I have always taken great pride in being a part of the communications
industry. I am fascinated by the technologies and services we have to
offer and marvel at the enormous impact they have on the lives of
individuals and corporations. Being on the publishing and trade show side
of the communications industry, I have the advantage of being presented
with so much information about the communications industry that I cannot
help but be impressed. However, I have often wondered if the average
person outside of the industry realizes just how much today's advanced
communications technologies affect them.
I believe the tragic events of September 11, 2001 brought an answer to
First, I was struck by the number of reports of cell phone calls placed
by victims to their loved ones and emergency workers. I can only imagine
how much those last phone calls meant to the survivors and victims alike.
In the days following the tragedy, I was once again proud of our
industry, this time not for what it did, but for what it didn't do. Both
at home and in the office, I realized that my phone hardly ever rang.
Nonessential sales calls had virtually stopped. Friends and colleagues
verified that they experienced the same thing. The sensitivity shown by
marketers during that time was extremely heartening. Given our poor
economy, I half expected some companies to go after business as usual, but
that proved not to be the case.
Going forward, I hope we will all remember how important it is to be
sensitive to our customers. Now, more than ever, we need to practice the
principles of CRM both in outgoing and incoming communications. Our
outbound marketing messages need to be reviewed and revised with a bent
toward compassion, as we have no idea how the events of September 11th
have affected those we are contacting. Likewise with inbound
communications. Our world is unsettled now and those who contact our
companies may need extra care from us.
It is also time to revisit some of the communications technologies we
may not have paid as much attention to in the past because we did not see
an urgent need for them. Some of the technologies that immediately come to
mind are video conferencing, Web chat and distance learning, as they are
great ways to communicate essential information without the need to
Finally, I have to tell you that I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of
generosity by corporations within our industry for the victims of the
tragedy. Almost immediately following announcements of the attacks, we
were informed via e-mail that companies within our industry were offering
office space, technology resources and shelter to anyone affected by the
incident. Shortly thereafter, we began to learn about many more
thoughtful, generous companies in the communications industry that were
providing not only huge monetary contributions, but much-needed
communications technologies for rescue workers, victims' families and
corporations that had lost their communications infrastructure. I believe
these companies deserve recognition for their kind efforts and list here
the names of the firms I am aware of (I apologize to those of you that I
am unaware of).
- Plantronics donated 5,000 headsets for the New York relief effort.
- TracFone Wireless donated 100 prepaid wireless phones and thousands of
minutes of air time to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to
ensure clear communication among its network of on-site disaster relief
- ClickArray Networks donated integrated Web infrastructure appliances to
highly congested Web sites to maintain flow of critical information.
- SAP is providing free IT consulting services to businesses affected by the
- Activate provided free Web casting services for public agencies and
nonprofit groups that needed to communicate information.
- PictureTel donated videoconferencing facilities.
- Motorola Inc. brought communications gear to the disaster scene and
shipped thousands of mobile radios, batteries, base stations and other
communications equipment to New York and Washington D.C. and deployed
crisis teams to New York.
- Cisco Systems Inc. pledged to donate $6 million in cash to select aid
- Sprint is donating $500,000 to the American Red Cross and provided 2,300
wireless phones for disaster workers. In addition, its stores in New York
provided free emergency calling and its pay phones in the city were
programmed to allow free outgoing calls.
- Call Sciences, Inc. offered its unified communications service free to
firms affected by the disaster to help them quickly adapt to communicating
in a mobile environment.
- Verizon donated $5 million, pay phones and services.
- ATABOK offered free secure Internet communication and distribution network
to organizations that are rebuilding communications networks.
- GraphOn Corporation has offered free Web-enabling software for displaced
workers to run business-critical server-based UNIX applications from home
or temporary workers using a dial-up connection or the Internet.
In addition to these companies, I also learned of the great efforts of
our industry in the background of what CNN described as "an
unprecedented cooperative and collaborative effort, 'America: A Tribute To
Heroes,' a two-hour, commercial-free simulcast [telethon] to raise funds
for the thousands and thousands of victims and their families who have
suffered from this heinous assault on humanity."
Teleservices agency Convergys became an important participant in the
"America: A Tribute To Heroes" telethon when Ron Schultz,
president of Convergys' Customer Management Group, was contacted by ABC
Television Network President Alex Wallau on Tuesday, September 18th, just
three days before the telethon was to take place. Wallau told Schultz he
had researched to find out which companies might be able to handle the job
of taking what they hoped would be an extraordinary number of phone calls
from donors. He decided Convergys was well qualified. Wallau told Schultz
that the major networks, along with various cable and radio stations, had
agreed to simulcast the telethon. Wallau said that Tom Hanks, Jack
Nicholson, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and many other film and music stars had
agreed to participate. Schultz said Convergys immediately signed on and
mobilized its resources.
