Dealing with Change

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Change happens. And the rate of change seems to be accelerating. We experience change at home, at work, and in our community. Change happens in our country and around the world.

When considering change, there are three general truths: change is opposed, change is loss, and change is mourned:

Change is opposed: Change represents a deviation from the status quo, from what can be expected, regardless if it is good or bad. Change represents moving from the known to the unknown. Therefore, it is normal that people will oppose change and resist it to whatever degree they can. This might mean clinging to the old ways, lobbying against the change, or rebelling by acting out, offering resistance, or passive-aggressive behavior.

Change is loss: All change means giving up something – even if it is something bad. Many people view change as a “zero-sum-game,” which implies that there are winners and losers. When things change, they assume that someone else must have won and therefore they have lost. This assumption is natural when the change that is taking place was not their idea.

Change is mourned: When something is lost, that loss is lamented and grieved. Sometimes the loss is perceived (it didn’t happen) or potential (it might happen), whereas other times it is real and tangible (it did happen). Regardless, the emotional reaction to that loss is mourning. Just as there are steps to grieving (be it five, seven, or ten), mourning the loss wrought by change will progressively proceed down a similar path.

However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Change can be accepted if it is understood, occurs in small increments, and is within the control of those affected by it. This trio of suggestions may not offer much relief when we’re confronted with global or national upheaval that is foisted upon us, because those situations are not within our control, nor do they generally occur in small doses – though we can seek to understand them. But this advice is helpful when responding to changes in our personal lives, like children marrying and moving on, or work situations, such as layoffs, job cuts, restructuring, office closings, and wage freezes or pay cuts.

In these circumstances, we can make a reasonable and successful effort to accept and even embrace change:

Change that is understood: We can best accept and deal with change if we understand it. That doesn’t mean we need to agree with the reasons for the change, merely that we comprehend why the decision for change was made.

Change in small increments: Change made over time and in small doses has a much better chance of acceptance and becomes more manageable. This gives time for a change to sink in and adjust mentally and emotionally as the change transpires.

Change within control of those affected by it: Whenever people can experience some degree of control over a change, they are more likely to handle it positively. Providing options is significant, as is allowing people to have a degree of input into the change.

A final consideration is directed at those who make decisions for change. Yes, it will be opposed, viewed as loss, and mourned, but you can take steps to greatly minimize those responses by communicating the reasons necessitating the change, making the change in small increments over time, and providing as much control as possible to those who will be most affected by it.

In the end, we might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change. That is how to succeed at dealing with change.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

The Threat of “Do-Not-Mail”

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

Five years ago, the call center industry was confronted head on with the DNC (Do-Not-Call) legislation. As millions signed up to block most telemarketing calls to their home, the pool of prospect numbers shrank dramatically. Since then, the face of outbound calling in the United States has been unalterably changed. Today, DNC registration has surged past the 100 million mark, with more residences now on the list than not. The latest development is that phone numbers on the registry have been made permanent, not expiring after five years as originally planned.

Given the immense popular support of the DNC legislation, politicians – seeing an opportunity to win votes and generate good PR – began introducing all sorts of bills to further regulate and restrict the manner and mode of marketing efforts. One such area of attack is “Do-Not-Mail” legislation.

According to Jerry Cerasale, SVP of Government Affairs for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), there are currently Do-Not-Mail bills pending in eleven states: Hawaii (both in the house and senate), Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Washington. Soon, enough states will have joined this initiative that a tipping point will occur, prompting action at the federal level. (Federal action is not all bad, as it will help usher in a single set of regulations with which to comply, hopefully replacing a patchwork of differing and diverging state requirements.)

According to the USPS 2007 Annual Report, over 74 billion pieces of mail were sent last year. Direct mail was cited by Cerasale to account for about one third of that.

The Do-Not-Mail bills pose a danger to the cost-effective viability of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The USPS management, staff, delivery schedule, and infrastructure all operate at a requisite level of mail volume. The revenues generated from that mail supports the current scale of operation and efficiency at the post office. If revenues drop, then the operational status quo cannot be supported and maintained. The result would be either that prices would need to take a huge jump or services would need to be drastically curtailed. This could include the hours that post offices are open, closing smaller, less used offices, eliminating Saturday delivery, or only delivering mail every other day. (One option is that half the routes would be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the rest would be Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Another option would simply be to pick up and deliver mail every other day, Monday through Friday.)

