Categories
Call Center Articles

A Milestone

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

At the risk of appearing self-congratulatory, this issue marks my first anniversary at the helm of Connections Magazine. Normally, I would let such an event go by without fanfare, however, since so many readers have taken the time to ask, “How are things going?” I think it is appropriate to update you on the status of the magazine. Some of these inquirers seemed to be concerned about me personally, as if to say, “Are you happy you bought Connections?” or “Is this working out for you?” Others, realizing the unique position and role of Connections in the industry, appeared to be seeking assurances of its continued survival.

First, let me say that Connections is healthy and on track to meet our business goals and objectives for the year. This is due to the support of our loyal advertisers, faithful readers, generous authors, and the strength of a professional publishing team that pulls it all together. To all of you, a hearty “thank you!”

When I bought Connections Magazine last year, I did not know print media advertising was in the middle of a severe slump nor that many magazines had ceased publication. In fact, in 2001, more than 100 magazines printed their last issue due to falling advertising revenues.

Also, when I signed the purchase paperwork last year, on September 10, I had no way of knowing that our world would soon be forever changed. The next day, terrorists commandeered passenger planes, as missiles, to attack the United States. I spent the rest of that week not giving much attention to my new business, but rather drawn, in shell-shocked numbness, to the unfolding events on my television screen. The following week, I was convinced that my best and most patriotic response would be to attempt to return to normal life. Therefore, I tried to refocus my attention on business in general and on Connections specifically. I soon learned that our advertisers, already skittish about the economy and worrying about their own sales numbers, now had the added concern of how this act of terrorism would affect them. At the same time, they wondered whether the new guy at Connections could maintain the publication or would end up ruining it. As a result, advertising revenue for our first issue was off nearly 20 percent. It was not an affirming initiation for me.

Fortunately, with one successful issue under our belt, advertising rebounded for the following issue. Within two issues, we were back on track – our advertising revenue had returned to pre-Sept. 11-levels. The feedback from readers was overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. I am still deeply touched by all of the notes and words of encouragement and support I received, especially during those first few nerve-racking months. It was and continues to be both affirming and inspiring.

As a business manager, one of my strengths is ongoing optimization, incrementally tweaking something to make it better with each iteration. That is exactly what my goal has been with every issue of Connections Magazine. Based on your feedback, it seems that we have been successful in that effort. My pledge is to continue to focus on that objective in order to make Connections the best possible tool and resource for the teleservices industry.

I am also effective at innovation, thinking outside the proverbial box. This, however, does not come as easily for me and requires a bit more focus. Nevertheless, new initiatives have occurred. More content has been added to the magazine, the website expanded, and fresh new services offered (such as the client newsletter, the outbound list serve, and the telemessaging locator site – see the sidebar for more information).

One area that is not a personal strength is original creativity and pure entrepreneurialism. I never would have tried to start a magazine from scratch. It is only because of the strong platform and sound legacy provided by Steve Michaels, the magazine’s founder, and the team at TAS Marketing, that we have been able to do what we have done. Steve, Chris, and Wilma from TAS Marketing served as consultants and more importantly as mentors during the initial issues. Even now, Steve continues to provide much-appreciated advice and feedback. (To answer another frequently asked question: Steve has not retried; he and TAS Marketing continue to be active in the industry as business brokers and facilitating the sale of used equipment.)  I have been privileged to receive many compliments on the changes to Connections over the past year. As I respond with heartfelt thanks and gratitude, I am quick to realize and point out that I am merely building upon the foundation already established. As the saying goes, one man plants, and another waters. I am simply tending to the crop that Steve Michaels planted. As a result, we have seen our advertising base stabilize and the print publication and our website grow.

Since its inception, Connections has been a bimonthly publication. I have received numerous suggestions and requests that it be published monthly. This is a huge undertaking as doing so causes production cycles to overlap. This means that you must begin working on the next issue before the current one is done! Even so, in April, we took our first step towards that by publishing a special ATSI Convention issue. In December, we will present you with our first annual Buyer’s Guide. So, in addition to our normal six issues, this will make a total of eight for 2002. Next year, we plan to do 10 issues (monthly, except for combined issues in January/February and July/August). Will we ever go to 12? I do not know; 10 seems like a good number for now.

Although I have been writing for various publications for more than 20 years, I did not know too much about the publishing industry as a whole (and I still have much to learn). Interestingly, my lack of knowledge has been beneficial. I was not influenced by “standard operating procedure” nor discouraged by believing that “it can’t be done.”  Without the shackles of conventional publishing wisdom and historical tradition, I have been free to be pragmatic and contemplative about how Connections is managed and produced. Indeed this has allowed us to be a lean organization with low overhead. We can keep costs down, while improving quality.

