Standard Operating Procedure

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIn every industry, there exists a Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP. This SOP is a collective compilation of what has been known, proven, and verified to work over time. It is the prevailing wisdom of how things should be done and how things are done for that industry. This is the reason that SOPs exist – and it is wise to follow them whenever possible.

An SOP is largely static and remains essentially unchanged over time – until some outside force or opportunity presents itself. Then we see a paradigm shift, and a new or revised SOP emerges. For example, in the earliest days of call centers, information gathered from callers was handwritten. Therefore, part of the SOP was to hire agents with neat and clear handwriting – it was a given. Then a change occurred; call center automation emerged and information ceased to be handwritten. Instead, it was typed into a computer database. The need to hire agents with legible handwriting became obsolete and was replaced by the need for keyboarding skills. Typing tests became part of the new SOP. Contrast this to good diction and oral communication skills. This was and still is part of the industry’s SOP. It will continue to be the case – until computer technology advances to the point of being able to effectively and conversationally interact with our callers. Then the industry’s SOP will shift again.

I frequently receive queries from people desiring to open a call center or start an answering service. Very few of these enthusiastic entrepreneurs comprehend the industry’s SOPs. A frequent, reoccurring theme is that these startups will pay their agents more, charge their clients less, and offer better service than the competition. This is simultaneously idealistic and impossible. I attempt to educate them on the industry’s SOP, but my efforts generally fall on unhearing ears. To offload the repetitive and time-consuming nature of these communications, I launched two informational websites: StartACallCenter.com and StartAnAnsweringService.com, both of which offer basic startup advice and cover current SOPs.

There are also SOPs for trade publications, like Connections Magazine. Most of the time, I wisely follow these SOPs; other times, forced by necessity or born of opportunity, I blaze new trails. Consider the following:

Circulation/Audits: Connections is an advertiser-supported magazine. That is, advertising revenues cover the costs to produce the magazine and distribute it free to qualified individuals (i.e., potential buyers) in the industry. (Be sure and thank our advertisers for making Connections possible – without them, we couldn’t exist.)

The industry SOP is to have potential subscribers fill out a comprehensive profile and complete a detailed survey. Then, as part of the auditing process, these same subscribers must requalify each year. This is annoying to the subscriber and a time-consuming, costly endeavor for the publisher.

Our approach is more pragmatic and less complicated. Quite simply, we provide Connections to all industry participants who request it. And we continue to provide it until they ask us to stop. There are no annual renewals, no surveys to complete, and minimal hassle. Occasionally, we do ask readers to confirm that they are still interested. If you receive such a communication, please respond right away, as we aren’t able to send repeated, ongoing requests.

For those advertisers who wish to verify our distribution numbers, there is no need to bother with the audit bureau; we simply provide a copy of the postage statement from the United States Postal Service to confirm the quantity mailed.

Editorial Staff: Another SOP is having an editorial staff and pool of writers to generate content. This is a huge expense that pushes advertising rates up and drives away advertisers. Again, we deviate from the SOP. As the publisher, I do minimal writing – save this column. The rest of our articles are provided by readers and industry participants; they are the true experts who gladly share their experiences, insights, and ideas. We highly esteem these generous contributors who do so for the sake of advancing the industry. The result is a magazine filled with practical content from real-world call center authorities, not theoretical verbosity that fails to both educate and elucidate – content that is found all too often in other trade publications.

Go Digital/Go Global: At Connections, we embrace digital distribution, an emerging SOP. This allows Connections to be provided to call center personnel in other countries, to which it would be cost-prohibitive to mail a printed copy. Currently, 10 percent of our distribution is done electronically via email. These email messages contains three links: one to the table of contents, one to download a complete PDF of that issue, and one linking to our sponsor who makes this possible, CAM-X, the Canadian Call Management Association. Currently, Connections is emailed to individuals in fifty-six countries, the top five being Canada, India, Mexico, South Africa, and the Philippines.

Interestingly, in the past year, hundreds of US-based subscribers have requested to receive Connections electronically. As a bonus, our electronic subscribers receive their copies a week or more before our mailed subscribers. If you would like to join this growing number of digital subscribers, you may request the electronic version – and cancel your printed version – on our website. You may also request copies for your coworkers and update your mailing label.

Mailing Lists: It is also SOP for magazines to sell and rent their mailing lists. We frequently receive such requests. We steadfastly decline to share your information with others. Although it is an additional source of revenue, this is not an opportunity that we pursue – and we have no intention to do so. (Full disclosure: We once traded some names with a strategic partner in order to complete a joint project. Another time we did a test mailing on behalf of an advertiser, but we controlled the mailing and the list remained confidential, as will always be the case.)

Email Addresses: Your email address is critical for us to maintain your subscription as it is the only cost-effective way to contact you if we need to verify or update your mailing information. As such, we are not able to accept and maintain subscriptions without email addresses. This SOP is essential to follow.

Just as with inquiries for our mailing list, we field requests to sell our database of email addresses. We have never done this and we never will – even though this, too, is an SOP and another potential revenue source. We are also asked to do email blasts to subscribers. We have never done this, either, but it is an option under consideration. If we do pursue this, be assured that the number of such messages would be strictly limited and their content carefully screened. Again, we would retain total control over the email addresses, and recipients would have the option to quickly opt out at any time. This SOP can’t be dismissed, as the trade magazine industry as a whole is migrating towards the Internet.

Trade Shows and Conventions: Most trade magazines promote and operate a complementary annual trade show or convention; it is a final SOP worth discussing. These events reportedly represent up to 40 percent of a magazine’s annual revenue. As such, they make for an attractive pursuit. This too, has been a consideration – and request – for Connections Magazine. However, there are already several industry associations with their own events that focus on the teleservices and outsourcing call center arena. It is our preference to work with these organizations as appropriate — you will note coverage of their events in these pages throughout the year.

Whether it’s a call center, a trade magazine, or another business, be cognizant of that industry’s SOP. Follow it whenever you can, and deviate from it when you must; just be sure to know the reasons why you do what you do and the justification for it. After all, SOPs are “Standard” for a reason!

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.


 Connections Magazine Links Covered in this Article

[From Connection Magazine December 2006]

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