This is not a far-fetched scenario. Since about one third of all mail is direct mail, as Do-Not-Mail bills are implemented, the number of households to which unsolicited mail could be legally sent would decrease. Imagine a national Do-Not-Mail law with the same popularity and registration level as DNC. A large percentage of direct mail would cease to be sent, the USPS revenues would fall, and huge postage increases and/or dramatic service cuts would be made. Just as DNC permanently changed outbound call centers, Do-Not-Mail would forever and irrevocably affect postal service.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

The Opportunity to Change

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

In recent months there has been a great deal to cogitate about. There was a media preoccupation with the U.S. presidential election, coupled with a focus on the credit crisis, which seemed to worsen every day, eventually turning into a financial crisis and threatening the global economy. Throughout it all, businesses has been left wondering how to best weather the worsening economic storm.

First, consider the presidential election. Although the campaigning and the voting are behind us, the ramifications of new leadership still lie ahead. Will the promises that were made be kept? Will the dangers that were forewarned be avoided? More importantly, what will these actions and nonactions cost? Will the tab be borne directly by businesses or the employees (“taxpayers”) whose work allows those businesses to function? There are many unanswered questions, and it won’t be until well into next year that we will even begin to see the answers emerge. It is correct to say that this is a U.S. election with the questions being USA-centric, but the ripple effect will be felt around the world, which in many respects is holding its collective breath, waiting for what is to come. Things are changing—and within those changes reside great opportunities. Click To Tweet

With this uncertainty, however, comes the opportunity to prepare for the future. In anticipation of these changes, optimize your business now: tweak polices; fine-tune procedures; review hiring practices and employment structures; and pay down or eliminate debt. Then you will be prepared to capitalize on whatever changes occur, whenever they occur. We all know that change is coming; those who are ready will be positioned to capitalize on it.

Next is the credit crunch.This hits hard those businesses that rely on credit to make their operations function—along with those companies and consumers who do business with them, which means just about everyone else. Having debt is more worrisome than not having debt, but we are all hurt when lending institutions are afraid to or unable to loan. This tight credit market has sparked overall financial fears, which portends economic woes. Unemployment is increasing (which, although good for those who want to hire, is bad for those wanting to be hired); inflation is also on the rise (which is a concern for just about everybody). From a practical standpoint, the steps already taken to shore up the financial markets should be sufficient to work. Unfortunately, the media—which excels at proliferating the negative—is effectively propagating unsubstantiated pessimism. That will serve to hold markets down and stymie growth until sound thinking resumes, thereby restoring balance.

Until that happens, for those who have access to money there is great opportunity to make sound purchases and wise investments. You might opt to replace older, business-limiting equipment, or you could acquire new technologies that will enable to you to offer new services or capabilities. Either way, you are establishing an infrastructure that is future-focused and poised for growth.

For those who wish to invest money, the current conditions present an ideal opportunity. Follow the simple yet astute investment advice to buy low and sell high. Now is a great time to find good deals, as many people are panic selling; they bought high and are selling low—a poor investment strategy.

The next consideration emanates from a series of customer service experiences I have recently encountered. After upgrading the operating system on one of my computers, I spent hours on the phone with a technical support group trying to resolve all of the driver issues and unexpected side effects. After multiple calls and callbacks, there are still pending issues. Because of communication challenges (resulting from the agents’ poor English-language skills and subpar audio connections) the calls lasted much longer than they should have. I am left wondering how much money is really saved when a call takes several times longer to resolve than it would have if effective communications were not a limiting factor.

I also subscribe to another service that provides phone support to resolve computer issues. The annual fee is shockingly low—and the service I receive matches correspondingly. I find myself putting up with many problems because the hassle of trying to report them and frustration in communicating with the agents exceeds my aggravation over the problem. I would gladly pay ten times as much for good service; in fact, I might pay twenty times as much for superior service. As it stands now, I don’t even plan to renew my subscription.

In another situation, I repeatedly tried to subscribe to an online service, only to receive an error message. The problem was apparently common enough that the message included a link to “report” it. Unfortunately, the link landed me in a generic troubleshooting section. Nowhere was there a means to resolve the problem. This is ironic given the fact that I was trying to pay them money. Additionally, since this subscription was for a service to protect my computer, I am now questioning how reliable the service would be since that they can’t make the subscribe function work.

