Categories
Call Center

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!

Categories
Call Center

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.

Categories
Call Center

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.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

So, You Found My Website, Which One?

Many people were amazed and impressed that my web address matches my name: PeterDeHaan.com. It is my main author website. I’ve had it for almost twenty years. When I registered it in 2000, it was not hard to procure a domain name matching one’s given name. (At the time, DeHaan.com was also available, and I vacillated on which one to register.)

However, I also have several other websites:

ConnectionsMagazine.com for call centers, AnswerStat.com and Medical Call Center News are for healthcare/medical call center, and TAS Trader for the telephone answering service industry.

Most of my other sites relate to the call center industry. Three are locator sites: FindACallCenter.com, FindAnAnsweringService.com, and FindAHealthcareCallCenter.com

I also have Peter DeHaan Publishing (my business website).

Then there is ABibleADay.com, a site to encourage regular Bible reading, with basic information for those not familiar with the Bible. Plus there are six more.

Altogether, they represent thousands of pages of information and collectively generate millions of page views a year.

Categories
Call Center

September 2001

September 2001 I entered the publishing world when I bought Connections Magazine from its founder, Steve Michaels.

The transaction was done in parts, that is the documents for the sale were not signed at the same time or at the same location, but on different days via fax and mail. As a result, I don’t know what day the sale was official, but what I do know is that the package of publication’s records and files arrived on September 10, 2001.

Early that next day, I dove into the treasure trove of information that would set my career in a new direction. I was understandably excited and wanted to quickly grasp the nuances of my new business.

My morning bliss, however, was interrupted by my bride who uncharacteristically popped into my office to inform me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center building. Assuming that it as a novice pilot in a single engine plane, I dismissed the news and resumed work. But not for long.

Soon I was drawn to the TV and the horrific events that would forever change life in the United States. For a time, my labors no longer mattered; ceasing all attempts to work, I watched the news in shock. I wondered what this would mean to the future of business and commerce—and the magazine operation I had just bought. Would I end up being a victim of bad timing?

For the rest of that week, I did only the work that was absolutely required. Then, life slowly began to reclaim a degree of normalcy, even if normal no longer existed.

As we remember the events of 9-11 and the people who innocently lost their lives, we can also celebrate the resiliency of our country and our ability to prevail and succeed. Personally, I can also celebrate Connections Magazine and the new path it has provided.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Why Work Is Cyclical

In theory, my workload should proceed as a steady flow of predictable effort year round. In reality, it doesn’t happen that way.

It takes five weeks from start to finish to produce one issue of one magazine, and Connections Magazine is published six times a year. Medical Call Center News and Answer Stat releases every other month, while TAS Trader releases every month. This means I’m typically working on two or three issues of one publication or another at any given time.

This results in a steady, expected ebb and flow of activity. In addition, are blogs which are updated weekly, and scheduled monthly duties. It would seem that my work should smoothly move from one day to the next, evenly paced throughout the year.

The reality is that my effective workload is quite cyclical. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, things are slow. Between Christmas and New Year’s, it’s extremely slow. It’s also slow during the summer. After Memorial Day, things drop off. And after the Fourth of July, it’s as if someone turned off a switch; it stays that way until Labor Day.

The times between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day, as well as Labor Day to Thanksgiving Day are my “busy times.”

Ironically, I have the same amount of work to do throughout the year, but it takes twice as long to accomplish it during my “busy times.” The reason is that during my “busy times,” I receive more phone calls and email messages (mostly email). These communications don’t directly relate to my work of publishing magazines or websites, but they are tangential to it.

The flood of these secondary interactions is so much so that during my “slow times” I can generally do all required work in 3 to 6 hours a day, whereas during my “busy times” it takes 6 to 10 hours to accomplish the same amount of essential work. In fact, during my “busy times,” some Mondays are so bad, that all I do is respond to email messages. Some Friday afternoons are like that as well.

My conclusion is that these secondary email messages result in a huge productivity drain—in my case about 50 percent. If I can just curb non-essential email, I could reclaim a great deal of lost productivity.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

That’s a Lot of Blogging

I’ve been officially blogging now for 10 years. During that time, I have made over 500 posts in this blog.

Although I enjoy blogging, finding the ideal time to write has not been easy. Initially, I wrote in the evening, after my workday was done. This kept blogging from encroaching on vocation, but was also the time at which my writing prowess is at its lowest. In addition to that, I found that if I blogged just before bedtime, I had difficulty shutting my mind off and falling asleep.

