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“Coping in crisis conditions” – How the latest communications technologies can help

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

When crisis hits, the implications typically extend well beyond the immediate problem. Rather like the ripples from a stone flung into a pond, the effects can extend infinitely outward. Businesses and organisations more generally often get embroiled in the disruption. We see it all the time – the difficulties caused by a sudden snowstorm; the impact of product recalls on businesses and the public, the air travel chaos caused by the 2010 Icelandic volcano eruption, and the effects of outbreaks of illness such as seasonal influenza and particularly severe, the recent spread of coronavirus.

All these events – to a lesser or greater degree – impact society and result in widespread organisational disruption. To an extent this is inevitable but at times of crisis like those outlined above technology can play an important role in helping to minimise the impact of events and keep key organisational infrastructure up and running.

It could be as simple as keeping customers informed whether that be, for example, in the event of a power outage, a water supply cut-off, or a mobile phone network going down. Increasingly, contact centres are choosing to opt for self-service options, such as web and voice interaction, to provide anxious callers with access to information, status updates, and to steer priority calls quickly to the right advisor. Modern voice interaction systems have taken what used to be traditional IVR to a whole new level of sophistication. Leveraging mobile devices and visually driven menus alongside AI- enabled bots working in harmony with human agents helps provide streamlined intelligent interaction handling that can scale easily.

Cloud-based connectivity can also be key in helping organisations to manage crisis situations more effectively.  During disruptive weather conditions, they can quickly bring new home workers online without requiring them to travel into the office. Moreover, if there is a sudden customer surge due to a product failure or a serious concern, adding extra resource through the cloud will enable them to deal with it quickly and efficiently.

In the world of healthcare and, in particular, in dealing with the spread of viruses and other illnesses, the use of cloud can also be instrumental in enabling providers to access expert resource which may not be geographically close to the problem. The ability, for example, to use  a combination of cloud, unified communications platforms, high-quality high definition cameras, and telehealth equipment to diagnose and triage patients more rapidly offers a scalable solution that enables healthcare providers to maximise available resource and enables patients to be seen and diagnosed quickly without needing to travel. 

Whatever their illness, patients can remain at home and get help via cloud platforms allied to video-conferencing and unified communications technology together with collaborative tools like Vidyo or Microsoft Teams. Visible illnesses like a child with chicken pox or measles can be remotely diagnosed, allowing parents to more quickly seek suitable treatment and care. Adult workers can receive diagnostic advice on illnesses and then also use similar technology to work from home and collaborate with their teams without risking spreading infection by attending the office.

With this kind of virtualised cloud environment, it is possible for healthcare organisations to pull in help from any doctor with relevant experience and access to the Internet, no matter where in the world they are located. It may seem like an idealistic vision but in reality the technological infrastructure to do this is already in place and a lot of the software required to do this is already there also.  Cultural issues around borders, national jurisdictions and politics may however be more difficult to navigate.

Always be prepared

Whatever, the precise scenario, every organisation needs to be aware that crises will inevitably happen – and not necessarily in isolation. As Claudius said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”

It is also true that to go back to the stone in the pond analogy, when crises occur, the impact of those crises invariably spreads quickly. Often whether it is connected to political disruption, climatic events or epidemic diseases, there is associated transport disruption. Airlines will most likely have to deal with spikes in demand on their contact centres and websites from people asking for guidance and advice. Once again, the cloud can help here in enabling agents to connect to the technology platform and necessary applications from anywhere that has Internet access. Airlines can therefore continue to service the client base, reducing the impact of dropped calls and negative customer experiences.

The combination of cloud, unified communications, video connectivity and collaborative technologies has the potential to bring a host of benefits to customer-facing organisations today.  Yet, it is at times of crisis when frontline workers and the organisations they work for are under the most pressure to deliver the highest possible levels of focus of engagement, service and support that those benefits are shown in their sharpest focus.

Jeremy Payne, International VP Marketing, Enghouse Interactive