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January 2000

 

The New Millennium Calls For
A New Perspective...

To Be Sure, The New Millennium Will Create A Phenomenal Opportunity For The Call Center/CRM Business But...Beware Of Con Artists Posing As Experts!

BY NADJI TEHRANI
EDITOR IN CHIEF, EXECUTIVE GROUP PUBLISHER


As you will notice, we have enhanced the name of this publication from C@LL CENTER Solutions™ to C@LL CENTER CRM Solutions™. The extension of the name from C@LL CENTER Solutions™ to include CRM (customer relationship management) was to more accurately describe what we have been covering all along since 1982. At that time, in a pioneering and visionary manner, we actually laid the foundation for the call center/CRM industry with this publication, originally known as Telemarketing magazine. For those of you who have been reading and, in fact, are keeping every single issue of Telemarketing magazine and its successor, C@LL CENTER Solutions™, you know that over the past 18 years we have covered every aspect of telesales, teleservices, customer service, customer care, customer loyalty and customer retention in issue after issue and as such, we provided the guide book for what is now the multibillion-dollar call center/CRM industry. Technology Marketing Corporation (TMC), in addition to pioneering this industry's first magazine in June of 1982, also introduced the industry's first and most important trade show back in 1985. The name of the show was TBT, which stood for Telemarketing & Business Telecommunications. This highly successful show (TBT) was presented 28 consecutive times not only in the United States, but also internationally in countries such as Brazil and Holland. In all presentations of this trade show, the conference program, which was not only the first, but also the most respected conference of its kind, covered all elements of telesales, account management, customer service, client services, customer care, customer management, customer retention and customer loyalty management. All of these efforts taken together laid the foundation of what has now come to be known as customer relationship management or CRM.

French Philosopher’s Comment…So Appropriate To The CRM Case
A world-famous French philosopher once made the most logical comment about life that I have always loved and admired:

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

As most industry experts agree, call centers have been accomplishing CRM for years, but only now has the process become simpler to implement with the help of technology, through software, systems integration, database mining and superior call center agent training. So, in reality, CRM is a new name for an existing process. Customer relationship management is about how you interact with your customers. Because the call center is your natural touchpoint between the company and its customers, CRM is naturally accomplished through the call center. So we have enhanced the name of what we have been doing all along to CRM. That is why the legendary comment, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is so appropriate in this case.

During the last Direct Marketing Association (DMA) trade show, I entered the exhibit of one of the largest (if not the largest) teleservices companies and spoke with the vice president of sales of this world-famous outsourcing company. The conversation soon turned into a discussion of CRM. This top executive stated, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about CRM. Isn’t this what we have been doing all along and calling it a combination of client services, customer support, customer care, customer loyalty, customer retention, database marketing and database mining'” As you can see, I am not the only one who thinks this way. This comment by a senior executive of one of the largest teleservices companies is especially significant for two reasons:

  1. This particular company generates revenue in excess of one billion dollars through inbound teleservices, customer service, customer care and CRM.
  2. If you have been reading my editorials during the last two decades, I am sure you will concur that there is no one, and I mean no one, who knows the CRM, teleservices and telesales industry better than those who head up service agencies or teleservices outsourcing companies. The reason is very simple: they are always on the firing line and they manage hundreds, even thousands, of different products. Since this particular outsourcing company generates in excess of one billion dollars in sales in this area, their management’s opinion must be respected. This reminds me of another great French philosopher who said:

“The reason offered by the strongest is always the best.”

Our New Tagline: “The Authority On CRM, E-Sales–E-Service And Teleservices Since 1982”
Many leading e-commerce financial analysts have recently stated that every company must be in e-business or they will be in no business. In plain English, if you are not involved in e-commerce, it is only a matter of time before your company will vanish. In fact, a top executive of one of the nation’s leading teleservices agencies was recently quoted as predicting that by the year 2002, 50 percent of all customer contact will be via the Internet through call centers. As savvy readers of this publication, you know that I have always maintained that every company is a call center. You also know that the key to success of any e-business is the quality of its customer service, customer care and customer service management, none of which can exist without a call center. CRM is necessary in the call center because companies that have little to differentiate themselves in their products, particularly in light of e-commerce, must offer superior customer service to put themselves ahead of the competition. Companies that don’t offer the best possible CRM will lose sales and market share to their competitors that do.

In short, if you are not in e-business in some way and if you do not have access to a well-run and well-managed call center to handle your CRM, there is literally no point in being in business. For those who dare to try otherwise, their days in business are numbered.

