By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
When mapping out the future, it’s always wise to first look back to see where we’ve been. In 2009, the call center industry has gone through a lot. Like most industries in the United States, and likely around the world, the economy was – and continues to be – a key factor. The subsequent turmoil has resulted in decreased call traffic, cutting back on staffing, possibly some layoffs, delaying technology purchases, and putting growth plans on hold. Credit is tight, and more than one successful businessperson has been caught off guard at being denied credit that only a couple of years ago would have been a non-issue. On top of that, new clients are harder to find, less accepting of standard pricing, and have a greater propensity to not pay.
As a consequence, there has been a right-sizing of the call center industry. Some smaller and weaker operations have simply closed their doors. Others have sold out to stronger players or merged with strategic partners. Some have changed their hours of operation, outsourced some or all of their traffic, found cheaper labor offshore, or achieved greater efficiency and effectiveness by moving back onshore.
However, this has spelled opportunity for other call centers. Those with deep pockets, access to credit, or a strong balance sheet have been able to continue buying their competition. Some outsourcing call centers have picked up work, even from other outsourcing call centers. In addition, most have used this time to closely and intensely scrutinize their expenses, tweak their processes, fine-tune their goals, and adjust their focus. They will emerge from this downtime as a stronger, more viable force in the call center industry, being well positioned for the future – and for growth.
In like manner, the equipment and software vendors who serve the call center industry have embarked upon their own right-sizing journey, paralleling that of the call centers they supply. Again, smaller and weaker players have shut their doors or are holding their breath, waiting for improved economic conditions to breathe renewed life into their businesses. Others have exited the industry, sold to competitors, or formed strategic partnerships in an attempt to weather the economic storm.
Again, this has provided opportunity for other vendors. Some have been able to buy out their competitors or acquire their customer bases. Others have trimmed their workforces by removing marginal staff and optimizing their organizational structure. Most have used this time to focus more intently on core competencies and products while jettisoning unprofitable products, shuttering obsolete lines, and dismissing distracting diversions. They, too, are poised for success and growth when the economy sputters back to life.
As far as the magazines that serve the call center industry, there has been a corresponding right-sizing that has understandably tracked with these developments. Since trade magazines are advertiser supported, fewer advertisers mean less financial support. Clearly, when advertising support declines due to fewer vendors (because of right-sizing) and smaller marketing budgets (because of the recession), magazines are affected, and not all will make it.
Bo Sacks, a magazine industry guru, wrote in the November 2009 issue of Publishing Executive that there have been too many “redundant titles” in many industries and that we are currently “experiencing the bursting of the magazine bubble.” He goes on to say, “History shows us that after a market’s bubble bursts, there comes a period of sensible growth… the magazine industry will contract and move on.” That accurately and succinctly describes what has happened with magazines covering the call center industry.
When I bought Connections Magazine in 2001, I identified four other magazines that served some aspect of the call center space. One exited the industry a few years ago, opting for an online-only presence. In 2009, two more have ceased publication. Since it is ill-advisable to shut down something that is profitable, decreased advertising support was most assuredly a key factor for all three – regardless of what the official reasons may have been. Two of the publishers turned their attention to other titles in their portfolio, covering different niches that likely possessed greater strategic appeal. For the third, I suspect that their target audience was not sufficient to maintain adequate advertising support.
Why, you may ask, has Connections Magazine survived? A key factor is quite simply that our overhead is low and our processes are lean. We have intentionally avoided some of the magazine industry’s conventional “standard operating practices,” which emanated from an era that is quickly slipping away. We have embraced a different way of publishing, allowing us to succeed where others have not. Moreover, with the industry’s right-sizing largely complete, Connections is positioned as the magazine to squarely reach the call center market. For call center vendors who want to connect with prospects via print media, Connections Magazine is emerging as the premier choice.
In addition to print, we offer online opportunities, including banner advertising, a blog, podcasts, an e-newsletter, and an e-publication, with more planned for 2010. Just as we have given our magazine a new look, our website will soon be receiving a makeover as well. This emphasis with online and e-media is designed to achieve a wise and reasonable balance between both print and nonprint options; we are equally excited about each and remain committed to both.
Connections Magazine is emphatically bullish about our future and excited to be a survivor; we are proud to still be publishing and printing a call center magazine. We have taken this past year to prepare for the future and are nicely poised to serve you – our readers and our advertisers – in 2010 and beyond. We are committed to the call center industry and committed to you, and we thank you for your support.
[From Connection Magazine – January 2010]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.