Representing ATA, Tim Searcy gave the keynote address at the 2008 ATSI Convention and Expo on June 19 in St. Louis Missouri. He opened the convention with an insightful presentation entitled: “Futurecast for the Teleservices Industry.” Tim shared that, as an industry, we are at a fork in the road. (He had a great graphic in his PowerPoint presentation to re-enforce this point.) The two options ahead of us go in diverging directions; the path we choose could very well pave way towards either success or failure. Some of his candid and interesting comments included:
- Of all communication channels available, 64 percent of interaction is via the telephone.
- The benefit of focusing on high-quality service versus low-cost service is a much higher retention of clients.
- An added bonus of focusing on quality is improved agent retention. This is because agents experience greater job satisfied when they are actually allowed to do what they were hired to do — help callers.
- Despite a huge decrease in outbound calling and much of the world’s communication shifting to the Internet, call center telephone traffic has not decreased, but has actually remained flat. This development is counterintuitive, but, nonetheless, welcome news.
- Offshoring will begin to settle. This is due to customer backlash against difficult to understand agents and a weakening U.S. dollar.
- Other countries are actually offshoring to the U.S. to save money or achieve quality.
- Since clients will complain regardless of what rates they are charged, call centers are advised to charge a premium price (and provide quality service). That strategy is being used by some of the largest and most successful teleservices call centers in the United States.
In concluding his presentation, Tim offered this summary of key concepts:
1. Outsourcing is growing.
2. Live agents are key.
3. There will be more emphasis placed on the phone.
4. Consumers will determine the future.
5. Ignore regulations at your peril.
Some ATA members are also members of ATSI. ATSI, the Association of Teleservices International, is a trade association, begun in 1942 to support the then nascent telephone answering service industry. Much has changed in the 66 years since then. Today, virtually all viable answering services process calls on sophisticated computerized switching systems, type caller information into computer databases, and rely on programmed speed dialing and automated dispatching to relay information to their clients.
The telephone answering service industry is currently undergoing a wave of consolidation, as larger, more technically astute and well-managed centers buy smaller, less able players. Another reason for consolidation is that, historically, answering services are family-run operations. Aging owners, who do not have family members interested in taking over the business, view selling their answering service as the most viable and profitable exit strategy.
Another development in the telephone answering service industry is that many are pursuing diversification strategies by offering other types of call processing services. These include order-taking, ad response, first-level help desk, class registrations, and appointment setting. The modern telephone answering services’ current level telephony infrastructure and technological sophistication have nicely positioned them to pursue and embrace these types of services.
Given the evolving state of the telephone answering service industry to more fully embrace the teleservice industry, there are interesting synergistic opportunities between ATA and ATSI.