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The Worried Executive's Guide: Preventing the Telephone Company's Disasters from Becoming Yours (Part 1 of 3)

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It may not have occurred to you that your phone company can have a disaster of its own, or that a disaster for them can quickly become one for you. In this three-part series, Leo Wrobel talks about ways to mitigate some of Mother Nature's fury by preparing in advance for catastrophe. Part 1 discusses some quick-and-dirty (and cheap!) ways to switch over incoming calls from your call center when it's swamped (maybe literally).
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Just Can’t Get Through to You

In today’s organizations, telecommunications connectivity is king. Whether the application is an inbound call center answering 800 numbers or a server taking orders from thousands of web-enabled users, telecommunications is often the lynchpin of business. Stated another way, when the telecommunications network fails, the organization’s cash register stops.

In order to understand the dynamics in play here, consider the typical workstation in a service-oriented company. This is the front-line interface to the customer and the funnel through which cash enters the organization. This workstation can be engaged in any number of activities: selling airline tickets, trading stock, taking orders for that wonderful blending machine that just aired in a commercial on Channel 33.

Taking that last item as an example for a moment, imagine spending tens of thousands of dollars to air that commercial, only to have the people calling to purchase the blender greeted by an "All circuits are busy now" recording. Impulse buyers like these probably won’t call back again later—indeed, they may not even remember your number 10 seconds after Channel 33 returns to the evening movie.

Or consider the stockbroker. Someone who calls in to sell 10,000 shares of AT&T wants to make that transaction now. If that doesn’t happen, these users can be pretty unforgiving. Someone attempting to use Joe’s Brokerage might just decide that Jan’s Brokerage would be a more reliable provider.

The same holds true for the airlines. Sure, if one airline is running a fantastic sale, the caller might be inclined to call back again later. But realistically speaking, how often does that happen? Carriers operate under essentially the same costs, and match each other’s fares quickly whenever one puts tickets on sale. Unless the caller is a member of a particular airline’s frequent flier club, he or she will probably hang up and call someone else. Certainly a travel agent will do so unless a traveler specifies otherwise, because the agency’s work time is valuable.

The reason I used these specific examples is that airlines, brokerages, and home shopping clubs often have elaborate telecommunications recovery plans for precisely these reasons. "That’s fine," you may say. "They can afford to have elaborate plans. But what about smaller businesses?" Surprisingly, having a telecommunications recovery plan may be much more affordable than you think, because a lot of the capital-intensive part of the process has already been accomplished by the telecommunications companies themselves. For example, did you know the following facts?

  • There is absolutely no reason why your inbound 800 calls could not be answered at an alternate location within 10 minutes of a disaster.
  • There is virtually no reason why your company’s main telephone numbers could not be answered at an alternate location within one hour of a disaster.
  • There is virtually no reason why web-enabled services could not be redirected elsewhere within hours of a disaster.
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