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Call Center Articles

Introducing Connections Magazine 3.0

Discover What’s Next for Connections Magazine

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Over its twenty-eight-year history, Connections Magazine has seen many industry changes, with technological innovation leading the way. For industry veterans, recall what your call center looked like three decades ago. It was a vastly different operation from what you have today. We’ve also seen changes on the legislative and legal fronts, as well as heightened expectations from callers. Our workforce has changed too. We’re now much more diverse. With each iteration, we’ve adjusted and adapted to continue to provide critical telephone and related communication services to callers.

During this time, Connections Magazine has gone through many iterations, too, to reflect the needs of our readers and our vendors who make this publication possible. 

Version 1.0

Connections was launched in July 1993 by Steve and Chris Michaels for the “telecom service provider industry.” Published quarterly, Connections was printed on newsprint stock using black ink, with spot color on selected pages. This was Connections Magazine 1.0.

Version 2.0

In September 2001 I took over the reins of Connections Magazine. With the 9/11 attacks in the United States preoccupying my thoughts, I wondered what I had gotten myself into and what the future would look like. Would there even be a need for Connections? Indeed, there would be. Just as the country prevailed and the call center industry expanded, Connections Magazine was there every step of the way.

We increased circulation to six times a year, switched to magazine stock, and went to color on every page. At its zenith, we published Connections Magazine ten times a year, before settling back down to six. As an advertiser-supported magazine, the vendors who promote their services and products on these pages make this publication possible for you, our readers, to enjoy at no cost.

Version 3.0

The year 2020 is a time to remember—or to forget. Our world has gone through unprecedented change, impacting our economy, our jobs, and how we live our lives. Without a road map to guide us, we’re left to blaze our own trail. Since I have been working at home for two decades, my practices and my workflows have remained unchanged this year. But most people have not been so fortunate, needing to make significant adjustments to how they live and how they work.

Connections Magazine has also been impacted in the past year. As valued sponsors of the magazine, Map Communications, Startel, and Amtelco—our key supporters—have been loyal to us without hesitation. They, along with our other advertisers, have allowed us to continue to produce the magazine. Despite this, we’re in a situation where our costs exceed our revenue. It’s time for change. It’s time for Connections Magazine 3.0. But this isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning.

I’m pleased to announce that starting in 2021, Connections Magazine will go online and become an e-publication. Though we’ve been both a print and e-magazine for several years, we’ll now make the switch—like most other publications—and go all digital.

You will be able to read all the content of each issue online as always. We won’t put information behind a paywall and charge you a fee to access it. It’ll be there for free, like always.

We’ll also email you when each of our six annual issues become available. If you want to receive these bimonthly notices, make sure we have your email address. Just go to connectionsmagazine.com/subscribe, enter four pieces of information, and click subscribe. It’s that easy and will only take seconds.

As we look forward to the future of our work and our industry, Connections Magazine will move forward as well. 

Here’s to a great 2021!

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

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Call Center Articles

A New Opportunity for the Call Center Industry

Working from Home Is the Ideal Solution to Keep Employees Safe and Healthy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We never know what the future will hold, but we do know that what lies ahead will most assuredly be quite different from what last year held. As you grapple with staffing issues for your call center among the new reality of social distancing and face masks, an option emerges as the ideal solution: remote staffing—specifically working from home.

This is not a new idea; it’s been bouncing around for a couple of decades. Some call centers have been open for some time to hiring agents who work from their homes. A few other operations have embraced it fully as their business model. Yet until recently, employing homebound call center agents has not gained widespread traction.

This is now changing, and at an accelerated pace. Remote employees who work from the safety of their homes will arise as the backbone of our new economy. And call centers stand ready to lead the charge.

Safe Work

From a health perspective, the best place to work, the safest place to be, is in our own homes isolated from other people. If we never come into physical contact with someone carrying the virus, we’ll never catch it. The advice to “stay home and stay safe” may remain with us forever, not disappearing as a once-chanted mantra. Though it may wane for a while, it is just as likely to return, never to go away again.

