Call Center

Looking Back to See Ahead

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As we make the transition from one year to the next, we typically take time to reflect and project – that is, to look at the past and anticipate the future. To make this time of examination and analysis even more momentous, we are also migrating from one decade to the next.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In embarking on this task, it is not my intent to recap the first decade of the new millennium – or even the past year, for that matter.  Nor is it my plan to predict the next ten years, or even the next twelve months. What I will do is share recent observations and project them into the foreseeable future.

Generation Y: They’re referred to by different names: gen Y, the millennial generation, millennials, and mosaics, but regardless of the label, they were born in the last two decades of the 1900s (plus or minus a few years, depending on who is doing the explaining). Generation Y is your future workforce.

They think differently, act differently, and work differently than prior generations. Most likely, the person doing the hiring doesn’t “get” them and doesn’t want to hire them, but if you want agents in your call center, you will have to address this. Even if you’re currently able to hire around their demographic, you won’t be able to do so indefinitely. In this issue, we have two articles addressing this important topic.

Now is the time to learn about this frustrating – and exciting – generation. Now is the time to change your hiring processes and adjust your culture. Fail to do so at your own peril.

Social Media: Are you tired of hearing about social media? Well, brace yourself to hear more about it in the coming years. Are you losing sleep trying to figure out how to use social media in an effective manner or monetize it? If so, you can expect your insomnia to continue. Regardless, what I am fully convinced of is that social media is not a fad; it is here to stay. Consider that Facebook now has 500 million users and Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, is Time’s 2010 Person of the Year.

Here’s my take on social media:

  • Most of the discussion is more theoretical than practical; this suggests that even the experts don’t yet know how to make it work for most businesses.
  • The few success stories that are loudly trumpeted are more anomaly than a template to follow.
  • From a business standpoint, the hype largely exceeds the practical utility, but even so, social media will become more integrated into our businesses, culture, and lives.
  • Social media takes time, and so far the results are nebulous.
  • Not being on Facebook will soon be as unusual as not having email today.

In my December 2010 column (“Social Media: Opportunity or Distraction?”),  I attempted to give some practical applications for social media that call centers could consider, both to enhance internal operations and expand external opportunities. This is a good beginning point. You don’t have to start big, but you do need to start; don’t delay.

Texting: Parallel to social media, or arguably a part of it, is texting. Although I’ve begun to tweet (, I don’t “get” texting. Even though I text almost daily, I don’t  understand its appeal. I used to think texting was a fad, but not anymore.

Consider that some people (especially the aforementioned generation Y) may fail to check their email or answer their phone, but they will not ignore a text message. The implications are huge and cannot be dismissed.

Offshoring: Based on observation and input, my perception is that offshoring is waning. No, it’s not going away, and it will be a factor for decades to come, but its star is not shining as brightly as it once was. While offshoring saved many companies a lot of money, it has been a public relations nightmare.

Succinctly stated, consumers don’t want to communicate with people they can’t understand and who can’t understand them. By definition, this is not communication. The outcry has been so loud that our elected officials are getting into the act, wanting to solve the “problem” through legislation. This is seldom a good thing.

This is not a bash on offshoring. Offshoring can be both a financial and a customer service success – provided it is done right. This includes hiring people with the right language skills (which should be a given for any call center), providing whatever training is needed to produce effective agents, and only taking on work that is a good match for the call center. Good offshoring call centers will survive – and thrive – whereas those that hire anyone who can breathe and take any account that can pay will fail.

Outbound: Outbound calling is vastly different than it was ten years ago, and while the dust has largely settled, there remains both good news and bad news. On the plus side, those that stayed in the business learned to do it even better and are reaping the rewards for their persistence and expertise. They are raising the performance bar, they are compliant, and they are becoming certified. They are the good guys.

On the minus side, there are still outbound call centers that sully the industry. My sense is that they are part of a shrinking minority, but they are still out there – I know, because they continue to call me.

Hosted Services: The concept of accessing software over the Internet goes by so many different names that I’m no longer sure what to call it. What I am sure of is that it’s a viable option and a growing trend. While there are many compelling reasons to adopt it, there is one concern: what happens when you lose your Internet connection? Certainly, pursue the hosted services option, but don’t lose sight of the risk, making sure you have a reasonable contingency plan in place. Although the Internet is ubiquitous, it is not infallible.

Specialist versus Generalist: I see a need for outsourcing call centers to become either specialists or generalists – and I’m sensing that the middle ground is not the place to be. Specialist call centers focus on one or two vertical markets. Their intent is serving them so well and with such expertise that they become the market leaders that no one else can touch. If they specialize in widgets, they know widgets better than anyone else.

In contrast are the generalists. Generalist call centers develop a wide range of options for their clients. Their goal is to meet any need so that clients will never have to seek a second vendor. Although generalists strive to provide any service requested, they often can’t offer the depth or specific skill sets of the specialists.

Calls or Contacts: Do you handle calls or contacts? This distinction is profound. Unless your goal is to be a niche specialist for phone calls, you need to adopt a contact mindset. While calls will likely predominate your workload for the short-term, the future is in contacts.

These eight areas are a good starting point for moving forward into 2011. In all likelihood, you’re already pursuing some of them and I encourage you to press on. For areas that are new to you, consider what your first step should be and steadily advance in small but steady increments.

Either way, the future has much to offer – if we will embrace it.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

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