrupted
service to your subscribers
when your contact
center may be without power,
lack communications or be inaccessible
to your employees?
Businesses that have the ability
to off er complete customer-care
options on even the darkest days
have the potential to leave customers
with a feeling of goodwill
that never dims.

As cable operators have consolidated
into regional service
centers, they may have made
themselves more vulnerable to
natural disasters. While larger
centers tend to be more costeffective
and efficient than
smaller operations, they also
provide a larger, single point of
failure in the event of a disaster.

Regardless of the weather (or
other situation), however, subscribers
everywhere still want
to be able to reach a live agent
when they need to order new
services, have a question on a
bill or need help trouble-shooting.
By failing to answer calls during
disruptions, operators risk
losing valuable subscribers to
their competition.

The country has experienced
above-average erratic weather
and unforeseen natural disasters
in the last two years — record
snow storms, torrential
rains and even an April 2008
earthquake in Illinois. How do
operators cost-effectively plan
for unpredictable Mother Nature
to maintain uninterrupted
contact with their subscribers?

Many companies now view
home-based, outsourced customer
care as a viable option. In
fact, more than 2,000 at-home
agents support cable MSOs
like Comcast, Cox Communications
and Time Warner Cable.
Why? These agents provide
high-quality service and are not
in one centralized location that
could get knocked offline.

Home-based agents are veterans
in call center operations
and are trained in specific industries.
Outsourced virtual
call centers hire experienced
workers from across the U.S.
and are not limited by geographic
proximity to a physical
call center.

Additionally, research suggests
that home-based agents
tend to be more experienced
and mature, and deliver better
performance statistics than people
who work in brick-and-mortar
locations. They may even be
your local customer!

Here’s a real-world example
of customer-centric disaster
response: A Fortune 500
financial services company
found its Houston call center
threatened by Hurricane Ike
in September 2008. The company
had to shut down the
call center for the duration of
the disaster and knew that its
centers in other states would
not be able to handle the expected
call volume.

The firm needed not just
more bodies to man the
phones, but workers who had
in-depth knowledge of its
brand, systems and financial

Less than 24 hours before
landfall, when it became
clear that Ike’s path would
pass through Houston, the
company moved to supplement
its customer service
workforce temporarily. Within
hours, home-based agents
had beefed up the agent pool
by 22%.

While call volume was twice
that of a normal weekend, with
the assistance of home-based
workers, the organization was
able to handle the additional
volume and preserve its customer

Service spikes are not only
the result of disasters. Call volumes
in the cable industry can
surge in response to service
outages, a highly anticipated
Ultimate Fighting Championship
or boxing event or other
incident. Supplemental homebased
agents, trained with
client-specific product knowledge,
can trim hold times and
ensure customer happiness.

Businesses would do well to
live by the Boy Scouts’ motto:
Be prepared. Don’t wait
for disaster to strike; quality
customer service is essential
even when the sun is shining
and there isn’t a cloud on the