Though it will be a while—years, I suspect—before we know the truth of what we can do and shouldn’t do, the best advice now is to minimize risk and work from home. Remote call center jobs are ideally suited to accomplish this prudent approach.

Stable Work

In the past months, many employees have suffered through various workplace mandates, complex rules, and ever-altering expectations. They underwent layoffs. They saw their hours cut. And they endured uncertainty, criticism, and a new level of customer frustration, which they had to shoulder unfairly. This has all occurred through no fault of their own.

Everyone I know has had their work somehow affected, be it from annoying—and sometimes nonsensical—requirements to months-long layoffs. My work, however, has continued without interruption and without alteration—because I work from home. Though events outside my control have affected those I interact with, my ability to complete needed tasks has continued without hesitation. Though once viewed as an anomaly, my practice of working from home now produces admiration. At last the uncommitted see the value of working out of a home office.

A New Way to Attract Employees

As you seek to attract and hire call center workers, the ability to work from home now carries a benefit that you can tout as a reason for them to consider working for you and not another company where they may find their health and job security at risk.

Home-based call center work is now a smart job move. It is a safe way to work and a stable way to earn a living. Many other jobs, especially those that require in-person interaction with others, can’t provide these sought-after assurances. But now you can offer these benefits to a working populace who seeks to earn a living in a safe and secure environment. Call center work perfectly fits these requirements.

As our economy moves forward, we’ll undoubtedly see increased demand for call centers to do more work in a social-distanced, mask-wearing reality. And the ability to keep phone agents safe and working from their homes will allow the industry to hire and keep the workforce it needs to meet with this demand.

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

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Call Center Articles

Should We Strive To Return To What Was Or Move Toward A New Normal?

Decisions We Make Today Can Better Prepare Us for Tomorrow

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As writers pitched their article ideas for this issue of Connections Magazine, everyone, it seemed, wanted to talk about coronavirus and Covid-19. While I want the content of this magazine to address relevant, real-world situations, I also didn’t want to let the topic take over every page. I’ve had a similar quandary about what to address in this column, wanting to share content of value for both today and tomorrow.

We’re now moving away from the severity of the coronavirus impact, even though it is still a factor in our everyday existence. Each person must decide for themselves the best way to move forward. Each call center faces the same dilemma.

Many people long for a return to normal. I get that. Many more, however, wonder if we ever will. Instead they see us moving toward a new normal. Though we may lament this as a loss, we can also celebrate it as an opportunity for our call center operations. Here are some examples we can embrace as our new normal.

Distributed Staff

Though by definition a call center is centralized, requirements for social distancing or the need to self-isolate have pushed our centers of operation to become decentralized. Some call centers have already embraced this concept, while others have fully implemented it. However, in our new normal, we’ll see a decentralized workforce occur at an accelerated rate. 

Now is the time to fine-tune our remote staff practices and management. Some call centers do this in preparation for a possible second wave of the pandemic, while others see it as a way to enhance their operation for better outcomes.

Flexible Technology

In the past decade, we’ve seen a gradual shift from premise-based technology to on-demand, internet-delivered solutions. This technology goes by different names, with its proponents debating the various distinctive differences. But the inescapable fact is that this move away from premise-based call processing platforms supplies increased flexibility for call centers.

With this flexible solution, no longer does a call center agent need to remain tethered to a station at one location. And the complexities of turning up a new station at a different site have disappeared to become a nonissue. 

With these various online solutions, anyone with an adequate computing device and an internet connection can log into their call center to process calls. Anytime, anywhere accessibility affords call centers maximum flexibility in deploying their staff as needed. 

Work-At-Home Reality

This crisis has shown what I’ve known for twenty years: there is value in working from home. Aside from the obvious benefits of no commute time, zero travel costs, and minimal dress code considerations, there’s the benefit of being able to continue working in a safe, socially distanced environment. 

