Every year tropical storms hit the coast lines of the United States, causing billions of dollars’ worth of damages to cities and a lengthy restoration process for those communities affected by the storm. This year the Carolinas were pummeled by Hurricane Florence, and the recovery process is expected to be a slow and gradual one. When crises like these occur, customer service contact centers struggle with both the influx of incoming calls and the ability to connect with customers affected by the storm. Preparing contact centers for weather-related emergencies is a challenging process. Below are three tips to help organize customer service operations and contact centers before the storm hits.
Provide a proactive inbound customer experience
Don’t wait until a natural disaster to invest in the right communication tools, such as cloud-based contact center technologies. Implementing cloud-based call center technologies enables utility companies to activate their customer service operations from anywhere in the country. With this type of flexibility, utility companies can set up remote contact centers in unaffected areas to be used as a resource for those affected by the storm. With the influx of inbound calls that come into contact centers during a storm, utility providers should consider deploying interactive voice response (IVR) systems to automatically and intelligently route calls to the appropriate departments and/or skilled agents. IVRs are useful in monitoring and directing call volume and traffic when contact centers are short staffed, saving companies considerable time and money in a time of crisis. Additionally, if time permits, consider setting up mobile hot spots around the city for people to charge and connect their mobile devices to the internet.
Provide timely and critical updates using various outbound strategies
In the midst of a storm, it’s imperative to keep all available lines of communication open when trying to connect with victims of a storm. The emphasis lies not only on receiving incoming calls, but being able to send outbound emergency updates and information to those affected by the storm. Luckily today, there are alternative ways to get in contact with customers outside of just phone calls (i.e. text, email, social media, etc.). In previous years, contact centers utilized social media to interact and engage with customers during weather-related emergencies. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, twitter became a major source of news and information for those who had no power but were able to access the social media site on their mobile devices. Leveraging other modes of communication during a storm enables utility companies to connect and engage with customers in a non-invasive manner, allowing them to listen/read, respond and save messages at their own convenience.
Prepare your team and your data
Before an emergency occurs, plan ahead and verify your center has additional staff available on standby. Create an emergency action plan and notify/instruct your staff on the change in process, procedures and operations during the emergency and the restoration phases. Check your customer records ahead of time and keep tabs/notes on those who will be affected by the storm. Additionally, back up your data in more than one location and inform your staff of alternative ways to access information remotely.
With the right technology, outbound strategies and preparations in place, utility companies will be more apt to help customers throughout a storm. It’s critical that electric utility companies preemptively align their processes, data and technology in times of tranquility, so they have a plan in place to stay connected and responsive to their customers during a crisis.
Mckay Bird is chief marketing officer of TCN, Inc.