By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
The Annual ATSI Convention and Expo was held June 18-21 at the Union Station in St. Louis. The theme was “Step Up to the Plate.” In terms of attendance, content, and the auction, the convention was a great success. For convention attendees who may have snuck out to catch a baseball game, the St. Louis Cardinals were swept by their rivals Kansas City.
Given the rains and the flooding Mississippi River, it turns out that an alternate theme could have been “The River Is Rising.” The river reportedly crested Friday morning at about thirty-seven feet. Fortunately, the flooding did not affect the Convention and Expo, where the only thing rising was interest and excitement for the industry.
For this year’s convention, there were a record 185 full registrations. ATSI membership stands at 385, an increase from last year. Two new board members were announced: Brian Gilmore and Wil Porter, whose terms began on July 1st.
Wednesday, the initial day of the convention, was a time when many of the users groups met (Centurisoft, OEO, NAEO, PIN, SNUG, TUG, and TUNe). The business meeting was also held, chaired by outgoing president Allan Fromm. This was followed by a first timers’ reception followed by the opening reception for all attendees.
On Thursday, Tim Searcy opened with his insightful presentation entitled: “Futurecast for the Teleservices Industry.” Tim shared that as an industry, we are at a fork in the road. The available options go in diverging directions, and the path we choose will pave the way towards either success or failure. Some of his candid and interesting comments included:
- Of all communication channels available, 64 percent of interaction is via the phone.
- The benefit of focusing on high-quality service versus low-cost service is a much better retention of clients. An added bonus is improved agent retention, as they become more satisfied with their jobs since they are then able to do what they were hired to do.
- Despite a huge decrease in outbound calling and much communication shifting to the Internet, call center telephone traffic has not decreased, but it remains flat.
- Offshoring will begin to settle. This is due to customer backlash and a weakening U.S. dollar.
- Tim cited examples of other countries offshoring to the U.S. to save money or achieve quality.
- Since clients will complain regardless of what rates they are charged, call centers might as well charge a premium price (and provide quality service). That strategy is being used by some of the largest and most successful teleservices call centers.
His concluding summary was:
- Outsourcing is growing.
- Live agents are key.
- There will be more emphasis placed on using the phone.
- Consumers will determine the future.
- Ignore regulations at your peril.
The grand opening of the 2008 ATSI Expo followed with lunch in the exhibit hall. After lunch, the exhibit hall continued to be open and more general session presentations were held. The evening’s special activity was the ATSI Educations Foundation Event at the City Museum; 100 people attended.
On Friday, Doug Tatum, author of No Man’s Land: What to Do When Your Company Is Too Big to Be Small and Too Small to Be Big, gave the day’s initial address. In a presentation that resonated well with attendees, Doug shared ideas from his book, No Man’s Land as they applied to the telemessaging and call center industry. Doug affirmed the important role of small business, especially that of the small business entrepreneur, in creating most of the new jobs in the U.S. economy.
Although 90 percent of new small businesses fail within the first few years, those that do succeed are a boon to the economy and grow until they reach a condition he termed as “no man’s land.” Specifically, they become too big to still be considered small, but they are still too small to be deemed big. When businesses reach no man’s land, there are important techniques that can be used to effectively navigate and emerge successfully on the other side. Doug detailed these various scenarios and the methodologies for responding to them.
After a day packed with several general sessions, concurrent breakouts, and seven hours of the Expo, the day ended with the ATSI Education Foundation Auction. The total amount raised (through the auction, raffle, and foundation event) was $21,830. The Foundation funds ATSI educational programs. In the past, it has provided the seed money for the computer-based interactive CD-ROM programs: Professional Telephone Techniques, TeleServices Training, and Caring In Action.
The 2008 ATSI Convention and Expo culminated with the annual awards presentation; see our separate coverage for a list of the call centers honored.
[From Connection Magazine – Jul/Aug 2008]