We love technology. It makes our lives a heck of a lot easier. But technology isn’t perfect, so sometimes we have to plan ahead.
Take VoIP, for example. VoIP saves companies heaps of hard-earned dollars every year. It needs two things to function: electricity and a high-speed internet connection. If either of these is interrupted (such as during a power outage), VoIP cannot work. Sometimes, VoIP providers themselves experience outages – the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) even keeps track of these.
Just like you would plan for any other office situation, is it important to have a plan in place in case your VoIP ever goes out. Being prepared and having a plan can turn an emergency situation into just another day at work. Here’s how to keep your customers happy until the lights come back on.
There are a few steps you can take to make sure you are prepared for any VoIP outage situation. From putting backups in place to forming a chain of allies, these simple tasks can save you a lot of trouble down the line.
VoIP backup plan: Google Voice is free to set up and will give you a phone number that will forward calls to all of your phones on a pay-as-you-go basis. Set up an account and create menu options so Google Voice can take over your VoIP needs in case of a provider-based VoIP outage.
Designated emergency phone: Buy one of those pay-as-you-go phones and have it handy at your office; you will only have to pay for the minutes you use. If you would prefer, you could add a basic phone to your cell phone plan for a nominal fee, or opt to pay for an emergency landline at your office. Just make sure you have some way of communicating sans internet.
Website alerts: Draft several emergency messages for your website for different scenarios (power outage, emergency, etc). Be sure to include your emergency phone number if applicable. Prepare emergency VoIP messages for these scenarios as well.
Emergency contacts: If you have remote workers, designate one as your emergency remote team leader. Let this person know that they will have to spearhead customer service with the rest of the remote workers in case of an emergency. Make sure the whole team is aware of this arrangement and knows what has to be done if this should happen.
Your remote team leader should have enough administrative access to your website and VoIP system to be able to post your emergency messages if needed. Be sure to forward the messages themselves to this person. If you do not have a remote worker who can do this for you, find someone who can (a webmaster, relative, or even friend who lives out of the area will work).
Generator: If you can, buy a generator to supply your office with power during an outage.
During a VoIP Outage
If your office still has internet and power, but your VoIP is out (and you know the issue is on their end), the problem is quite manageable.
1. Post an applicable notice on your website with an alternate contact number.
2. Set up Google Voice or another number if applicable to manage incoming calls.
During an Internet Outage
If the internet goes out, VoIP is hardly going to be your only problem. Supposing the issue is only in your immediate area (your building or block), here’s what you can do.
1. Call your VoIP provider or your remote team leader and have them forward all VoIP calls to your cell phone. Most VoIP providers include forwarding capabilities with all plans, but you need internet access to trigger forwarding.
2. Have your emergency contact post your prewritten internet outage message on your website.
During a Power Outage
Again, if there is a power outage in your office building or general vicinity, VoIP is only going to be one of your worries. However, there are some steps you can take to make a smooth transition and to keep your customers in the loop.
1. Fire up your generator if you have one.
2. If you cannot restore power to your office, relocate to an alternate location with internet access and power – even a coffee shop will work. Set your VoIP system to forward calls to your phone, and post a message on your website telling customers about the outage and encouraging them to be patient about email responses.
3. Enlist your remote forces if applicable to help handle calls and emails. Otherwise, arrange for VoIP calls to be forwarded to your cell phone.
During a True Emergency
Sometimes, there is no chance of keeping your office running. If your whole city has experienced a blackout due to a natural disaster or some other emergency, the first priority is to make sure that you and your workers are safe.
Chances are your customers will be aware of the outage from firsthand experience or the news and be understanding. However, if you do have access to a phone and a few safe minutes, you can do the following.
1. Call your emergency contact. Ask them to set up an emergency message on your VoIP system and on your website. If your emergency contact is also a remote worker, tell them to handle calls and emails as well as possible, by themselves or with a group if you have one.
3. Take care of yourself.