That is not to imply that we publish a perfect magazine. We still make typos, do not always cover things as well as we could, and definitely feel the pressure of “crunch time” as the deadline for each issue draws near. However, with a great team leading the way, our loyal advertisers behind us, and you, our readers, faithfully cheering us on, we will continue to strive to make Connections better and better.

[From Connection MagazineNovember 2002]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Strategic Call Distribution

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I will admit it – I have a propensity towards idealism. I think that life should be fair and that everyone, regardless of position or past, ought to be granted equality of opportunity. This perspective causes me to advocate impartiality when distributing calls in the call center, with each call handled in the order in which it was received, without distinction of origin or pre-determined importance. However, it seems that few teleservices companies concur with this conclusion; in fact, pragmatism and reality dictate a different course of action.

The first deviation is often to give primacy to sales calls, client check-in lines, or the main company number. After all, the speed and efficiency at which these calls are handled will form the callers’ perception of the level of service provided. It is this perception that attracts new business and retain existing clients, thereby influencing the bottom line.

The second departure from call equality is also self-imposed, whereby certain account groups are deemed more important than others. Although the determining factors vary – client profession, caller urgency, dollar value of the call, or type of service provided – the results are a definite segregation of callers into a tiered call-distribution scheme. Though this is a natural development, there is little merit for doing so and it should be abandoned.

A third divergence is more insidious. This results from a natural reaction to the “squeaky wheel” syndrome. It is when the chronic complainers and those who are excessively demanding are given a higher call priority in order to appease their sense of self-worth or to mitigate their criticisms about the service level. This is the most ominous departure from ideal call-distribution – and most self-defeating. Examine the clients in this category. We have already defined them to be overly critical and implied them to be frequent users – and abusers – of customer service resources. Now dig a bit further. How do these clients treat your staff? Are they pleasant and a joy to talk to or do they challenge, threaten, and denigrate your agents with each interaction and at every opportunity? Are these the clients who take the joy out of your employee’s work and have the ability to reduce staff to tears? I suspect that this might be the case. If this is not enough, now look at their profitability level. If they badger both the customer service staff and the agent, they are likely treating accounting the same way, extracting credits, discounts, and other monetary concessions under the pretext of “poor service.” The conclusion is inescapable: these clients are given the highest level of service, treat your staff the worst, and are unprofitable! This is masochistic behavior; stop the madness!

I propose – in partial jest but with thought-provoking seriousness – that a different model be considered. If one must deviate from the idealism of universal call-distribution, do so with thoughtful analysis and self-serving diligence. First, implement call-distribution based on profitability. Perform a profitability analysis, dividing clients into five groups relative to your average revenue per minute. The top group is those clients whose revenue per minute is twice the average. This makes sense; you make a nice profit with every call you answer, so respond quickly and give it your best. Keep this group happy and retain them as clients. The second group will be those clients whose revenue per minute is 1.25 to two times your average. This, too, is an important group, which deserves prompt attention and above average service. The middle group will be those at the average revenue per minute and up to 1.25 times. This is the average group and they deserve – and pay for – average service. Although these three groups should include the majority of your client base, they will likely not comprise the majority of your traffic. Divide the remaining clients into two groups according to profitability. The exact cut-off point will be a result of how diligent you have been in attempting to make every client profitable. For the sake of example, assume that the fourth group will comprise those who are between seventy-five percent of the average and the average. Then the lowest call priority will be given to those with revenues per minute of under seventy-five percent of the average. Why not give these accounts the lowest priority? After all, it could be argued – on a micro level – that you lose money every time you answer their line! (On a macro level, it can conversely be argued that these accounts necessarily contribute to the overhead and the economies-of-scale of your organization.)

What I have advocated is likely a reversal of your current call-distribution configuration, thinking logically and tactically instead of being reactionary. Imagine if you will, handling yet another customer service call from a frequent complainer. “You took too long to answer my line,” the client asserts. “You are on our ‘economy’ rate plan,” you respond politely, “so your call is given a lower priority. You are getting exactly what you are paying for…now for an extra twenty-five cents a minute…”

If that sounds like fun, as well as being a good business strategy, take the concept to the next level. In the preceding discourse, I proposed five levels of service. Now expand that to eleven levels by inserting a grade between each of the original ones and by adding one at the very top and one beneath the lowest. The clients are still in the original five levels, but there is now a graduated step in between for fine-tuning. First, survey your staff. Which clients do they like and which cause undo consternation? For the nice clients – those who are kind and pleasant, who drop off a gift at Christmas, who treat your staff with dignity and respect – move them up one level in the call-distribution hierarchy. After all, these clients make your staff happy and a happy staff is an effective staff. Conversely, those clients cited for their undesirable characteristics – the ones your staff are afraid to talk to – move them down a notch. The clients will still be essentially ranked by profitability, but fine-tuned based on staff interactions.