As the “Bible” of the CRM, customer service, telesales and teleservices and support solutions industry since 1982, we have been at the forefront of every change and innovation in technology, training and human resource techniques pertaining to customer contact and the CRM industry. It is, therefore, our paramount responsibility as the leading publication of the industry to guide our valued readers appropriately and help them avoid costly mistakes by sounding a necessary alarm.

Beware Of Self-Proclaimed Experts
The advent of CRM and the rush by many to take a position in it reminds me of the early days of Telemarketing magazine. When we created worldwide awareness of the explosive power of the telemarketing industry in 1982, many con artists, fast-buck artists and downright criminals came along trying to jump on the bandwagon by passing themselves off as experts on the industry. And indeed, to my great chagrin, many of them were successful (only for a short time), inflicting significant damage on many unwary customers until they (the customers) found out that these self-proclaimed experts were nothing more than con artists disguised as experts on telemarketing. I would like to share with you the story of only two of these criminals, what they did and how they did it so that the new breed of them, who may re-appear as CRM experts, will not hurt you.

Case 1
In early 1983, while our offices were at 17 Park Street in Norwalk, Connecticut, a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce pulled up our driveway one day and an extremely well-dressed and seemingly polished individual came out of the Rolls Royce to our offices and asked to see me. I agreed to meet with this gentleman because I saw his prestigious appearance and the Rolls Royce fanfare, thinking he deserved my undivided attention. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll call him Mr. X. He said to me, “Mr. Tehrani, I have read every single issue of your magazine and I am fascinated by it. I have learned a great deal from your publication.” He then continued, “Like you, I am also an expert in telemarketing and I have come here to make a proposal to you that you probably cannot refuse.” I told Mr. X, “I am listening to your proposal.” Mr. X continued, “I intend to advertise in your magazine, pay for it in advance and in exchange, I would like you to position me, through your magazine’s editorial, as an industry guru. Then I would like you to recommend me to many corporations as an industry expert. In this manner, we will both benefit.” He then suggested we jointly run a convention where he would be positioned as the expert and our magazine would function as the marketing vehicle for his convention. Then he asked, “What do you think of that?” I told him, “I appreciate your interest in advertising, however, we have a strong church-and-state policy where we do not tie any editorial comments to advertising under any circumstances.” Undaunted, he then offered me a percentage of his consultant fees as well as his conference fees. Naturally, I did not accept any of these offers, but upon examining his advertisements, it appeared he offered a legitimate service that could benefit the industry. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we ran six of his advertisements over a six-month period. Mr. X paid in advance for the first three ads, but we could not collect for the next three. The red flag went up. We decided to further investigate this man’s background and learned he was involved in a number of criminal activities, including embezzlement, loan sharking and the like. We then began to receive a number of calls from his unfortunate clients who also met him with the Rolls Royce, etc., thinking he really knew something only to find out that this guy was nothing but a con artist. We were truly upset that this con artist tried to use the great name of our magazine and Technology Marketing Corporation to pick the pockets of several innocent customers of ours

Case 2
In another case, someone I’ll call Mr. Y, used our trademark and copyrighted statistics without our permission to promote his show on telemarketing. He actually printed our material without any authorization and then he came to me and asked me to support his show and accept advertising in support of his show. Obviously, after looking into his background, I did not feel this was in the best interest of the industry and I actually turned down $20,000 worth of advertising that he wanted to place with Telemarketing magazine. Without our support, this man and his trade show did not succeed because I simply do not approve of promoting unethical organizations. He received a considerable amount of money from many exhibitors without giving them any return for their investments! A less sophisticated thief!

The Moral Of The Story
The extreme popularity of CRM has attracted a similar frenzy, which I am sure includes many people like Mr. X and Mr. Y as described above.

Today, everyone and his brother is running a trade show, a conference, a magazine or at least thinking about starting a magazine under the CRM title. Some of them, possibly without appropriate credentials, may consider jumping on the bandwagon and taking advantage of innocent and uninformed customers as Mr. X and Mr. Y did. I was discussing this matter the other day with one of my industry-respected colleagues and he said something that puts everything so accurately in perspective. He said, “These are the people who couldn’t spell it last month and are experts at it this month.” I am telling you to beware that just because someone announces a trade show, a conference or a magazine with the seemingly “right” title, does not mean that they are, in fact, the experts or that they have the necessary know-how to inform anyone on the subject.

Be wary of overnight experts who lack long-established credentials. If you trust these so-called experts, you may be taken for a ride and lose a lot of money.

