Once again poor winter weather across the UK is having a significant impact on businesses. Richard Holt, regional economist at Capital Economics recently estimated the storms could knock as much as £13.8 billion off the UK economy.

Holt commented that the area at risk represented around 13% of the country’s gross domestic product before adding that a month’s loss of output in these areas would reduce GDP by just over 1%. Parts of England have had their wettest January since records began, while more than 5,000 home and businesses have been flooded since the storms began.

This kind of severe weather inevitably impacts on the availability and productivity of businesses’ customer-facing staff. At the same time, it is likely to drive up inbound call volumes. The St Jude storm at the end of October, for example, caused a massive spike in calls for many utility companies.

But 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 provide a high level of disaster recovery integrally, meaning that clients should not require additional cover. Second, in line with these plans, cloud contact centres enable agents to be connected to the technology platform and necessary applications from anywhere with Internet access.

Third, cloud-based solutions are ideal for supporting homeworkers, enabling organisations to benefit from a pool of agents dispersed across a geographic location that can ‘ramp up’ quickly in the event of one or more facilities going down.

Coping In A Crisis

It is not just harsh weather that is driving 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 just 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 just need high numbers of remote staff available, they also need those employees to be 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 that are typical in any 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.