Next, make a return visit to accounting. Look at payment history. Some clients will consistently remit payment soon after getting your invoice. Many will pay by the due date. Some will habitually stretch your terms out to 45 or 60 days and a small minority require an ongoing collection effort. Again, modify your call handling priorities based on payment history. Those who pay immediately are moved up one level; those who pay late, move down a notch. But those who present a constant challenge to collect, move down two steps. After all, it is likely that eventually they will leave you with an uncollectable debt, so why not give others a higher priority?

If this discussion has you excited – wonderful! If your mind is churning with revolutionary ideas to change client call handling priorities – great! However, do not attempt to implement these radical changes all at once, or even too quickly. The shock to your client base would be more than they – or your business – can tolerate. Rather, begin to think strategically about call-distribution, making small, incremental steps to prioritizing calls in the best interest of your organization; the change will be extraordinary.

[From Connection Magazine – Sept/Oct 2002]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Where Can the Information Superhighway Take You?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Some embrace it, others spurn it, but most would agree that the Internet is part of everyday life today – and it is here to stay. Of course, some people will never use the Internet, but then there are still those who do not have a telephone or own a television!

The Internet is a big part of Connections Magazine, too. In the past nine months, not a single letter to the editor has arrived via “snail mail”; all have arrived through cyberspace. We now only accept press releases and articles in digital form and though these could be put on a disk and mailed, all contributors elect to simply email their copy. Though the telephone takes the lead in communicating with advertisers, email is an essential secondary channel. Ad copy needs to be in digital form and even the layout and design proofs are transferred over the Internet. Last and not least, all articles and other relevant industry information are on our website which is updated every couple of days. Yes, for a traditional business – print media – the Internet is playing an increasingly bigger and profoundly more critical role.

In the same manner, the Internet is – or should be – transforming your business. Are you a leader, a follower, or a naysayer? In what ways can you use the Internet to achieve greater success? First, you can use the Internet to keep closer to and better serve your clients. Second, you can supply innovation and services that your competitors are not – or at least have the ability to match competitive offerings. Third, you can reduce costs and overhead, thereby increasing profitability. And fourth, you can open up new lines of business. Ken Coleman of TimeTrade Systems sums it up succinctly, “The Internet makes things possible that were never possible before.”

Jim Esser, Product Manager at Amtelco, helps put the importance of being Internet-ready into perspective, “Anyone who has asked questions or done business on the Internet recognizes that…eBusinesses aren’t equipped to provide their eProspects and eCustomers with the information and responsiveness that they need. It is not at all uncommon to wait days or perhaps never even get answers to questions asked on a eBusiness website.” This is the essence of opportunity that is presented to the teleservices industry. It is up to us to make the most of this occasion.

Many vendors in the teleservices industry share this perspective and aggressively work to offer innovative and groundbreaking services, features, and options capitalizing on the acceptance, popularity, and ubiquity of the Internet. These initiatives fall into five areas: agent tools, message dissemination, client control, remote access, and hosted services. Additionally, a few innovations defy categorization. Also, do not overlook the importance of having your own website as a critical part of your Internet initiative.

Agent Tools

Agent tools are services and capabilities afforded by the Internet to facilitate agent productivity, enhance quality, or increase efficacy.

Web Pop: A common implementation is the venerable screen pop to a website. For this application, a client’s URL (Web address) is preprogrammed into their account. With the touch of a key or two, the agent can access the site and enter call data or access client information. Although this can occur from a separate PC browser, it is often accomplished from within the call-processing application. Amtelco’s ePop is a prime example.

AccuCall’s Weblink provides a Web pop when a call is answered. The Web page can be viewed in either a window or full page on the account screen. One Weblink per account page means that up to 999 different Web pages per account can be accessed. Weblink also provides for the ability to access third party Web chat and appointment scheduling packages. Alston Tascom, AccuCall (CadCom), Startel, and other platforms can also pop Web pages.

In addition to accessing a client’s website, other valuable resources can be queried. These include tracking a caller’s shipping status from the delivery company’s website, accessing any one of the useful phone number lookup or reverse lookup site, and consulting a area code directory.

Szeto Technologies’, Call Linx platform can access a centralized database that is shared between the call center and its client so that the client can access the same database, through Internet, as is used by the call center’s agents. One common application is appointment scheduling. In fact, any database accessible on the Internet can be used by any platform that provides Web pop capability.

Instant Messaging: Instant messaging (IM) is another business tool of growing popularity. It can be used for intra-company communications for short messages or to broadcast urgent communiqués and even for interaction with key clients. At this time, the integration of IM into the call center is a homegrown implementation; no vendors surveyed offered it as part of their software package – yet.

Web Channels: Other services focus on alternate communication channels, such as integrated text chat, callback, and talk-to-me services. Each of the three provides ancillary means of communication, all from a client’s website. Coupled with this is the ability to “push” Web pages to the caller/surfer.

