The Right BPO Partner is Key to Business Continuity Success
‘Business Continuity’ can be defined as an organisation’s ability to maintain essential functions after a disaster has occurred. The sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide quickly highlighted the importance of having continuity plans in place – as the virus caused unprecedented disruption to economies and businesses across the globe. For those making use of business process outsourcing (BPO) and offshoring services specifically, the pandemic emphasised the need to review current operating models and ensure that they are flexible enough to ensure continuity in times of disaster. Essentially, being agile as a business moved from being a luxury to being an absolute necessity almost overnight.
Business Continuity for BPO
Looking at contact centres specifically, many providers suffered negative implications due to legal restraints on the movement of workers and the operation of businesses in certain regions, which negatively impacted on their ability to provide customer experience. This came as a huge blow to the consumer at a time when the contact centre was in the spotlight as a convenient and easy way to talk to their providers. For businesses, this was proof that working with a provider who is able to provide a multi-region, disaster recovery strategy has never been more important.
“While the pandemic has certainly brought to light the undeniable importance of disaster recovery for businesses, it is something that has been part of the BPO industry for years. It is a part of our DNA at Merchants, and something we pride ourselves on being able to deliver to our clients,” explains Laurent Leclercq, Group CTO at Merchants, adding that the business works with noted providers, such as Continuity SA, in providing this to their clients.
Award Worthy Business Continuity
Merchants was, in 2020, nominated for the Most Effective Recovery Award as part of the 2020 Business Continuity Institute Awards, for the business continuity plan they developed and implemented alongside Continuity SA for a UK-based client, which was implemented 9 days before the first national lockdown was announced in South Africa. This instance involved moving 40% of their contact centre agents to an alternative location in order to adhere to rules around social distancing. This required careful structuring, as employees on this site work across 13 functions, spread across three directorates. Moving such a large number of staff to the alternative site, many of whom had not visited it before, presented a logistical and HR challenge, and required Merchants leadership to brief each staff member individually and ensure all concerns were addressed; all while making provisions for staff meals, transport, permits, and health and safety measures in line with government guidelines.
In Early 2021, Merchants was again able to provide business continuity services to a Cape Town-based client after one of their sites was overtaken by a fire. In this instance, staff were moved to an alternative location, connected, and mobilised to continue providing customer experience services within 30 hours of the incident.
“The importance of planning for disaster upfront cannot be underestimated,” says Neil van der Merwe, IT Executive at Merchants. “Our success in this area is largely due to the fact that we had tested these solutions in advance and were prepared to implement these plans at any moment.”
Within their own business, Merchants mobilised more than 2000 agents to work from home during the height of the pandemic in South Africa and continues to support them with the right technology, tools and hardware through its Ekhaya solution. “Our ability to split our contact centre workforce across multiple locations, including the homes of our agents, has been instrumental in our success during the pandemic – especially in providing business continuity to all our clients,” says Leclercq.
Roadmap to Success
In closing, Leclercq notes that strategies in this area need to be high on the executive agenda. “Business continuity practices come at a cost, both financially and in terms of time and resources. In the past, this has often been treated as a grudge purchase – similar to that of an insurance policy. The pandemic has proved how important it is that organisations are thinking about and investing in business continuity more aggressively than ever – and working with the right partners is the first, and arguably most important, step toward success.”