Next, I tried ending my workday with a blog, but then didn’t work either as I was pushing to finish my workday with a flourish, which bogged down my blogging focus. Most recently, I tried to write right after a shortened lunch, but again work distractions abounded.

Actually, my best time to write is first thing in the morning; I’ve known that all along.  However, if I blog then, I’m not doing the writing for which I actually earn a living, but the kind that is merely fun. So my dilemma of when to blog continues.

I also intended to write about three posts a week, but with so many ideas bouncing around my brain, the desire to write has triumphed, producing five or more entries a week. So, to maintain a sustainable and manageable plan, I’m going to (try to) cut back to three times a week, while attempting to set aside mid afternoons for blogging.

On top of this, I have started other blogs and my main blog about biblical Christianity.

That’s a lot of blogging!

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Magazine Goes Green – Sort of

A weekly (or almost weekly) magazine that I receive, recently announced that it was going to have four “green” issues this year, with the goal of being “carbon neutral” in 10 years.

I was curious how they would handle this “green” issue.  o their credit, they emailed me when it was ready and I went online to check it out. (Even though I proof the magazines I publish on a computer and online, I greatly dislike reading magazines on my computer.  To be direct, I don’t have a computer where I do my magazine reading.)

Upon clicking on the link, it took me to a sign in page, where I essentially requalified my subscription, which was a good idea on their part, as it will save extra work and effort for them later. Additionally, I didn’t need to pick a password and login, which is a good thing, too, as I have over 150 logins and passwords for the various sites I need to use and will thankfully be spared one for this site.

The presentation of the magazine was a PDF file (as I do with the electronic versions of my Connections Magazine and AnswerStat), with some hyperlinks in the table of contents to go directly to the articles. There were also links on the top and bottom of each page to speed readers back to the table of contents, to the next page, or to the previous page.

So, all is good — sort of.  The magazine had a green issue, it was relatively painless to access, and I could read it online — unfortunately, I don’t like reading magazines online.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Categories
Call Center

A Trip to the ATA Convention

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m heading off to the ATA (American Teleservices Association Meeting) in San Antonio, Texas.  It should be a great meeting and I’m excited about it (all except for the traveling part).

I won’t likely be blogging while I’m gone, but do plan to submit some convention reports on the Connections Magazine newsfeed, so if you’re in the call center industry, check that out next week (October 5-8).  I also hope to record some interviews as well.

In an unrelated issue, Detroit is currently playing San Antonio for the WNBA finals.  Ironically, I will not be in state where any of the five scheduled games will be played (not that I have any interest in going).  The first two were in San Antonio this week, while I was in Michigan.  The next two will be in Michigan, while I am in San Antonio.  The final game, if necessary, will be in San Antonio, after I return to Michigan.  I doubt, however, we will ever get to game five, as Detroit took the first two and only needs to win one more.  They should accomplish that on Sunday — unless they get overconfident.

So, when I return, I may have something to blog about traveling (airlines and hotels), share about my latest saga with the post office… or maybe something completely different.

In any event, I will try to keep it interesting.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Internet Sales Rise and Fall With Catalog Mailings

The DMA (Direct marketing Association) recently released their annual report on the catalog industry.

The report indicated that in 2007, 36% of sales [for the catalog industry] were conducted online. What is shocking is that this statistic is a decrease from 2006, when it stood at 40%. In fact 2007’s percentage was lower than both 2005 and 2004. To find a lower number, we need to go back to 2003, when it was a mere 29%.

What’s the deal? Is there a backlash against online buying?

No, seemingly it was a postage increase! This convincing theory blames the huge postage increase in May of 2007 as the culprit. Many catalogers drastically scaled back their mailings when their postage costs jumped 40%. Although some Internet buyers function strictly online, others are driven online when they receive a catalog or other direct mail piece. Ergo, less mailings equal less orders, and a decrease in sales.

I, too, feel the pain of the catalogers, as I experienced similar increases in postage for my magazines: Connections Magazine‘s postage increased 39% and AnswerStat, 41%. As a result, I began scrutinizing my subscriber list much more closely. Some magazines were pushed to e-publishing, dropping their print versions altogether.

So it should not be at all surprising that the USPS is seeing a drop in mail volume, which caused them to suffer a $1.1 billion loss for the third quarter. As a result, next year’s postage increase is expected to be the maximum legal amount. Experts predict that could mean magazines and catalogs will face a 5 to 6% bump.

Of course that means the affected mailers will scale back more, further lowering mail volume, and necessitating another maximum increase in 2010 — as mailing costs and post office efficacy spiral further out of control.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.