Amtelco’s eCallBack feature lets clients place an icon on their websites that allows a person who is browsing the site, and has more questions, to enter a telephone number and preferred time to receive a call (either right away or at a later time). The Infinity system receives this request and then schedules that call and at the appropriate time delivers the request to an agent who can call the inquirer. Coupled with the ePush option from Amtelco’s Infinity, agents can access the list of Web pages that can be ‘pushed’ from a pre-programmed inventory of pages for the client. In similar fashion, the Tascom and Startel system can also handle Web callback.

For text chat, pre-written responses to common questions can be quickly pasted into the text window, allowing for ultra-fast response times. Amtelco’s eChat also allows clients to place icons on the Web page, which, when clicked on, opens a two-way, interactive text chat session with an Infinity agent. (The Infinity system distributes the text chat sessions to agents using its regular call distribution rules.)  A text chat can be used to give additional information to a person on the client’s website.

AccuCall’s Weblink provides for the ability to access third party Web chat and appointment scheduling websites. Whereas Alston Tascom provides for text chat capability within the Tascom system, allowing agents to engage in free-flow text chats and to add pre-programmed text responses for each client account. Agents can engage in multiple text chat sessions simultaneously if desired.

Email: Lastly is “email answering service.” The vision of email answering service is to be able to accomplish everything with an email message that can currently be done with a phone call: capture data, give out information, covert it into another form (an alpha-page, fax, or voice mail message), or redirect it to another destination.

Amtelco does this using eResponse. It is an Infinity feature that can ‘poll’ a client’s email server for messages, download them into Infinity, and then distribute them to agents as specified by call distribution. The agent can answer the email, either manually or with pre-written responses, or forward the email to another person. Also, eResponse can be used to place a client’s email into an Infinity message ticket to be dispatched as a fax or alpha page or to be recorded into voice mail.

For text chat, call-back, talk-to-me, and email answering service, though each can be independently implemented, it is critical for them to be fully integrated into a holistic message queue that manages all messages, regardless of source or form, in a unified and equitable call distribution.

Message Dissemination

Email: The Internet provides several alternate message dissemination options. Email is, of course, the premier means, quickly rising to “must have” status for the serious teleservice provider in order for them to remain competitive and viable. Most current teleservice platforms have the means to send messages and orders to clients via email, including Amtelco’s Infinity, CadCom’s AccuCall, Alston Tascom, and Szeto Technologies’ Call Linx. AccuCall messages can also be exported in ASCII, comma delimited, and Excel formats.

In other implementations, an external message server can be utilized. The venerable FMDS system from Professional Teledata is one such system. Using a standard message communication protocol, FMDS allows most systems to provide the capability to email (as well as fax) messages to clients. The Axon 8000 is one such system. Additionally, the Axon/FMDS interface is unique in that once a fax or email message is dispatched and accepted, the FMDS reports back to the Axon and the message is marked as delivered. This allows call center agents to have up-to-date and accurate status information about message transmissions.

An exciting option, prompted by many of the leading unified messaging vendors, is the ability to convert a voice mail message or other audio recordings into a wave file, sending it over the Internet to an email address. The voice recording can then be listened to, replayed, responded to, copied, or deleted, just like any other email message. The email interface then becomes a cohesive message management machine.

Amtelco’s Infinity provides resources that allow a client’s text messages to be sent to an email address, either directly from the Infinity system itself or from the Infinity UltraComm message server. The eVoicelink feature expands upon that by automatically sending voice mail files to clients as wave file attachments to their email.

Most current generation (that is, digital) voice loggers allow recorded phone calls to be sent as a data file to an email address. Record Play/Tek (RPT) is one such vendor. For obvious security and control issues, the files cannot be automatically delivered to an email address. Someone at the call center must first review the message and, since RPT records audio continuously, mark the start and ends of the call. RPT’s Michael Stoll has explored the idea of remote access to their voice logger, but in user group discussions and repeated customer interviews the response has been overwhelmingly to not provide for remote access. The reason is consistent: security issues simply loom too large and problematic.

Wireless: Wireless PDAs and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) telephones free business people from their desktops and allow them to do business anytime, anywhere. Amtelco’s Infinity supports that by allowing message delivery and access to other Infinity client information. Similarly, wireless connectivity allows users the ability to collaborate with the Tascom system database from most popular wireless devices. Startel also offers a PDA wireless interface that allows messages, on-call schedules, and directories to be accessed remotely.

Unified Messaging: Unified messaging platforms allow email, voicemail, and faxes to be retrieved from a single inbox, accessible from any phone or Internet connected PC anywhere in the world. Vendors, including Amtelco, Alston Tascom, CadCom, Hark, and Telescan offer aspects of unified messaging, typically in conjunction with messaging platforms.

