By Peter DeHaan
As covered in this issue of Connections Magazine, the ATA announced that longtime board member Phil Grudzinski has been named its new CEO. Phil actively jumped into his new role with much enthusiasm and a packed schedule but still managed to find time to chat with Peter DeHaan about his new job, the ATA, and the call center industry.
Peter: Phil, congratulations on becoming the ATA’s new CEO. You have a long connection with ATA as a member and board president, as well as vast experience in teleservices. What would you like to share with readers about your background?
Phil: Thank you, Peter. Most folks know that I have been involved in direct marketing and financial services for more than twenty years. I have had the pleasure of learning from and managing some of the best talent in the industry, not only in the US but internationally as well. In addition to the US, my roles have allowed me to develop businesses in over thirty countries around the world, including Latin America, Europe Asia, and Australia. No matter what company I have been with, whether Sears, Roebuck and Company, GE, or American Express, 70 to 80 percent of customer engagement happened over the phone. I have established countless inbound and outbound programs for these companies, from customer service operations to product marketing to driving Internet-based activity back to call centers. I have actively worked with many of the ATA’s members in a variety of capacities, such as technology suppliers, call monitoring services, program management, call taking/sourcing, database management, analytics, reporting, and product development.
Peter: I think you are ideally suited to succeed Tim Searcy as the ATA’s CEO. What will that transition look like and how long do you expect it to take?
Phil: Tim and I have worked together for a long time now. I have been chair of the national board for almost half the time he was the CEO of the ATA. He was a great leader for the ATA and I am happy that he will continue to serve as an active member. The short-term plan is to create a seamless transition for the ATA membership, which means that all of the member benefits that are enjoyed today will not be disrupted as we go through changes in administration and processes behind the scenes. A large part of creating this seamless transition is made possible due to a strong national board of directors and strong leadership at our local chapters. The transition is already in process, and I expect it will be fully accomplished in the next few months.
Peter: What are some of the opportunities that you see for the ATA that you plan to pursue?
Phil: As the immediate past chair, I am walking into this role with my eyes wide open. There are many opportunities that can continue to make the association even stronger and better. In the short term, I want to continue to capitalize on the clear strengths and expertise of our association members, and I will be engaging at a very early stage of this transition to leverage these strengths in a variety of ways. First, I want to deepen our relationships with our congressional legislators and regulators. Continuing our communication paths with positive, proactive interactions will only lead to new opportunities and a stronger voice on government affairs and issues. A recent example of this is our partnership with FCC chairman Julias Genachowski in the Jobs4America program. You will hear more about this at our Washington Summit coming up in October.
Second, I want to increase the ATA value proposition to members. It is important to drive not only content and relevant communications to our members on a consistent basis, but I want to clearly increase the opportunities for our members to capture economic benefit from the association. A clear focus will be placed on creating greater opportunities to provide more impactful and productive networking events and collaborations. While there is a laundry list of other issues to deal with, if we accomplish these two things in the short term, I believe we will be able to continue to grow the association membership and attract more top quality member companies to help create new opportunities and fuel new growth in the industry.
Peter: The opposite of opportunities is threats. Are there any threats that you see looming that need to be addressed?
Phil: This is a great question, Peter. The clear and obvious answer is the economy. Right now, as I see the markets react to rating declines, I know that this hurts all of our members. It impacts travel, investments, and how companies drive business development. This is one of the reasons why the ATA will be focused on business development opportunities for our members.
Another area is the regulatory environment. We are way past the DNC regulations and have ventured deep into the consumer protection and privacy world. More restrictive legislation is on its way to regulate all aspects of direct marketing, including Do Not Email, use of cell phone regulations, and state-by-state interpretations of current federal laws. We see this internationally as well with even more restrictive legislation in countries outside the US. At the ATA, we have adopted a self-regulatory organization approach, which is an opportunity we plan on engaging with the FTC in a more robust way. The ATA today still stands as the one association where you can get the most proactive and up-to-date information about current and proposed legislation. We are committed to consumer advocacy in every step of customer engagement, and our members represent the best practices in the industry.
Lastly, money is tight and every member has to place bets on where they invest as we make our way through the constant changes in our economy. I want the ATA to be a sure bet for our members.
Peter: What is the core message that you want to share with the call center industry about ATA today?
Phil: The ATA membership is more than call centers. It is about all the work that call centers do on a daily basis. In addition to contact centers, we are comprised of Fortune 500 companies, technology suppliers, economic development organizations, management consultants, database management companies, analytical services, Internet-based providers, and social media networks. We are continuing to drive the expansion of the ATA membership base, which encompasses all aspects of customer engagement. This includes any direct marketing business and customer service provider that use the phone as a part of their customer marketing/service communications mix.
As I have said, I want the ATA to be a sure bet for our members. The ATA is where they can get access to the best information quickly to make better decisions for their companies. The ATA is where they can have direct access to regulators and can help drive changes that are not possible without a common, collective voice. And the ATA is where they can reach in and develop new economic opportunities that drive their own growth targets. The time has never been better to blend all of these ingredients into one association that matters.
Peter: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to share?
Phil: I want to thank you, Peter, for the interview, and I look forward to engaging with the call center industry and all of the members of the ATA in my new role.
[From Connection Magazine – September 2011]