How to Redirect phones during a disaster or crisis

This information is from my new book, The Ultimate Business Continuity Success Guide: How to Build Real-World Resilience and Unleash Exciting New Value Streams. Happily it is now Amazon’s #1 searched business continuity book. I hope you enjoy the chapter. and the book.

Business Continuity Tips, Techniques and Secrets

How to Redirect phones during a disaster or crisis

Super resilience through the re-routing of customer facing toll free telephone numbers is critical in keeping customers happy and keeping them as customers during and after a disruptive event. You can even turn this super resilience into additional revenue by adding new customers after a disruptive event. Sales can make it part of their pitch that your company was taking orders when the competition was serving up a stale voicemail for hours or days!

Re-routing toll free numbers must be thought through carefully and documented in your plans and telecom routing tables. Attention to detail and team coordination will enable your organization to recover these critical communication numbers in any disaster in a time-frame meeting or exceeding business requirements.

I have successfully re-routed customer facing toll free telephone numbers for customer service and various securities processes during my career. These types of processes typically have an RTO of <4 hours. In each disruptive event I have encountered, we were able to recover within 1 hour and often in just a few minutes.  Yes, you can exceed expectations!

I have re-routed calls internally to recovery staff at sister-sites (warm and hot-sites), vendor recovery sites, vendor mobile recovery trailers and work-from- home locations. Each can be a viable strategy, depending on your needs and resources.

Here are Tips for Your Consideration:

Tip – Toll-free numbers can often be redirected in the cloud utilizing a telecom routing table. You should team with your telecommunications experts to implement this strategy. The telecommunications team can often build out the underlying infrastructure with the flexibility to re-route calls to any site or desktop.

When speaking with process owners always ask if they have any customer facing toll-free numbers. Ask it during initial interviews, BIA, plan maintenance and tabletops. Remind them that if new toll free numbers are activated to add them to their business continuity plan and let you know so you can build a recovery strategy. Often new customer facing numbers are added and unless there is a process in place and awareness they may not be captured and SURPRISE – they will not be available at the time of crisis. Customer calls that terminate with a canned voice-mail ‘we are experiencing a disruption…’ or drop into a black hole are BAD for your company image and for your career! You could lose customers and revenue.

  • Sub-Tip – if you are using a sophisticated BCM system you can set a trigger to alert you whenever a new toll free number is added to a plan.

Tip – After you have identified the customer facing toll free numbers, work with the process owners and the telecommunications team to fine tune your strategy. This may include setting up sub-prompts off the main toll free numbers so customers can get to proper skilled professionals who can best answer their specific questions or take their orders.

Tip – Level-set expectations with the process owner. Like we always preach, it might not be business as usual (BAU) during a crisis, unless they want to pay for it and even then, depending on the availability of employees they may have to compromise to a certain degree. Most likely the process will have a smaller than usual number of recovery staff taking calls, especially during the first 4 to 24 hours. They may want to plan to consolidate some of the sub prompts into one extension.

Tip – Recovery staff should be cross-trained before-hand to at least can speak intelligently and answer basic questions that customers may have. Complex questions could then be escalated to a supervisor. Call-forwarding should be tested beforehand.

Tip – A valuable related project goal can be to discover all the critical customer facing toll free phone numbers in your organization. Depending on the size of your organization and the data available to you this can be a large, but worthwhile, project. As a special treat, please read the chapter, ‘Spinning Data into Gold’, in Part 1 of the book. It may give you an idea to unleash additional value from this project.

Working with a Third Party Work-Area-Recovery Vendor as the End-Point for the Customer Calls:

Tip – When you re-route calls to a third-party recovery vendor site you and your telecommunications team will partner with the vendor’s telecommunications team to channel the re-routed calls through their phone system to the proper end-point skill-set employee(s).  Your recovery staff must have the flexibility to log-in from any desk and begin accepting calls for a particular queue.

Depending on the vendor’s phone system this may take some getting used to by employees. Encourage employees to attend every work-area-recovery exercise to practice using the phone system. If additional testing is required, you can speak with the vendor about bringing a few employees over for an ‘unofficial’ test. Vendors usually try to accommodate their clients, if possible.

Tip – Your job is to manage the project. I promise, you do not have to be a telecommunications geek to successfully re-route toll free phone numbers.

  1. You must understand the business requirements and risks
  2. You must bring your telecommunications team together with the third-party recovery vendor telecommunications team. They speak the same language and they will then handle the technical implementation. You will be the key person to ensure that the proper business requirements are achieved
  3. You must clearly document everything!
  4. You must test!

Testing the Toll-Free Phone Numbers at the Recovery Site is Critical – Critical – Critical!   

After the back-end work is completed and documented do an initial test with a few ‘dummy’ calls:

  1. Your telecommunications expert can probably tag your desk or cell phone in the routing table so that when you call in from that number to a certain customer facing toll free number in scope it is then re-routed to the recovery site. A vendor rep at the recovery site can answer the call. This enables you to test without impacting any production calls. The production calls will not be re-routed. This is good as you might need to do some fine tuning to the re-routing process.
  2. Next, bring a small percentage of recovery personnel to the recovery site.  Test re-routing a small percentage of production calls. You and your telecommunications team may have to play with the percentage of calls on-the-fly. If you only get 20 calls a day on a toll-free number, re-routing 1 percent of the calls for that number to the recovery site might have people sitting around for hours waiting for a call. The percentage of re-routes depends on the number of calls and number of recovery people you have at the site. The process owner can provide a good approximation of the percentage of calls to re-route for this part of the test. Generally, changing the percentage up or down takes a minute or so for the telecom team.
  3. IMPORTANT – After a test or a real crisis remember to re-route the calls back to the production site. I repeat, after a test or a real crisis remember to re-route the calls back to the production site. If you forget to do this, it can understandably get ugly. Trust me, with all the excitement, it can be overlooked.

The bottom line is re-routing toll free customer facing telephone numbers sounds complicated, but it is not. When it works, it is a beautiful thing and of course your organization will be able to ‘sleep nights’ knowing this has been planned and tested! Good luck and let me know how it works for you.

If you have any questions on this subject or need further suggestions, please contact me.

I hope you enjoyed the information in this chapter. We go into a lot more detail in The Ultimate Continuity Success Guide. In fact, this is only one of 112 chapters packed with 1001 tips, techniques, ideas and those important lessons-learned. Have fun and please contact me with any questions!

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