Web Site: Messages and orders can also be posted on a secure, password-controlled website. Comparable to Web-based email portals, such as Yahoo and Juno, messages and orders can be sorted, stored, forwarded, deleted, organized, and saved. Szeto Technologies’ Call Linx system can provide a Web page where clients can pick up their messages from the Internet, as can Amtelco Infinity, and Alston Tascom.

Web Portal – The Client Control Interface

Taking the concept of the Web-based message portal to the next logical step is to allow clients to interact with your staff by changing the programming, parameters, and information within their accounts. Szeto Technologies’, Call Linx can provide clients access to the call statistics and various call traffic information via the Internet connection through a website.

Alston Tascom has developed the Tascom client Web interface. In addition to viewing messages, clients can create, update, and dispatch information (messages, on-call schedules, reaching information, and even database entries), listen to voice mail messages, and run pre-defined custom client reports. Clients can access their accounts and message information via a standard Web browser or wireless Web via a handheld device. Each client can create multiple users with unique log on, password, and varying degrees of access to features and capabilities via the Web. Clients can also enter data or update information about their account into the Tascom server via the Web. Access to reports over the Internet allows clients to view, filter, sort, print, and deliver specified system and account-specific reports via alpha pager, fax, email, and HTML, as well as to upload and download database files. Also, Tascom Evolution automatically creates HTML versions of all message forms and can provide immediate access to virtually all system data via the Internet.

In the same way, the Infinity client Web desktop offers a secure, password protected Internet website that serves as a central point where a call center client can access the resources of the Infinity system via the Internet. From their desktop, clients can change their Infinity status, view messages, change their system automated on-call information, view the roster (status) of other employees in their organization, and even create messages that will be sent to other employees using Infinity’s message distribution.

Startel’s Web Text Retrieval feature similarly allows the end user the ability to manage their messages using an Internet portal.

Remote Access

Many teleservice platforms, such as the Amtelco Infinity, allow remote agent access via an Internet connection. When this is available and configured, any authorized agent can access the central system any place they have Internet access. This allows for managers and supervisors to view information, research problems, update and program client profiles, monitor system performance, and perform basic troubleshooting.

Some systems allow audio access as well over the Internet using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). In these implementations, full agent functionality is provided, including the opportunity to take calls and monitor agent audio in real time. There are some quality issues with VoIP and, although quality is steadily improving as technology marches forward, an alternative is to provide for the audio connection on a dialup basis using a regular phone line.

Using standard Internet IP telephony gateways and Axon 8200R remote operator terminals, Axon 8000 systems can establish complete remote operation from virtually any location. System operation is completely transparent and toll-quality voice communication is achieved over standard DSL connections, avoiding long distance telephone charges.

Remote agents can also connect to the Tascom SQL digital system using a virtual private network (VPN) and have calls routed via standard telephone lines.

AccuCall remote agents can connect through cable modem or DSL lines to make the data connection; the audio path is established through a T-1 or PRI circuit. Future developments will enhance this capability with the addition of VoIP to allow the audio to be routed over the Internet as well.

Hosted and ASP Services

Some vendors are beginning to provide hosted services for their customers. These fall into two classes of purposes. The first is a temporary, “try-it-out,” small scales basis. The idea being that before a significant investment is made in hardware or software, a customer can use the hosted services from their vendor to serve their initial clients. As they add more and more clients, a critical mass can be reached where the revenue from this new niche is sufficient to justify and pay for the purchase of the system or platform. Once the equipment is installed, clients are then migrated off the hosted platform on to the newly acquired, locally installed system, allowing for greater margins and increased control.

The other scenario of hosted services is where the hosting is continued indefinitely. This may be a result of the business model established by the vendor, or more likely, because of the preference or circumstances of the customer. In this situation, the vendor in essence becomes an ASP (application service provider) for their customer. Although the customer will pay an ongoing fee for as long as they use the service, the vendor maintains the equipment, handles the software upgrades, and replaces hardware when needed. This is a great alternative for a teleservice company that does not have a great demand for the service in question, has limited internal technical expertise, or wishes to focus investment dollars in other areas. Ken Coleman of TimeTrade Systems concurs, stating “the Web makes it easy for smaller teleservice companies to gain access to world-class software without purchasing, installing, and maintaining the software themselves.”

Amtelco offers three hosted services, which can be used either as a short-term, incremental step or as an ongoing solution. Their Infinity, eCreator, and IVR services are generally thought of as being located on premise, at the serving call center. However, all three of those services can also be provided by Amtelco’s own servers located in Wisconsin and accessed over the Internet by call centers located anywhere.

Similarly, Alston Tascom offers hosted services for two of their popular offerings. One is Web-based appointment setting, on-call scheduling, and verification services. The second offering is interactive voice services, which features Web, email, and touchtone interfaces.

