Preparing for a health pandemic, 211 LA County, Los Angeles

What Does a Contact Center Emergency Response Plan Look Like During a Pandemic?

When I dial 211, an automated call message picks up and directs me to a kind voice of a contact center agent on the other line that greets me with “how can I help you today?” Like so many, I am looking for clear instructions on what to do during the COVID-19 outbreak. The call center agent has a plan. She searches her database of nonprofits, community organizations, health and social service agencies before directing me to my local health clinic for the most up-to-date information. 

During a crisis like COVD-19, also known as coronavirus, many call centers are seeing an influx of calls from concerned customers. Employers are asking employees to work from home, travel agencies are rescheduling vacations, schools are closing, and venues are rebooking concerts, sporting events and conferences to prevent the pandemic from spreading further. With all this disruption, contact centers can expect to be busy, yet need to protect their own employees.

That’s why NICE is supporting contact centers during COVID-19, including a free work-from-home module for users of the NICE CXone cloud customer experience platform, to maintain service continuity while employees need to work from home. In addition, to support the expected increase in call volume that 211 and 311 organizations may receive, NICE will provide free voice call ports to those organizations for the next six months With cloud contact center technology in place, it is easy to rapidly scale up to meet demand and then scale down later as needed. NICE CXone customers have pay as you go pricing giving them the flexibility to scale up or down rapidly and only pay for what is used.  

Amy Latzer, 211 LA County Chief Operation Officer, understands what it is like to get an influx of calls during a crisis. She oversees a contact center of 60 resource advisors who take more than half a million calls yearly for the health, human and social services agency. They serve 1.4 million residents of Los Angeles county and assist other states in fielding calls from concerned citizens during times of crisis like COVID-19, the health pandemic we are seeing today. She says that having a plan, documentation, and practice is key.

“Muscle memory keeps you from the panic and it keeps you calm,” Latzer said.

Her team had plenty of practice from September to November of 2018 when they responded to Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, followed by Hurricane Michael in Florida. The day the contact center agents were relieved of Hurricane Michael, the Woolsey fire, which went on to burn 96,949 acres, destroy 1,643 structures, evacuate 295,000 people and kill three others, started.

“When creating a crisis response plan, you have to ask yourself, ‘what could happen?’ and ‘what does agility look like in my organization,” Latzer said. “Examine your business model and clients to see what kinds of crisis and unexpected events could happened that you could prepare for to some degree.”

Latzer also explains it’s a good idea to get others involved as part of the planning phase, especially team members who are going to be on the frontlines, like your contact center agents. Once you have a plan documented make sure to practice. Practicing will reveal gaps in your plan, which is the point, so that you can fix areas that didn’t go as planned. Practice and thorough documentation will also give your contact center agents the confidence to respond to a crisis even when someone who is key is out.

If you are not sure about your plan, NICE is also offering a free Business Continuity Planning review to verify that work from home and geographic flexibility can be performed without interruption to the business during the COVID-19 outbreak. And as with any crisis, it is crucial to document all the steps of the process along the way for your after-action review.

“It’s impossible to remember everything post disaster,” Latzer said. “When you move quickly and under pressure you get resourceful and innovative, and you don’t want that forgotten.”

The after-action review is essentially a decompression for your team.  It allows your team to process what happened and to express challenges and opportunities. There are no wrong or right answers and the topics discussed should be incorporated into your action plan. Lazter also stresses that it is essential to have the proper tools in place that will allow your agents to efficiently respond to a crisis while gathering data.

211 LA County uses the CXone Open Cloud Foundation with Omnichannel Routing and Workforce Management suite which allowed Latzer to see peak influx times and scheduled her agents to handle calls accordingly to avoid burn out. She says having the right tools in place can also help her see which resources are being most requested so that their strategy can be adjusted.

After having experienced multiple crisis, Latzer says it is important to stay on top of

  • Maintaining a regular workload. Even during a crisis, business continues as usual from customers who have general inquiries
  • Keeping up with the changing information. Events during a crisis can change rapidly and it is important to have the latest and most accurate information.
  • Controlling rumors. Equip your agents with the tools to dispel rumors and ask the right questions.
  • Ensuring your hardware is up to date, especially technology your agents may need away from the office.

Needing more on crisis preparedness? Hear from Lazter first hand as she dives into working through multiple crises, lessons learned along the way, and the tools that make her team successful. We also have a resource page for contact centers facing COVID-19.