By Jeremy Payne, International VP Marketing, Enghouse Interactive,

You’d probably suspected it already but now it’s official, Britain has had its wettest winter since records began in 1910. The recent heavy storms that brought widespread flooding are likely to have had a particularly serious impact on UK business as the economic hub of the Thames Valley was badly affected.

As economist, Richard Holt of independent research firm, Capital Economics commented, “what is very unusual about this particular episode is that the hardest hit part of the country has been the Thames Valley and M4 corridor, so that’s high technology companies, life sciences companies.”

This kind of severe weather inevitably impacts on the availability and productivity of businesses’ customer-facing staff with employees either unable to reach work or finding offices closed when they get there. For many companies, the pressure is exacerbated as inbound call volumes rise as customers start to worry about service disruptions. The St Jude storm at the end of October, for example, caused a massive spike in calls for many utility companies.

Fortunately, help is at hand in dealing with these kinds of challenges. The best cloud-based contact centres ensure complete business continuity in three main ways.

First, good cloud solutions deliver a high level of disaster recovery integrally, meaning that clients should not require significant additional cover. For clients with existing onsite customer premises equipment, cloud solutions can also provide reserve back-up disaster recovery protection.

Second, cloud contact centres enable agents to connect to the technology platform and necessary applications from anywhere that has Internet access. Companies can therefore continue to service the client base - even in an outage - reducing the impact of what could otherwise have been a disastrous situation, resulting in dropped calls, negative customer experiences and lost revenue.

Third, cloud-based solutions are ideally-suited to supporting homeworkers, allowing businesses to benefit from a pool of agents dispersed across a geographic territory or region that can ‘ramp up’ quickly in the event of one or more facilities going down. Companies can bring extra staff on line to service the contact centre and its customers and then ‘switch them off again’ when weather conditions improve. Travel-to-work time can be eliminated and, in an emergency, agents can be requested to log on for an hour or so by text message. Homeworking also enables organisations to offer longer opening hours, ideal during emergency situations.

Crisis Management

It is not just severe weather that is fuelling the uptake of cloud-based contact centre solutions. Issues like the recent energy price rises highlight the need for organisations to outsource within the cloud to deal with spikes in calls. In such scenarios, companies can benefit from switching on an extended contact centre. Cloud allows them to do that while only paying for what they use when they use it.

If they are launching a new gadget or game onto the market, they will need to scale, particularly if there are issues with distribution or supply. And if there is a sudden customer surge due to a product failure or a serious concern, they will need to be agile enough to deal with it quickly and efficiently.

In a crisis, however, an organisation does not simply need high numbers of remote staff available. It also needs to ensure those employees are knowledgeable about the problem. This is where the latest workforce management solutions can come into play, helping ensure that the right number of agents with the right skills are available to handle the spikes in demand typical of a crisis situation.

Extending the Contact Centre

Cloud-based contact centres help organisations tap into knowledge-based workers who are experts in certain subjects no matter where they are based. Indeed, this kind of cloud capability works particularly well for companies that are geographically dispersed. As long as they have a thin client sitting on a cloud-based solution, businesses can ensure that anyone based anywhere in the world on almost any device can be part of the conversation and help customers get the reassurance they need.

Many companies today are increasingly also looking at cloud as a standby to facilitate business continuity in the event that their own systems or servers fail for example. But it is in delivering customer service that cloud contact centres really shine. Today, most companies have straight-through processes and business systems that allow them to operate economically with an acceptable level of customer service. It is at times of stress and crisis, however, that the service is really put to the test and customer service really needs to shine. Companies need to learn the lessons and ensure they have a proactive approach in place that allows them to respond to a rapidly evolving crisis and keep customers fully informed – and cloud based contact centres provide the ideal solution.