TimeTrade Systems saw that appointment and reservations scheduling was ripe for transformation using Internet technology. Before the Internet, it was inherently difficult for a call center to book appointments for a client. If the outsourcer takes an appointment, how is the schedule updated and synchronized with the client to avoid double booking and confusion? TimeTrade solved that problem with Web-based software that allows call centers to view the available resources and timeslots of a service business and confirm an appointment for the caller in real-time. The schedule information is stored centrally, where it is accessible by all parties, using the Internet, and instantly updated whenever an appointment is made. Businesses can book appointments in a number of ways – at their front desk, by call forwarding to a call center, or by enabling self-service scheduling for their end customers over the Internet. TimeTrade hosts its software as an ASP (Application Services Provider) and charges a monthly fee for software use and technical support. Timeskeeper, Inc. also offers an appointment setting solution, as does Telescan, working in conjunction with Adjuvant Technologies of St. Cloud, Minnesota

Other Significant Developments

Account Networking: Amtelco’s enhanced order-entry call scripting product, eCreator, can be run entirely within a call center’s own network facilities but is also a Web-capable application that can be deployed over the Internet allowing multiple call centers to collaborate to handle accounts that are too big for any one of them to manage on their own. Using Web resources, eCreator is also able access a client’s internal ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) compliant databases. This paves the way to provide many complex and intricate services to clients, which have been previously not feasible.

Email Bills: Sending bills by email is not a new development, but one advanced several years ago by Professional Teledata in their TBS billing platform. With the growing use of email, sending invoices in the manner has more accepted and with higher participation rates. Bill delivery outsourcer TASbill.com has found that clients are more likely to view an email bill immediately and pay it sooner. In fact, experience has shown them that those who pay online pay within two or three days rather than two or three weeks when the invoice and payment are handled through the regular mail. Chris Twigg, shared this example: “If a teleservice firm invoices $100,000 each month and sends half of its clients an email bill, it could expect to bring forward around $25,000 in receivables by about two weeks.” Sending bills by email has been common for medical, banking, and insurance companies for some time; these companies report that a major side benefit is sales of new services to existing customers – much easier than new sales to new customers. Also, the bill can become a sales or customer service tool as Internet links can be embedded into the electronic invoice.

Credit Card Processing: QOS Merchant Solutions offers a number of Internet-based electronic payment solutions for merchants of all kinds. The first is their Virtual Terminal products that allow for processing credit card transactions over the Web. They also provide WebLinks so you can add credit card processing to your website. WebLinks can also be used by all centers can accept checks by phone for their clients. Lastly, QOS Merchant Solutions allows customers to use Web-based reporting services for electronic payment transactions.

Website

Not to be overlooked in the discussion of the critical relevance of the Internet to teleservice companies is essential prerequisite of having a website. At the most basic level, a website is an on-line sales and marketing tool. More significantly, it is rapidly becoming a necessary indicator of business viability and significance. Businesses without websites are increasingly being viewed as out-of-date and outmoded.

Web designers and developers are almost as ubiquitous as the Internet itself. Each local market likely has a plethora of self-proclaimed Web designers, offering services of varying quality and prices. Although it may make sense to select a local firm to design your website, there is also considerable justification to select an industry specialist. Axon Communications operates ConnixUP Web Services, a separate operating department of Axon. ConnixUP offers a convenient one-stop location where you can confidently establish a website solution for your business that includes domain name selection and registration, website design, website hosting, search engine registration, and website management.

Connections Magazine thanks to the following vendors for providing information used in this article: Alston Tascom, Amtelco, Axon, CadCom, Record Play/Tec, Szeto, and TimeTrade.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/Aug 2002]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

An Eye For Customer Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It was an emergency run to the eye doctor. Being far-sighted and using a computer all day makes my glasses an indispensable tool – one that I treat with the utmost care.  Imagine my dismay when in the midst of my morning cleaning routine, I heard the frame snap and a lens landed in my hand. I was panic-stricken. How would I be able to get any work done?

I arrived at my optometrist’s office, practically as the doors opened, glad that they would take a “walk-in.” I explained the situation and though they treated my disaster with matter-of-fact routine, I was comforted that they were willing to help. “We’ll need to order new frames,” the man concluded.

“Can’t you simply fix them?” I inquired.

“We could,” he droned, “but there is no guarantee…it might hold a day, maybe a few months. Don’t worry,” he added, “we’ll get you some loaner frames to use while you wait for your new ones.” Trusting his advice, I assented.

