The State of New Jersey is not alone in its apparent inability to handle the influx of telephone calls to its COVID-19 hotlines from New Jersey residents seeking to be tested for the coronavirus.  The overflowed state hotlines mirror problems experienced by private companies whose phone systems have been overwhelmed by rapidly increasing customer support demands.

            “Countless companies are unable to handle their incoming and outgoing calls,” said Lauren Irwin-Szostak, President of Business Processes Redefined, a Fairfield, New Jersey-based company which outsources and manages a network of U.S.-based call centers.  “Customers desperate for information from businesses are reaching recorded messages apologizing for the businesses’ inability to respond.”

            This problem is especially acute for companies who outsource their customer service communications to foreign call centers, as more and more countries issue orders shutting in their citizens and shutting down their businesses.  Last week, for example, India, which houses numerous call center operations that service U.S. companies, ordered all residents to stay at home for 21 days.  According to Irwin-Szostak, India’s shut-in order has “effectively bottlenecked those companies’ customer support communications.”

            The State has experienced severe problems processing the call volume to its COVID-19 hotlines.  NJ Advance Media reported today that symptomatic New Jersey residents seeking information about getting tested for the coronavirus have spent entire days either on hold or calling state and county hotlines that rang and rang without answer.  And last week, NJ Advance Media reported that, within one hour of Governor Murphy announcing a new hotline for New Jersey residents to file complaints against non-essential businesses operating in violation of his Executive Order, the hotline became overloaded and was redirecting calls to other state agencies because the calls were interfering with emergency calls.

            Other media have reported similar problems suffered by companies who outsource their customer service communications to foreign call centers.  On March 25, 2020, Reuters reported that many India-based “companies that provide business services such as call centres, information technology services and business process automation were not prepared for work-from-home arrangements,” which “raises questions about whether one of India’s showpiece industries can function smoothly amid the coronavirus crisis.”

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