“Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” so said Charles Dudley Warner. Bad weather affects us all, including telephone answering services that strive to serve clients regardless of the weather: hurricane, winter storm, heat wave, flood-producing rain, and so on. While your disaster recovery plan (you have one, right?) should specifically address these contingencies, here are some weather-related issues to consider for your answering service:
Some bad weather conditions limit employees’ ability to make it to work. Public transportation may shut down or snowdrifts may keep others homebound. Assuming travel is otherwise safe, make provisions to transport staff to work. An experienced driver with a 4-wheel drive vehicle and a bit of ingenuity can accomplish much.
Sometimes staff is at work and can’t—or shouldn’t—leave. Have plenty of food at the answering service; keep them fed. For prolonged stays, what can you do to provide for basic hygiene needs and sleep accommodations? Though the situation is dire, do whatever possible to make it positive.
Have a safety-first mentality. Yes, you have a commitment to serve your clients, yet a higher obligation requires you to keep staff safe. Maybe you aren’t part of the first wave of evacuations, but don’t try to ride out a storm if common sense (or a governor’s edict) says otherwise.
All answering services should have a means to power their systems when utility power is lost. UPS (uninterruptable power supplies) provide only limited protection; a generator delivers long-term power—assuming it has a fuel source. Also ask your utility to place your answering service on a priority restoration list. After all, much of an answering service’s communication does have an emergency or urgent nature, some of which is life threatening, especially during bad weather conditions.
Most of today’s answering service platforms allow staff to work offsite. Even if you normally prohibit this, make an exception for employees who can’t make it to the office. Working from home is better than letting calls go unanswered and infinitely better then staff risking their lives to make it to work.
If you’re a multisite operation, it should be easy for calls to flow to a second location. Hopefully the second site is far enough away that the bad weather conditions aren’t affecting its operation. Test this out in advance and correct any glitches. One concern to address is arranging for extra staffing at the other location.
If you have only one location, arrange with a friendly competitor, in another part of the country, to handle one another’s calls in an emergency. There is a logistical aspect to this and a financial aspect. Address both in advance. Put it in writing. Then when the time comes, you’ll be ready. While it is impossible to anticipate every conceivable bad weather scenario, making these basic provisions in advance will go a long way to help your answering service successfully weather any storm. Start work on this today. Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center and telephone answering service industry. Contact Janet at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.