He disappeared into a back room and returned several minutes later. The look on his face braced me for bad news. “Your frames have been discontinued. We’ll have to fix your old ones…they can be soldered.” Now I have done my share of soldering over the years: in electronics to make an electrical connection and in plumbing to seal a joint. I was highly skeptical that solder would repair my damaged frames for more than a few minutes. I began to voice my apprehension. He smiled assuredly and clarified. “Actually, it’s more like welding.” Now I knew he was off base. During a stint working at a machine shop, I did more types of welding than most people know exist. I did not see any of those methods successfully repairing my delicate wire-rims. But I was out of options and reluctantly consented. He quickly outlined the details: the broken frames would need to be sent out for repair…they’ll be back in a few days, maybe by Saturday…it would cost twenty dollars.

He then set about finding a loaner frame. After an half hour with no success, he finally uncovered one old demo pair that, although not the right dimensions, would at least hold my lenses in place and keep them approximately positioned in front of my eyes – the temple pieces were much too short, which tipped lenses forward, throwing off the bifocals; I would need to adapt. Grateful for a solution, albeit uncomfortable and less than ideal, I reminded myself that it was only for a few days and gratefully thanked him. His parting promise was clear; “We’ll call you when your frames come back – let’s hope for Saturday.”

As I left, I confirmed the plan at the front desk, “Yes,” she affirmed, “We’ll call you when they come in.” I believed her.

Saturday came but without a call. Monday they were closed. I called them on Tuesday. I got an answering machine. Dismayed that they did not answer their phone in the middle of the day, I left a message imploring them to call. No one called. Wednesday I called again. “Sure, they’re here,” she said cheerfully. “You can stop in any time,” she added, as though getting my frames back and returning my life to normal was a trivial and incidental matter.

By now, the tops of my ears were inflamed and the bridge of my nose tender because of continual use of the ill-fitting frames. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” was my firm and somewhat terse reply.

The man greeted me soon after I arrived. “It will only take a few minutes to switch lenses,” he said with a smile. I reminded him that the screws holding my lenses in my frames have a tendency to loosen and fall out. “Don’t worry,” he assured, “I’ll put in special screws with ‘lock-tight’ on them.”

“No,” I responded firmly, “you’ve done that before and they fall out too. Last time you said that you ‘glued them’.” I was dismayed that this critical information was not in my file, as he has had to re-install my lenses four times in the past three years. He said nothing, but gave me a knowing look of comprehension, retreating into his work area. A few minutes later, he returned and I donned my restored glasses; what a great feeling, it was just like slipping into a comfortable pair of old shoes!

I thanked him and segued to my next goal. “Will you please put my old lenses in another frame – any frame,” I inquired, “so that I can have a back-up pair?”

“Your frames have been discontinued,” he said, telling me what I already knew.

“Surely someone makes a frame that will fit my lenses,” I prodded.

“I already looked, remember?” Now he was becoming irritated with me. “You’ll need to order new frames and get new lenses, and before we’ll do that, you’ll need an eye exam.”

“That will be almost five hundred dollars,” I said in dismay, recalling the cost of my initial introduction to glasses. “I can only afford to buy a second frame,” I embellished.

“You really should have an eye exam every year,” he lectured. “And it’s been fourteen months for you.”

“I just want to buy a back-up frame,” I pleaded.

His reply was curt, “Sorry, we can’t help you.” He turned and walked away.

Later, I casually mentioned my ordeal – and desire for a back up – to my mother. Mom took this on as a challenge and the next day surprised me with a list of businesses willing to assist. Two days later, I visited the top one on her list. Their office was closer, easier to get to, and had free parking at the door. I walked in, explained my plight to the receptionist, and shared my goal. I waited a few minutes and was greeted by a kind and empathetic young lady. She listened to my tale of woe, acknowledging that it, too, would have been their preference for an exam, new frames, and new lenses. Nevertheless, she said she would do her best to help me. She began to look for suitable frames and I realized her intent was to handle my request immediately. She came back with a frame that she thought would work with some adjustments or by grinding my lenses. I had not expected an immediate resolution and since there were several other customers being serviced at the time, I told her that I would be more than happy to come back later. She thanked me and promised to work on my glasses first thing the next day; I could stop by any time. I believed her.

I returned the next afternoon. She recognized me and immediately approached me, smiling broadly. “I have your glasses done,” she beamed with the pride of an artist. “I am really pleased with how they turned out.” Because of her genuine sincerity, I knew that I would be pleased as well. She had not had to grind my lenses down after all. I was only charged for the frames, there was no labor fee, and I got a free case and a discount, too. I thanked her profusely. She said that she was glad she was able to help me.

On my prior visit, I had noticed a sign that gave their repair rates. To solder frames was only five dollars. My optometrist had charged four times as much! I realized that five dollars would not even cover shipping, so I reasoned that repairs were done in-house; I suspected I would not have to wait eight days either. I had already decided that they would be my new optometrist, but took one more step to confirm my decision. “By the way,” I inquired, “how much is an eye exam?” It was fifty dollars less than what I had been paying! I promised her that I would be back.

