You are here

What Happens When The Lights Go Out?

Facebook LinkedIn Google+ Twitter

Building Business Continuity through ShoreTel Distributed Contact Center Technology

Businesses today face a number of challenges aside from increased competition. Many need to focus much of their energies on dealing with ordinary market and competitive challenges, leaving them poorly equipped to deal with emergencies. This is especially significant in the contact center because of it’s customer-facing

...
White Papers

Building Business Continuity through ShoreTel Distributed Contact Center Technology

Businesses today face a number of challenges aside from increased competition. Many need to focus much of their energies on dealing with ordinary market and competitive challenges, leaving them poorly equipped to deal with emergencies. This is especially significant in the contact center because of it’s customer-facing nature, and the increased demands from customers. Downtime in the contact center may result in extensive loss of revenue and potentially more damaging, the loss of customers to rivals.

In this paper, we examine the impact of contact center downtime. We look at how Fruity Gifts , a fictitious specialty retailer of fruit-based gifts, such as fruit baskets, mixed fruit boxes, honeys, butters, etc., is affected by contact center downtime, and how it can mitigate risks using the ShoreTel distributed architecture. Specifically, we discuss the advantages of a remote contact center, with and without redundant technology, as well as the advantages of supporting remote agents.

To get the full benefits of UC, businesses need to build an infrastructure that can integrate the best applications into a seamless UC environment. After all, UC is really about eliminating islands of communication. A communications system that integrates completely and easily into your desktop environment and your business processes can help transform the way you work and communicate.

About Fruity Gifts

Based in Sacramento, California, Fruity Gifts, Inc., sells custom-made fruit-based gifts online and via its catalog. It manages a single contact center of 25 agents, three supervisors, and a manager. The contact center is located in its headquarters building in downtown Sacramento, and uses the ShoreTel Contact Center Enterprise solution.

Fruity Gifts’ volume of sales increases significantly during the holiday season and again two weeks prior to Mother’s Day. During these peak seasons, the contact center receives in excess of 120 calls per hour, with an average of 24 agents answering calls during peak hours. About 75 percent of all calls are for catalog sales. The remaining 25 percent are customer service-type calls (tracking packages, questions on credit card charges, business account invoice questions, etc.) with 25 percent of these calls resulting in upsales. The average catalog sale is $70 and the average up-sale is $25.

Fruity Gifts hires college graduates and agents with more than five years of sales experience. To help keep turnover low, Fruity Gifts pays its agents above market average compensation. During seasonal peaks, each agent is required to work ten hours per week in overtime. As a result, Fruity Gifts pays on average $33.00 per hour per agent (including benefits) during the peak season, and $30.00 during the rest of the year.

Fruity Gifts operates a distribution center near the Sacramento Airport.

Figure 1: Fruity Gifts

The Issue

On a Tuesday afternoon during a peak calling season, and during the peak calling hour, the grill hood in the restaurant kitchen (not affiliated with fruity Gifts) on the first floor of the Fruity Gifts building malfunctioned. As a result, the fire alarm sounded and the building was evacuated, including the contact center. By the time the fire department cleared the building and let people back in, an hour of peak revenue was lost. The estimated cost of that one hour to Fruity Gifts is described below:

Total down time (peak time)...................................................................................... 1 Hour
Agents affected..................................................................................................................24
Estimated missed sales opportunities.....................................................................$6,500
Unutilized labor..............................................................................................................$792

If this emergency had been a real fire and had shut down the contact center for a day or more, the result would have been a significant loss of revenue and worse, the potential loss of a large number of customers to rivals.

Many other organizational and corporate processes can survive downtime while they recover from a disaster. However, in many contact centers, disaster recovery is not an option and business continuity is mission critical. The customer-facing nature of contact centers means they must be able to operate even when the rest of the organization is offline.

Fortunately for Fruity Gifts, ShoreTel Contact Center offers several ways to help ensure business continuity and mitigate and manage risks.

Two-Point Solution

As the old saying goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Similarly contact centers that need to stay in operations during emergencies should not place all their agents in one location. By establishing a two-center solution, contact centers managers significantly decrease the risk of a complete blackout.

After the fire alarm incident, the management at Fruity Gifts investigated contact center solutions to help decrease the company’s risk. The solution the management developed was to open a remote contact center in its distribution center at the Sacramento Airport. Contact center management placed ten agents at the remote center, matching schedules and skills as best as possible. Furthermore, each center acts as the emergency location in case the other center needs to be evacuated for an extended length of time.