Though working in a home office at times has its challenges, the benefits are huge, especially during a pandemic. As many people faced layoffs, reduced hours, or health risks by continuing to go to work, home-based workers continued business as normal. This takes us to another significant point.

An Ideal Industry

As nonessential manufacturing closed and most service businesses ground to a halt, the ability of call centers to tap home-based workers allowed them to continue serving their callers. And for those that had already embraced this operational model or had the flexibility to move to it quickly, their callers didn’t know the difference.

Parting Thought 

Though I hope not, we may again experience a repeat of government-mandated self-isolation to stave off the impact of a pandemic. Isn’t it great to know that the call center industry is perfectly poised to embrace such a reality, if or when it occurs? 

As coronavirus restrictions ease in most parts of the world, don’t strive to return to normal. Instead look forward to the amazing benefits of embracing a new normal.

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

Categories
Call Center Articles

Coronavirus Communication

Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

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

Categories
Call Center Articles

Responding to Call Traffic Fluctuations

You Can’t Schedule for the Unexpected, but That’s No Excuse to Be Unprepared

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Traffic at many call centers fluctuates with the weather, affecting some centers more so than others. Of course, non-weather-related events can also impact call traffic. This includes natural disasters, pandemics, riots, the threat of violence, media-produced frenzies—and the list goes on with as much variety as our imaginations can conjure up.

Although some traffic fluctuations occur with predictable regularity, other call traffic spurts strike with little warning. What’s a call center to do?

Deal with It the Best You Can 

The first impulse in responding to higher traffic than you’re prepared for is to work faster, cut out all nonessential tasks, and answer calls with greater intention. This helps . . . a bit . . . for a while. You may tap non-phone staff to put on a headset and get to work. Cutting breaks and shortening lunches emerges as a tempting thought, but don’t give in to that temptation. Asking staff to extend shifts and work overtime is another approach many call centers pursue. Sometimes this becomes mandatory. It helps to get calls answered, but employee morale takes a hit.

An optional strategy is to ignore the escalating number of calls in queue and just process whatever calls you can while working at your normal pace. If the call is important, the caller will hold or call back . . . at least you hope so. Regardless, customer sentiment will take a hit.

Intentionally Overstaff 

Given this situation, call center managers may intentionally over-hire and overschedule. That provides a nice buffer to deal with traffic peaks and longer-term surges. The side effect of this well-intended strategy is that during times of normal traffic levels, you’re either paying for unproductive work or your staff isn’t getting as many hours as they wish. Neither outcome is a good one.

Throttle Incoming Calls 

A third solution entertained by anxious call center managers is to reduce the number of incoming calls during high-traffic situations. One method is to provide a busy signal to callers. A second approach is to play a recording asking them to try later. A third possibility is to allow them to schedule a callback. Of course, for the callback solution to work requires that you’re not still dealing with the high-traffic situation when it comes time to make that return phone call.

Overflow to Another Location

If you’ve concluded that the first three options aren’t good ones, you’re right. If your call center is part of a multilocation operation, an easy solution is to send excess calls to another center in your network. For this to be a viable solution, however, requires that the other location is not suffering from the same malady.

Some multilocation call centers automatically route calls from one location to another based on incoming traffic and agent availability. In these cases, the overall traffic is self-regulating, which means that unexpected high call volume coming into one center will impact all call centers in the network. One center, therefore, can drag all the others down.

Outsource to Another Call Center

Another consideration is to form an arrangement with an outsource call center to take your overflow calls. Not only is this a great solution for high-traffic scenarios, but it also works well for understaffing. You can establish whatever events you want to trigger an overflow situation. It might be the number of calls in queue, the current wait time, or number of abandons.

Just as with sending overflow calls to another call center within your organization, select an outsource call center that’s geographically separated from your location to reduce the risk of them suffering from the same scenario as your call center. 

Conclusion

Though there is no ideal way to deal with unexpected call traffic, there are steps you can take to reduce the negative impact on both callers and staff. But don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a crisis to consider solutions—plan now before you’re swamped with calls.

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