By giving poor customer service, my eye doctor had lost a loyal customer; by going the extra mile, someone else had gained one.

How to Lose Clients:

  • Act apathetic toward their situation
  • Make promises you don’t keep
  • Don’t listen to them
  • Lose credibility by making recommendations that are self-serving
  • Fail to keep good records of previous interactions
  • Give them a reason to check out your competition

How to Gain Clients:

  • Be genuinely sympathetic, even if it is a routine matter for you
  • Only make promises you can keep
  • Take time to really listen to what they say
  • Gain credibility by going the extra mile
  • Make sure their interaction with you is pleasant and memorable
  • Give them a reason to never return to their old provider

[From Connection MagazineJuly/Aug 2002]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Nothing to Sneeze About

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A few years ago, I had a strange revelation. It all began with a sneeze. In doing so, I realized that I sounded just like my dad. Not that there is anything wrong or strange about how my dad sneezes, just that it is distinctive. At first, I chalked this up to simple heredity. But why then did it take four decades for me to become cognizant of this similarity? A quick empirical look at how other family members performed this uncontrollable reflex did not support any sort of genetic connection. Indeed, everyone else did, in fact, have a unique sneeze.

Since that time, I have become aware of other mannerisms and gestures that my dad and I share. My conclusion is that this is not a byproduct of genes, but rather environment. More succinctly, as I spend more time with my father, I become more like him. If this went no further than physical idiosyncrasies, this would be a trivial observation. But there are more valuable and influential characteristics that I subconsciously learned from dad over the years. A good, strong work ethic is a prime example. Dad never told me to work hard and diligently – he merely did so and I emulated his example. Others traits include integrity, honesty, caution, sound decision-making, carefulness with what I say, and an analytical prowess.

If I unknowingly learned these things by being around my dad, what sort of things do those who spend time with me discover and then model? While I hope they absorb good and positive traits, I fear that they may also be acquiring some less admirable tendencies. Each time a child, friend, employee, or client treats me in a less than desirable manner, I ask myself, “Did they pick this up from me?” “Are they mirroring what they have seen me do?”

When parents see things in their children that they do not like, they often do some soul searching and ask, “Where did they learn this?” and “What did I do wrong?” Although, children have many spheres of input and influence, parents are a key source. The saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” is accurate and correct. Words can influence and direct, but actions are the prime training tools. And when actions match words, a strong and consistent message is sent.

I have seen this same principle carry over to the work place as well, to both with employees and clients. First, consider clients. Every business has a few “difficult” clients – the kind that one wishes would just go away. But if a company has all difficult clients, some tough introspection is warranted. Quite simply, one might wonder, “are my ‘bad’ clients merely treating me the way I treat them, according to what I taught them?” I once saw this dramatically demonstrated through an acquisition, where the prior owners were – well – less than honorable in their client interactions. Dealing with their client base was quite a challenge. It took several years to get those clients to stop yelling at managers, cursing staff, and aggressively challenging every bill. But who is to blame them? They were simply responding as they had been taught, according to how the former owner acted towards them.

From the employee aspect, I have seen this occur on several levels. First, through witnessing how a shift supervisor destroyed the effectiveness of the employees on her shift. Her staff became lazy, took extra long breaks, and lost all loyalty towards the company. The worst offenders were fired and replacements hired and trained; yet, they quickly fell into the same mode. Eventually the supervisor was investigated, revealing the reality that her position of authority was too much for her to handle. She had become lazy, took long breaks, and had no respect for her employer. Her charges were merely emulating the negative characteristics of their supervisor. A new supervisor was brought in and things slowly turned around.

More dramatically, I have seen this happen throughout an entire office. It seemed that a good employee could not be found in the entire city. Each new hire turned out to be a liar, a manipulator, and a denigrator of company policy and procedure. Alas, after endlessly turning over staff, the manager was scrutinized. Ultimately, the manager’s true colors were revealed, I found that she was a compulsive liar, shamelessly manipulated her staff, and had open contempt for company policy and executive directives. This manager was let go and suddenly good employees could be found. Though it took years to negate her damaging example, the office slowly began to function as it should.

Lastly, I have had situations where a company owner laments over his terrible employees. His staff continually falsifies time cards, steals company supplies and assets, and lodges complaints and files lawsuits on a seemingly continuous basis. The owner is truly perplexed at why this is happening, but to even a casual outsider the cause is clear. For the owner underreports income on his tax return, cheats his employees out of their rightful pay, and threatens to sue every vendor or client who causes consternation.

True, not all children, friends, clients, and employees are perfect, but when a consistent trend of unacceptable behaviors is evident within the entire group, it might be time to look at one’s self and one’s actions. After all, what we do is nothing to sneeze about.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2002]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.