Build a disaster recovery plan for your voice services to ensure that your customers can always reach you.
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Your company probably already has a disaster recovery plan (DRP) in place for your IT services. You make sure your data is backed up daily and you have written procedures in place to restore a failed piece of hardware should you ever need to. But what happens when your voice services are disrupted? Any number of events can occur to make your office voice services unusable - from builders accidentally cutting through cables during road works, to an epidemic that results in high staff absenteeism, or even a natural disaster that damages your office. When your staff are unable to answer the phones, business grinds to a halt.
Having a proper voice DRP in place ensures that you can keep doing business - and keep your customers happy - no matter what keeps you from opening your office.
1. Get out of the weeds
Creating an effective voice DRP is dependant on you gaining a high level overview of your company and the way your communications are handled. This will ensure that your DRP covers all bases and will enable each department to keep working effectively when a disaster occurs.
Start by identifying how calls are made and received by each department. Create a document that includes this information and be sure to make a note of:
Which numbers does your company own and where does each of them ring through to when called?
Inbound call routing
How are calls routed after they are initially answered? You might have an IVR that directs calls automatically, a receptionist who directs them manually, or you might drop callers directly into call queues or ring groups. Make a note of how a call flows through each department in your company, from the time the phone rings to the time the call ends.
Outbound call routing
What do your staff members need to do in order to make an outbound call? Do they have to dial 9 to get an outside line? Do they have account codes that need to be entered to call long distance numbers? Document the procedures that must be followed to make an outbound call under normal circumstances so that you will know how the procedure differs during a disaster.
If there are a handful of staff members who handle the majority of the calls in your organisation, write that down. These are the people who need to receive calls the most in the event of a disaster. If they are well trained on how your voice services will change during a disaster, you won’t need to worry about answering “how do I…” questions.
Ensure you include contact details for your key telecoms and connectivity suppliers. They will be able to help you implement your recovery plans if necessary. Gain a thorough understanding of how calls are made and received at your company and make sure it is documented in detail.
Now that you know how calls are handled by every department, identify any weak points that could cause the communications process to break down. At this stage you don’t need to figure out a solution, you simply need to identify the types of problems that might disrupt your communications.
Consider what might happen if:
Key personnel are not available
Is there anyone else who can answer calls? Are they correctly trained to do so? Can call forwarding or diverts be activated to direct calls?
Most staff are unable to get to the office
Staff absenteeism can happen due to ill health, pandemics, extreme weather that can make commuting difficult, or even your own company functions. No matter why absenteeism might occur, you need to ensure you understand the impact it will have on your ability to handle and route calls.
Your office is closed
Not a standard disaster by most definitions, but how a
call gets routed when your office is closed - be it outside of business hours, a holiday, or because the office is inaccessible for whatever reason - is important to keep your customers happy and, with sales lines in particular, ensure your business can continue to make money. Are your customers aware that your office is closed when they call in? Are they able to reach the right department on their own, or are they directed to a general delivery voicemail system and left feeling like nobody will ever return their call?
Your phone lines are dead
Maybe someone has cut the wrong cable, or a disaster has damaged your office location. Whatever the case may be, how does it impact your ability to do business if you pick up the phone and have no dial tone? Do you have any single points of failure that need addressing?
2. Fill in the blanks
You now know how calls are handled and what might stop those handling processes. Now it’s time to figure out how to fill any gaps in your voice DRP. Some solutions will be people or process related, others will be technological in nature. Look into each of the following:
If the person(s) who normally answer your phones aren’t in the office, make sure there are others available who can take on that role. They should be trained on how calls are routed throughout your organisation, as well as how to correctly operate any telephony equipment involved in the process.
IVRs can always answer calls without any human intervention required. Having an IVR will let your customers route their own calls if they cannot be answered by a person.
If your company still makes use of traditional analogue or ISDN lines, moving to SIP trunking will provide a large range of voice DRP options. SIP trunking solutions will often allow calls to automatically failover to a secondary office location if your primary office is offline. For companies with a single office location, calls can be diverted to a mobile or any other number to ensure they can still be answered.
Inbound call management services
Alongside SIP, providers are now starting to introduce self-serve call management solutions that allow companies to set up and control how calls are routed to their business. This means that any necessary changes can be made, quickly and easily, via an online portal. The last thing you want to be doing in the event of an emergency is sitting on hold, waiting for your phone provider to make changes for you - some changes to legacy ISDN lines can even take days to be implemented! By choosing a provider who allows you to make these changes yourself, you can get your calls flowing within minutes, using any internet connected device.
Most companies have PBX equipment at their office locations that handle call routing, voicemail, IVRs and call queues. If your PBX is unavailable, many of the call routing features that you depend on can be lost if calls are then diverted to another location. This can be confusing and frustrating for customers calling in. A hosted PBX solution removes these features from the on-premise equipment and instead hosts them in the cloud. With a hosted PBX, your customers receive the same call flow no matter what’s happening at your office locations. In addition, most hosted PBX services allow your phones to connect to the service from anywhere - so if you have a disaster, your staff can plug a phone in at home, or access the service via a softphone on their desktop, and keep working.
Speak with your phone provider to see what business continuity options are available to you. Once you have identified any required solutions, ensure they are put into place. Lastly, take all of your voice DRP documentation and ensure that the people involved in executing the plan have read and understood it.
Make sure a copy of the plan is stored somewhere safe and can be accessed should your office become inaccessible.
3. Just do it
Ignoring the creation of a voice DRP is ignoring something that could critically damage your business. Following these steps will ensure you have a bulletproof plan that keeps calls coming in and your business operating:
- Document the call flow processes at your company, both for inbound and outbound calls.
- Identify any gaps that might disrupt your call flow. Include gaps caused by people, processes and technology.
- Identify and resolve any gaps that you identify - train additional employees, implement SIP trunking, get set up with an inbound call management system or implement whatever new processes and technology necessary to prevent disruption to your voice communications.
- Document your plan in detail and distribute it to everyone who plays a part in the plan’s execution. Make sure copies of the plan are also stored off-site, so that they can be referenced if your office is inaccessible.
Ensuring that you have a full voice DRP will provide your customers with an uninterrupted service, keep them happy and keep you in business.
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