Convergys' management team immediately began planning the logistics for
this unprecedented event. Convergys asked for 2,000 volunteers from its
staff, and Schultz said that by the next day they had more than 3,000.
Capital One immediately volunteered its services, and soon a major
long-distance carrier said it would be able to provide the toll-free
number. Upon discussion, the management at Convergys decided that the
sheer scope of the venture would best be served by added capacity, so
another carrier was recruited as well. IBM joined in for the logistics of
setting up the Web page that would serve as an alternate channel to handle
the expected flood of donations. Wallau had implied that there are no
bigger egos to be found than in Hollywood, and if they were willing to
lend themselves to the task, so should American businesses be able to put
aside their rivalries for the sake of the nation. ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC
have underwritten all costs surrounding the show and the United Way has
underwritten all administration costs for the telethon fund. Schultz said
that overall, the consortium that set up, produced and executed the
telethon included 16 companies and 40 executives. Schultz explained that
for three days, the executives held conference calls at 10, 1 and 4
o'clock (as Schultz humorously dubbed the "Dr. Pepper hours" in
reference to the Dr. Pepper catchphrase, 10, 2 and 4) to make sure
everyone was on the same page. Other companies that provided their
in-house call center facilities to help handle the calls included
AT&T, Verizon, WorldCom and Capitol One. In all, there were more than
20,000 workstations set up to take calls. All of the workstations required
Web access, as all of the donor information was entered online to avoid
dealing with different interfaces and systems. When setting up the donor
information interface, Convergys had to take into account that calls were
coming in not just from the U.S., but also from various other countries
and territories, so some of the information fields would vary depending on
from where the donor was calling.
Convergys' teleservices experience proved very beneficial in working
with the carriers to set up the call-routing details, as well as setting
up the credit card acceptance program, the script and the ongoing details
about what to have on the screen to drive calls. The excitement and
tensions were great as the clock ticked toward the Friday evening
broadcast. Major concerns about the magnitude of the event included
worries that the networks handling the calls would be overtaxed and come
down, or interrupt services on 911 networks and local exchanges. By Friday
afternoon, the call-handling and Web infrastructures were in place, which
left precious few hours for testing before the scheduled start of the live
broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
Schultz said that overall, 16 of Convergys' contact centers (15 in the
U.S. and one in Winnipeg, Canada) were involved. Convergys' management
also had to keep in mind that while they were engaged in this enormous
effort (about a third of their resources were brought in on this project),
they still had to tend to the needs of their 24/7 customers.
During the five hours calls were accepted (the broadcast was shown live
in the Eastern and Central time zones and rebroadcast in the Mountain and
Pacific time zones), AT&T and MCI worked together on load balancing
and designating the routing of calls on their networks to the seats set up
to handle them.
Once the program started, Schultz said there was a constant balancing
act happening in the command center, as call spikes were expected when the
toll-free number was on the screen (Schultz said that shortly into the
program they changed it from alphabetical to numerical) so they had to
alternate the phone number with the Web address. In all, Schultz reported,
approximately 8 million calls were attempted across the network, and
approximately 1.5 million were connected. Close to 125,000 calls were
handled in the Convergys centers in just five hours.
While Convergys' Curt Stoll, vice president, Customer Management, was
in the command center, Schultz was taking calls. Schultz said that the
experience was both uplifting and stressful (handling that many calls).
"It was very emotional, hearing the callers' stories, many of them
crying as they related the details of where they were that day, how they
felt about the attack or of friends and loved ones who were missing,"
he said, adding that the callers were from all walks of life, "even
kids pledging their allowances." Schultz said that "a lot of
people here had the feeling of 'What can I do to help?' but were unsure
how to do so. This was a special event and it gave them something to focus
on and a feeling that they were doing something useful. This went for the
people calling in as well, a large percentage of whom were apologizing
that that was all they could give." Schultz added, "The Monday
after was interesting, talking with colleagues who participated; they all
felt the experience was something that went beyond just Friday
I, and my colleagues at TMC, offer our admiration and thanks to those
individuals and companies in our industry that offered their expertise and
services during the U.S.'s time of need. We also salute the firefighters,
police and emergency workers who have risked and lost so much for our