Key considerations to lessen the impact of severe weather on staff and service.
Many call centers are located in metropolitan areas that generally experience few winter weather anomalies. As a result, their service can be severely impacted by the lack of infrastructure to clear roads and make travel safe for employees.
Large centers with proper contingency plans in place can route calls to other non-impacted sites. However, there are many small to medium-sized centers where this is simply not the case, and they have not made the investment in technology for their agents to work from home. So what is the manager to do?
The following are nine things to consider when planning for inclement weather.
- First, be vigilant of all potential severe weather. Look at the seven-day outlook each morning as the winter months approach.
- Have a plan in place for staff transportation and lodging that your management team and agents are aware of. Many agents don’t have credit cards or funds to spend on a hotel. It is best to make an arrangement in advance with a hotel that is in close proximity to the facility. Additionally, if they offer a shuttle service, it is an added safety measure for staff that are uncomfortable driving in icy or wintry conditions.
- Be prepared to put the plan into action. The center director must act on the side of caution. We all know that meteorology is the one job where inaccuracy is the norm. How many times have you heard someone say: “What a great job; they get paid to be wrong. Wish I could have that gig?” There are going to be times when you enact your plan only to see that the potential wintry mix or ice storm did not impact the area. Chalk it up to conservative planning. The overall spend for putting up staff is offset by not doing so when a true weather event occurs.
- Take care of your team’s immediate needs. During those times when nonessential personnel are leaving the building early as bad winter weather arrives, your team is doing the opposite: They are putting themselves in harm’s way by either staying at work or heading to the designated hotel to ensure that they’re able to make it to work on time for their next scheduled shift.
In my experience, this is a time when those who are at work really benefit from the feeling of camaraderie and teamwork. They are sacrificing time away from their families to ensure that they are there to serve their customers. Do your best to find food delivery services that are open, and call very early—orders can take hours to fulfill in stormy conditions. Remember, an army travels on its stomach.
- If you are short-staffed, add a message to your IVR to inform callers of possible delays (e.g., “Due to inclement weather in the area, staffing is impacted, but we will get to your call as soon as possible”).
- It is imperative that, as the leader, you are positive and lead by example. Get on the phones and show your team that you are all in this together. Consider incenting your team to be at work. I have paid double time to all agents who were at work during a winter storm. The benefit of this is that staff will extend their shifts. (They’re not going anywhere, so why not earn some extra cash?) Don’t overtax them, though. Keep the shift lengths reasonable. If your business does not allow you to pay double time, purchase gift cards and recognize their efforts in front of the team when normal operations have resumed.
- Advise your staff to pack for a few days. We once spent five days at work after an ice storm turned our parking lot into a hockey rink.
- A very important point in all of this is safety. There is nothing worse than an employee who stays at a hotel and takes a shuttle to the front door only to slip and fall on a sheet of ice. Make sure that you have ice melter on hand, and that you have designated employees wearing the proper protective gear to spread the material so that employees can enter and exit the building safely.
- Finally, consider is how to handle those employees who deem the roads unsafe and call out. I have had employees drive an hour to work in dangerous conditions while those who lived five minutes away stated it wasn’t safe and chose to call out. There are options. Have them call a taxi. Utilize Uber and offer to pay the bill. If they cannot come to work, they are then going to have to use either personal time or be unpaid for the time missed, contingent upon your center’s HR policy.
I reside in Dallas. I missed sleigh-riding with my daughters when they were young. My wife would email me photos of them playing in the snow, building a snowman (or politically correct known as a “Cold Challenged Ice Crystal Person”). However, they knew that I was at work as a responsible manager who was dedicated to service to his customers and the safety of his staff. After the storm, when things cleared up and other nonessential personnel would show up to work, you could see the sense of pride in those of us who persevered and worked together to ensure that things ran as seamlessly as possible.