The company uses its current ShoreTel UC system to distribute calls over its WAN. Using the distributed ShoreTel UC architecture, supervisors monitor agents from either location as if all agents were located in a single contact center. This allows the supervisors to back each other up, and monitor agents if one supervisor has a meeting or is out of the office. Agents also can use ShoreTel to contact supervisors or agents in the other center if they need help.

Figure 2: Two-Point Solution

This two-point solution, illustrated in Figure 2 above, not only provides a way to mitigate risk, but it also offers the ten agents and one supervisor reduced commuting times.

It also proved its value when the headquarters was evacuated due to a scheduled emergency evacuation drill. Since the drill was scheduled, contact center management shifted 12 agents to the remote site, ensuring that the center was running at 90 percent capacity and still participating on the drill (see Figure 3 below). The ShoreTel Contact Center and ShoreTel IP telephone system is location independent, no configuration changes were needed. ShoreTel Contact Center simply sent the calls to the distribution center as the HQ agents logged on.

Figure 3: Planned Emergency Evacuation Drill

With A Single Point Solution

Total down time (non-peak time)...............................................................................1 Hour
Agents affected.................................................................................................................. 25
Potential missed sales opportunities........................................................................$6,500
Unutilized labor (non-peak times)................................................................................ $720

Two-Point Solution At 90 Percent Capacity

Total down time (non-peak time) .................................................1 Hour
Agents affected ......................................... ..........................3
Potential missed sales opportunities .................................................$250
Unutilized labor (non-peak times)................................................. $90

The distributed capability of the ShoreTel UC system and its ShoreTel Contact Center Enterprise solution enabled contact center management to maintain normal operations. The solutions provide the contact center managers with dashboards and graphical alerts that explain how the drill affects the contact center. Also, managers can monitor calls and participate when needed. ShoreTel Call Manager provides instant messaging (IM) and conferencing capabilities to agents enabling them to contact experts or supervisors in headquarters. The solutions also provide a simple way of moving agents. When agents arrive at the distribution center, they simply log in with a new extension and ShoreTel Contact Center registers their new location and starts passing traffic to the new extension. If needed, the remote center can be used by all agents in case of an extended closure of the main contact center and stay operational regardless of other events.

Redundant Two-Point Solution

In designing a business continuity solution for contact centers, all weak points must be identified and evaluated. Natural and man-made disasters show that technology can fail. A business continuity plan must take that into consideration and offer alternatives.

While the solution described above served its purpose during the emergency drill, management determined that the contact center was still at risk by relying on a single data center. Fruity Gifts needed a fully redundant solution and the company invested in a redundant data center in the distribution center. There, it installed a hot-swappable telephone solution and contact center solution. Each center has PSTN/ISTP drops and while the HQ drop is the primary, Fruity Gifts has calls routed to the distribution center in case of an emergency.

The redundant two-point solution, illustrated in Figure 3 below, proved its value when communications between the two centers was disrupted due to an unfortunate construction event. While repairing a water main in downtown Sacramento, the fiberoptic cable used to deliver data and voice between the two centers was cut, severing communications.

Figure 4: Redundant Two-Point Solution

After consulting with the network provider and determining that the repairs would take at least six hours, Fruity Gifts’ IT department worked with its telephone carrier to route calls to both centers (the customer service calls going to the remote site and the catalog calls routed to the HQ) while the fiber was being repaired. Within 15 minutes of the breakage the contact center was working at 100 percent, including all management monitoring and coaching tools. Because the systems were fully redundant, all dashboards and reports were displayed with current information.

Without a redundant data and contact center, the 10 agents in the remote site would have had to drive or be transported to headquarters, a travel time of at least an hour.

The fiber was reconnected eight hours later. The following charts compare the costs of the non-redundant solution with the redundant solution.

Without Redundant Solution

Total down time (non-peak time)...................................................... 1 Hour (transfer time)
Agents affected........................................................................................ 10 Agents
Lost revenue..................................................................................................2,900
Unutilized labor...................................................................................................... $300

With Redundant Solutions

Total downtime(non-peak time)..........................................................................15 Minutes
Agents affected..................................................................................................... 10 Agents
Lost revenue................................................................................................................... $200
Unutilized labor.................................................................................................................$75

The redundancy of ShoreTel’s solutions enables the two Fruity Gift contact centers to continue to operate independently during the cable cut. The redundancy of the solutions removed the dependence on a single point of failure (the WAN). By maintaining a hot standby ShoreTel Contact Center solution, Fruity Gift quickly can bring the second center up and operating, taking calls and making sales. The hot-standby server is current on skills and routing rules, as well as IVR messages and call flows. Management staff also sees the same dashboards and alerts provided while the solution operates under the main server. All-in-all, by creating redundant infrastructure, Fruity Gifts can weather the loss of its WAN and continue to operate.

