The Phoenix

By Frank McKeown

We operate a small inbound call center near the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. Most of our CSRs are students at the University. We service national clients by providing order taking, help desk and other customer service functions.

On September 11 we witnessed the national horror, outrage, and sorrow. Our mourning was interrupted later that day when we were selected to participate in the national Red Cross Call Center Grid to accept donations and pledges and provide information on blood donations. The outpouring of support from people of all situations made us extremely proud of our country. We received individual donations ranging from $3 to $300,000, all given with a fervent prayer for America and the victims’ families. We tripled our normal staff and still had calls in queue. What a great show of support for the country!

In the middle of this campaign I was awakened at 5:00 A.M. on Friday September 14 by one of my employees who told me that our building was on fire. I arrived at the scene in the middle of a virtual tropical storm, with four fire engines training water cannons on our building.

First, we ascertained that none of our people were hurt. Fortunately, we had a disaster recovery plan with another center who also used the PI-2000 Order Entry System. They had all of our account programming and had assigned DIDs for each account. While the firemen finished their job, I was on my cell with the owner of the other center and the long distance carrier to transfer our lines. We were out of business for only 37 minutes.

The next challenge to overcome was to relocate our center. Our landlord was at the scene and we negotiated immediate occupancy of another vacant suite in the same complex. We then not only persuaded the fire captain to allow us to enter the burned out suite to get our computers, telephony system, furniture, and records, but the firemen actually helped us. A “Fire Recovery” team suddenly appeared (they monitor the police band); we were able to persuade our landlord (who owned the business that had caused the fire) to hire this roving band to help move our gear.

In our new location we had to get back in business immediately because we were unable to transfer the Red Cross calls and felt an obligation to resume this support as soon as possible. We kept all management and labor on duty for the weekend. Everybody understood the importance of this and all volunteered to work as long as necessary. Our folks worked from 7:00 A.M. to 10 P.M. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We also needed our computer and telephone vendors to help. They arrived Friday morning and virtually lived with us for the entire weekend, re-establishing our networks and systems. They ordered new equipment, on credit, for weekend overnight delivery and agreed to wait for the insurance settlement to receive payment.

The insurance company contacted me on Saturday and told me not to move, replace, or re-build any equipment until an adjuster could inspect our situation in ten days. After making her aware of our need to minimize our business loss, the obligation we had to the Red Cross, and the fact that we were about to be interviewed by two local TV stations, she dispatched an adjuster Saturday afternoon and agreed that we should rebuild immediately and just provide inventory information to the adjuster.

We were fully back in business Monday at 8:00 A.M.

While I am extremely proud of our “weekend recovery”, this story was written not to chest beat but to point out some key principles of operation which carried us through this near disaster.

Have A Disaster Recovery Plan: Keep it up-to-date so you can transfer your business immediately without advanced notice.

Share Your Mission With Your Employees and Management: Through good communication, training, and motivation make your employees into your greatest asset.

Treat Your Vendors Professionally: You never know how much you will need them.

Act Like An Owner: It’s your business and when it’s on the line don’t be afraid to do what you have to do to save it.

Be Grateful For Divine Providence: More than ever, this particular week showed us how fortunate we were.

Now, if I can only make the insurance company understand!

[Editor’s note: The Phoenix is a mythical bird that rose from the ashes after being burned.]

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2002]

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