Trust only magazines, conferences and trade shows that have a long, successful history in the industry they serve. Look for name recognition and tenure of staff. The value of a publication is not the title, but the quality of its contents. Certainly while we have enhanced the name of our publication, we have remained committed to serving the same industry we have served since 1982.

What just five of our editors, with a total of 52 years-plus of combined experience on this magazine alone, have learned about this industry cannot be duplicated overnight!

Sincerely,

Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher
Editor-in-Chief
ntehrani@tmcnet.com 


The ATA In Trouble

Back in the Fall of 1998, the then-named American Telemarketing Association announced a name change to The American Teleservices Association and unveiled a new logo. Little was anyone aware of the amount of trouble the agency was headed for not quite one year later. In July of 1999, a meeting was called in Chicago for board members, at which it was revealed that the executive board had met previously with J. Scott Thornton, who at the time of the first meeting was CEO of the agency, to discuss the fact that the agency’s treasurer not only had concerns about the agency’s finances, but was having difficulty getting access to necessary financial information. Discussion at the board members’ meeting also focused on alleged financial mismanagement by Thornton, who had since departed the agency, though financial problems had reportedly plagued the ATA for several years prior to Thornton’s departure. Following this meeting, an emergency meeting was called in Los Angeles the following month. The culmination of the crisis occurred in mid-October when seven incumbent board members tendered their resignations and at least one member organization withdrew its membership.

Former ATA legislative affairs director Chip Eagle believes that troubles stemmed from a variety of causes. “The Association has had a very good record in its core competencies over the last few months and years.” But he added, “Mr. Thornton tried to expand the Association’s activities outside of these core areas and this, in hindsight, was probably too aggressive for his ability to manage such expansion.”

A similar opinion is shared by former ATA communications director Donna Bryce. “He (Thornton) was overly ambitious and seemed to spend indiscriminately.” Bryce was involved in putting together possible legal action, but not against Thornton. “From what I was able to determine, there was no evidence of misappropriation. We did begin legal action against the bank involved, which gave Mr. Thornton access to accounts he had no permission from which to withdraw funds.” According to Bryce, Thornton did hire his wife and paid her to do work that had not been approved by the board in the usual manner.

The member organization which withdrew its membership was Oetting & Co., an independent consulting firm which deals exclusively with the use of the telephone, call centers and associated media for marketing, sales and service objectives. DM News quoted Geri Gantman, senior partner with Oetting & Co., as saying problems began to arise when the ATA changed its operations from a volunteer-based group to a staff-run organization that was operating beyond its resources. Oetting & Co. had withdrawn from the agency in October due to both the problems caused by the alleged mismanagement of the association and the way the crisis was handled.

Rather than disclose further information and explanations of problems at the ATA’s annual conference in Nashville in mid-October, the agency chose to send a letter to members outlining money and management problems. This move angered many within the organization, prompting the withdrawal of some members and the resignation of seven incumbent board members, including Bryce and Eagle.

Peripheral to the shakeup is a question about the health of Telewatch, an ATA peripheral organization created by teleservices providers to help maintain standards within the industry. Reportedly, the organization is now destined to be absorbed back in the ATA and has been silent as of late. Telewatch aimed to provide a uniform body of standards and accepted practices with which to measure teleservices performance. These standards included conformance to federal mandates such as The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991); The Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act (1994); The Federal Trade Commission Telemarketing Sales Rule (1995); applicable state and local government rules, laws and regulations; “Do-not-call” list requirements; and strict adherence to the ATA’s code of ethics.

Mr. Eagle, a founding member of Telewatch, stated that previous to the organization’s disclosure of problems, he had brought up the lack of forward momentum by the group, though he believes that Telewatch’s merger back into the ATA would have happened anyway. He did state, however, that he believed Telewatch is in the process of regrouping and will be working to establish the certification program that they promised.

Despite the troubles, members and former management are supportive of the concept of the organization. Said Chip Eagle, “Overall, I believe that the Association has been on a very positive track in its key results areas. The primary responsibility of a trade association is to act as a spokesperson for the industry in the public arena. The ATA has been very successful in this area.”

Ms. Bryce expressed a little more pessimism and told C@LL CENTER CRM Solutions™ she thinks things are still in limbo. Certainly the agency seems like it may have an uphill road in winning back the confidence of members and staff and the respect of the industry. The organization’s Web site does not appear to have been updated since last year (Mr. Thornton’s bio still appears as a link on the site), which is an eyebrow-raising state of affairs in an age of Web-enabled teleservices.

The ATA did report the election of new board members in November and has plans to fill other vacant positions.







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