Figure 5: Fiber Optics Cable Cut

Three-Point Solution

Fruity Gifts Inc. has always been an environmentally conscious company. When one of the agents approached the contact center manager with a teleworking solution, the manager jumped at the idea. At the same time, the company was in the process of developing a disaster recovery procedure and facing significant cost cuts. The contact center, with its redundant two-point solution, had proven the value of proper business continuity to executive management, but the empty cubicles at each center were high on the corporation’s list of cost cutting measures. So when the agent brought the teleworking idea to management, they saw a way to increase center readiness, free up the cube space for corporate use, and take the lead in a green initiative.

Under the existing business continuity policy, each agent already uses a laptop. The contact center management, in cooperation with upper management and the senior agents, established a comprehensive telecommuting policy. Agents were divided into two teams consisting of approximately half the agents from each center and one supervisor. One team works from home Mondays and Tuesdays and the other team works from home Thursdays and Fridays. All agents are in their assigned contact center on Wednesdays for team and department meetings.

Agents have a broadband Internet connection and a dedicated analog telephone line in their home (no cell phones are permitted). Also, agents need a quiet space to work, for instance a home office or basement. The company reimburses each agent $20 a month for the telecommunications requirements.

Figure 6: Three-Point Solution

The contact center returned the extra cube space to the corporation, which paid for the reimbursements. The cost of reimbursing each agent was estimated at $540 per month while the cost saving of returning the cube space was estimated at $945 per month. Over a year Fruity Gifts saves approximately $4,800.

In addition to savings in overhead, Fruity Gifts management noticed a drop in absenteeism and tardiness, which resulted in shorter wait times. The contact center management also noticed an increase in customer satisfaction surveys scores, which they equate to the shorter wait times.

Six months after the telecommuting plan was implemented and shortly before the peak calling season, the first-floor kitchen caught fire. When the fire was extinguished there was extensive smoke and water damage. The entire building had to be closed for three months for repairs. That meant that the main data center had to be shutdown because there was no water for the data center air conditioning. All headquarter agents were sent home to work and the backup data center was brought online.

While the redundant two-point solution let Fruity Gifts remain operational while the headquarters was closed, the three-point solution provided the same capabilities at lower costs. The three-point solution enabled Fruity Gifts to manage the risk of natural and manmade disasters as well as manage weak points in technology by providing three channels of communications with agents.

Figure 7: Extended Closure of HQ

By deploying ShoreTel Call Manager on their laptops, the contact center agents working from home enjoy a sophisticated telephone solution. A simple analog telephone is sufficient and the call manager offers agents complete call control.

Furthermore, ShoreTel Call Manager provides an extension and all other information required to properly route calls. Management uses the same dashboards as if the agents were in house. Finally, the at-home agents has the same access to experts and supervisors through ShoreTel’s unified desktop as in-house agents. ShoreTel’s remote agent capability and its distributed nature, means the Fruity Gifts contact center was affected very little during the three months the main data center was closed.

Conclusion

Every business must assess its vulnerability and deploy an effective business continuity solution. While Fruity Gifts’ three-point solution provided adequate risk management, the company could have increased protection by placing the remote contact center in another city or state. Placing a great deal of distance between the headquarters and the remote contact centers, helps Fruity Gifts ensure that events such as adverse weather or geological events, do not shut down operations.

Organizations that continue to service customers in the face of adversity possess a significant competitive advantage. Every organization must have a disaster recovery plan, but contact centers also must develop a business continuity plan because in today’s global environment customers are not necessarily affected by the same adverse events that are affecting the contact center.

ShoreTel. Brilliantly simple business communications.

ShoreTel, Inc. (NASDAQ: SHOR) is a leading provider of brilliantly simple IP phone systems and unified communications solutions powering today’s always-on workforce. Its flexible communications solutions for on-premises, cloud and hybrid environments eliminate complexity, reduce costs and improve productivity.

Like What You're Seeing?

By registering as user you can access the rest of this article.
Your personal information will not be distributed to third-party vendors.
Click to Register