Managing Your Worst-Case Scenario


blizzard.jpgDid you see the pictures of the blizzard in Colorado this week? Imagine being stuck out there on the highway and needing to call for help. Now imagine not being able to get your call through. Weather is just one emergency that can cause a meltdown at a contact center. Even if your contact center doesn’t provide emergency services, what’s the worst-case scenario you hope your contact center can survive?

Earlier this week, we posted Is It Time for a Checkup? That post gave some insight into what you might find in a performance load test. This blog post presents the other side of the coin, the “Why” of load testing.

Because You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

You probably don’t like surprises, especially negative surprises. Load testing can help to eliminate some ugly surprises. That’s because what you find when you load test is usually not what you expect to find. For example, you could discover that a relatively minor change to your operating system results in calls being dropped. Or, you could learn that when the volume of calls or traffic reaches a certain peak, your audio quality becomes very distorted.

If you want to eliminate surprises, there are three times when load testing is absolutely critical:

  • When developing a new platform – Developing something new is risky. What if you make a mistake? If you find the mistake or “bug” early in your project, it’s easier and less expensive to fix. And, if you find the bug really early, you can usually make up any time lost in fixing that bug and keep your delivery schedule on track.
  • Prior to going live – You want to be sure the platform can handle what real customers will throw at it… and then some.
  • Anytime and often – You never know when a minor, and seemingly insignificant, change or upgrade can turn into an ugly surprise.

An Insurance Policy for Your Customer Experience

Usually, the issues you discover in a load test have to do with core functionality; often functionality that you didn’t think would be affected by the change. Unfortunately, these issues tend to affect the customer experience; for example, issues with call recording, the CRM or desktop applications that could be noticed by customers. This means that it’s better for you to find these problems sooner rather than later, say, after the customer has reported the issue.

 Here’s an example of what one global insurance company learned from load testing. In a routine load test after making a change to an application, they noticed that agent-to-agent call transfers failed when the volume of calls increased to a certain threshold. Simulated (or test) calls were being dropped. If they hadn’t found this issue, their customers would have, and the company would have lost revenue and maybe even customers. Think back to the scenario of being stuck on the freeway in a blizzard, and imagine what could happen if real callers and real emergencies are being dropped when the number of calls increases.

And here ’s an example of how early testing can literally save your project. In this case, a major bank learned that the new IVR platform they were building could handle only about two-thirds of the load it was intended to support. Because they started testing early, they caught this issue in time. If they had waited until later to test, they would not have been able to get the additional hardware they needed to correct the design issue, and the project would have been delayed.

Technology Changes and Load Testing

Contact centers are being impacted today by two major technology evolutions. One of these is the transition from TDM to SIP, and the other is the move to the Cloud or a multi-tenant environment. There are some potential stumbling blocks in these transitions that load testing can help you solve.

With the transition to SIP, it’s important to realize that the contact center is only as strong as the data network the voice applications may be riding on. In the old TDM days, voice was independent and there were no risks from the network. With the convergence of voice and data, any change to the data network can impact the voice channel, which is why it is critical to test often, especially after any change to the network.

The move from an on-premises environment to a multi-tenanted environment in the Cloud is also a definite trend in today’s contact centers. For this type of move, load testing can act somewhat like the “sheriff” validating such things as the number of trunks provisioned by the carrier and the number of multi-tenant licenses that are available at certain tiers. This provides assurance that you are getting what you have paid for. Load testing also ensures that the behavior and performance in a multi-tenant environment is what you expect, that the environment can scale, and helps you get used to the general nature of a shared environment before going live.

The Confidence to Sleep Soundly at Night

You probably have a Business Continuity Plan, or BCP. Don’t wait until you have an emergency situation to use this plan. It’s all about avoiding nasty surprises… so run drills, prepare and test. The same advice applies to performance load testing. Whether it’s a standard load test or a sustained SOAK test run over time, running these tests early and often gives you the confidence that your environment is ready to handle the worst-case scenario. And, with that confidence, you can sleep more soundly at night.

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