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Last week I attended the 33rd Annual International Association of Reservation Executives (IARE) Conference. In-conference conversations centered on the growing trend of remote agents, how to get the most out of that model and how to ensure remote agents are supported and enabled. But outside the conference, at the more informal meetings and happy hours, a different, timelier conversation come up: How natural disasters affect the industry.
When away from the formal conversations I heard several stories about how the hotel and reservationist industries are handling the aftermath of the recent record setting hurricanes. This topic caught my attention because of the scope of the impact on an industry I hadn’t really considered when thinking about natural disasters. Naturally some brick and mortar contact centers are inaccessible and local work at home agents are offline while these devastated areas rebuild. What I hadn’t necessarily thought of – and what I’m sure many people outside the industry hadn’t either – is that reservationists deal with an incredibly urgent and unanticipated demand swell right before, during and for an indeterminate amount of time after a natural disaster.
These events displace a lot of people, both those evacuating the area and those who need more local accommodations because their homes were unfortunately damaged or destroyed. As of right now, more than 24,000 people in Texas alone are still displaced, many living in hotels a month after landfall. That doesn’t take into account the relief workers who respond to the area after the event, increasing the demand for rooms. Further complicating the situation is that reservationist agents aren’t only dealing with high demand, but also with atypical circumstances like FEMA vouchers, large groups, extended stays and absolutely must-solve need (this isn’t a matter of someone’s vacation, these people 100% need suitable housing).
It’s a challenge that the average person doesn’t necessarily think about and crucial back-end support that needs to remain functioning in times of disaster.
While many call center businesses can predict demand spikes (like around holiday shopping, tax time, insurance open enrollment, Mother’s Day, etc.), natural disasters don’t follow an easy to predict calendar outside of seasons that may or may not result in a destructive event. Hotels have agents in affected areas go offline at the same time as demand surges, making the gap to backfill even greater than traditional seasonal spikes. This makes meeting the urgent demand difficult and nearly impossible to plan and account for.
This gives the business terms “disaster recovery” and “business continuity” a whole new level of meaning. Most organizations think of DR and BC in terms of keeping the company functional in the face of an unanticipated outage. The members of IARE must not only have plans to keep their services available if a server goes down or there’s a power outage at one call center. They also have to plan how to scale and meet demand in the face of disaster response.
Luckily many of the trends and themes official IARE conversations and sessions focused on will likely help address these challenges in the future. More at home agents and successful ways to scale, train and coach these agents around the country will ensure the industry has the personnel available to come online and assist during times of need.
Our thoughts are with all those effected by the recent natural disasters.