By Al Scaife
The daily news proclaims positive changes in our economy. Businesses are reporting improved profits and/or increased sales that are better than they have been in several years. The general mood of the American business consumer is far from being considered a spending spree, but we see signs that “the worst is behind us.” The result of the improving economic trend will be a loosening of the purse strings so that businesses can tap into this growing business activity.
The recession, however, has caused business consumers to go on a spending diet. They examine more carefully how each dollar is spent and what results that expenditure may bring, and they demand a more definitive risk-and-reward assessment prior to releasing those dollars. What we have now is a smarter, more efficient business buyer.
Communication has also changed drastically, especially in the last five years. Smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the Internet have given consumers a voice, as well as access to people anywhere and anytime. We are witnessing how some of these communications are being used to organize masses to move against governments, regimes, and levels of authority. We also see this being used in the promotion of political campaigns, American Idol contestants, and other celebrities. We now have more technological methods of communicating, reaching out, and getting involved.
With smarter business buyers examining how they will spend their communication dollars, tech savvy consumers looking for every way to stay in touch, and new technology being introduced every day, many of us feel overwhelmed. Communication methods are changing at a fast pace, and so is the need for us to deal with that change. Even though we are living in a fast-paced environment, there is a business model that includes the fast-tracking of all the technological communication marvels available. I feel strongly that these new communication channels also present opportunities for a business model that includes personalized service. I do not believe these business models to be mutually exclusive; I see them utilizing similar technology in different ways to attain the desired results of our customers. It really is still all about the customer.
As technology leaders in the call center industry, where are we in the sea of communication change and expansion? Have we accepted this movement and made it a part of our marketing strategy, or at least consider it as part of our plans? Or is our business model stuck, without purpose or desire to reflect communication opportunities? Clearly, we can see the importance of new devices and their impact on how we relate to one another: iPads, Internet phones, smartphones, VoIP, and video conferencing, to name just a few.
Here are ten steps to get us on the right track:
1) Internet Presence: Having an Internet presence is the start of marketing your goods and services these days. This tells people who you are, what you represent, and it lets them know that you are “open for business.” The Internet is where people and businesses go to find and compare information and services. An Internet presence can be used to bring in business and disseminate information. The Internet can become your company brochure, your cash register, and your sales department, as well as your publicist and public relations starting point. You can work without it, but you’ll lose some of your competitive edge.
2) National/Global Services: Because of the interconnectivity of telephones and Internet, the business community we seek to work with is not generally limited by borders. Providing services to a company in Los Angeles or New York – or even London for that matter – has less to do with geographical location than with our ability to provide a professional service on a continuous basis. Soon there will be no need for area codes. We will have the flexibility to move around with the same number, no matter where we live or work.
3) IP-Based Telephony: The thread that holds most of our modern communication together is the advent of the Internet, Internet communication protocols, and the interweaving of both of these with Wi-Fi, cellular, and the old public switched telephone network. Adopting IP-based telephony now is like moving from old dial phones to a smartphone. Although both can reach your intended caller, smartphones allow for much more interaction of data, voice, information, and sharing of “stuff.” If you are not planning to utilize this technology, what are you planning?
4) Quality Workforce: Having a professional and flexible quality workforce is critical in the quest to provide the best services available. Utilizing a workforce in a work facility or with home-based agents is now an opportunity we can’t ignore, widening the boundaries of who might be able to work and when. The technology to do this is worth examining, as it allows us to reduce some costs and expand our footprint.
5) Immediate Response: As much as we can, we need to be able to respond immediately to those utilizing our services. Our society expects “instant access” to information and connections. Our businesses should attempt to make that a part of its work environment too. When someone comes to your office, he or she is immediately greeted by someone. When visitors come to your website or email you, do you respond immediately? There are several ways to accomplish this, including chatting, Instant Messaging, Tweeting, or using the telephone.
6) Multiple Access: In accepting the reality of immediately responding, we need to consider what format we will use. The more communication mediums you use the better, although technologically we are speaking of Twitter, chat, email, Facebook, and more. In addition, don’t forget about being able to reach out to differing languages or the disabled.
7) Tech Support: IP telephony can take many turns and twists. Having someone (or an organization) provide direction and advice will be invaluable, and not all of it has to be expensive. Depending on the telephony backbone or structure you use, most of your support can be included at no extra charge with the service. While we are not all gurus, we do know what we want, so seeking professional advice is a good idea, often saving us time, energy, and money.
8) Ear to the Ground: It is important to be able to recognize trends that might present opportunities. Be flexible in your ability to change something on your website to reflect current environments. Your website can then be viewed by a significantly larger audience in the hope that someone will notice your services and become a customer.
9) A Plan: No matter how formal or informal it is, you need to take an assessment of where you are and where you want to be, and then begin to define the steps to get there. Developing a plan is crucial to your business development.
10) Support Group: We all need someone to bounce ideas off of. Connections Magazine is a great start because it provides articles written by industry-related people with industry-related experiences. Additionally, you may know of others with advanced technology skills, your son or daughters may understand some of the newer communication services, and your customers will gladly tell you what it is they are looking for in a service.
Technology has opened up the world of communication to the world of the people. Now we need to open up our minds and remove the barriers we may have built up inside in order to see our future.
Al Scaife is president of National Communications Company, LLC; he can be reached at 317-238-3075.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2011]