There are examples in many other areas as well. I have found the practice of medicine to be similarly frustrating. I tend to avoid my doctor’s office because the most likely outcome is a series of bills from multiple sources and no tangible diagnosis. Aside from addressing good health, another issue is billing. I currently have a medical bill that is almost a year old. I am anxious to pay my portion of it, but despite my repeated calls I cannot convince them to submit it to the right insurance company. I’m about ready to pay the full amount, just so I don’t have it hanging over my head.

This solution of pursuing the “path of least resistance” is taken more and more often by more and more people because customer service is so poor and the likelihood of a satisfactory solution is so low. Consider how often you put up with an inferior or broken product because it is too much of a hassle to seek a resolution. How often do you pay a bill because it will take too long to correct an error?

In another area, I have missing credits and questions about the “rewards” program at my office supply store, but no easy way to get them answered or resolved. This pushes me to seriously consider their competitor, something that I wouldn’t otherwise contemplate.

Although I could provide more examples, I won’t. The point is that each of these instances demonstrates a negative change from how service used to be. Each change presents a great opportunity for anyone with the insight to divine a superior solution and offer it in a compelling way to the guilty parties.

Yes, things are changing—and within those changes reside great opportunities. Are you ready to capitalize on them and come out a winner amongst this deluge of change?

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.media.

Let’s Watch a Movie

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

When someone says, “Let’s watch a movie,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you immediately think of a group outing to go watch the latest flick? Perhaps your preferred viewing venue is the more cozy environment of your living room couch. Could it be that watching a movie is a solitary experience for you, one that is enjoyed parked in front of your laptop computer Whatever it may be, there are a multitude of options for watching a movie – and a diverse list of business enterprises that support those variations. Consider the following options for watching a movie:

  • Drive-in Movie Theaters: This is not likely where you would start your list, but, yes, drive-in movie theaters still exist – and there is resurgence of interest. According to drive-ins.com, there are 520 drive-ins operating in the United States today.
  • Single-Screen Theaters: The traditional theater with a solitary screen is also waning in popularity and in numbers, but it is not a thing of the past either. Close to where I live is a one-screen theater that has been making a go of it – and attendance is increasing.
  • Multiplex Theaters: The multiscreen theater is the premier venue for the off-site (that is, away from home) movie-viewing experience. These theaters offer multiple titles and varied viewing times. For major openings, they can show films simultaneously on multiple screens and with staggered starting times.
  • Network TV: This is the least costly option for those willing to wait to watch a particular movie. With an antenna, viewing is essentially free, sans the electricity to operate the TV. If you have cable or satellite, the effective cost goes up, but still there is no incremental per movie charge.
  • Movie Channels: Some movie channels are included as part of a cable/satellite subscriber package, whereas others require a monthly subscription. These are great ways to watch current and classic movies – and everything in between – providing you are willing to scrutinize the programming schedule for desired titles.
  • Pay-per-View: This is generally available on cable/satellite systems, allowing for the viewing of movies (limited to what is offered and when it is showing); there is a charge for each viewing. Essentially this model combines the scheduling and admission elements of a theater with the comfort of home viewing.
  • Video-on-Demand: On-demand is pay-per-view without the schedule. Start a movie at any time, on any day.
  • Local Video Rental Store: Video rental stores function like a library for movies – except that there is a cost for each rental. Most stores are fairly limited in their titles and may stock few copies.
  • Mail Rental: Netflix (90,000 titles) led the way with this option, with Blockbuster (80,000 titles) and others following. This service allows customers to order a movie online and have it mailed to their home, often by the next day. Watch the movie and mail it back – with free mailing. Although advance planning is required, it is less hassle than driving to a video rental – twice – and there are many more titles and copies available.
  • Download Rental and Streaming Video: This is much like the video-on-demand option, but it utilizes the Internet for distribution (think YouTube, with high quality, for movies). Currently Netflix and Movielink (acquired by Blockbuster) each have 6,000 titles available for download.

What does all this mean? Plenty – and it can apply to any industry or business.

The movie distribution business is highly fragmented with many competing variations. Each of the options listed has a threatened existence. Some of them are arguably obsolete, requiring innovation and determination to remain viable. Many are feeling competitive pressures that endanger their existence. For those on the leading edge, technological advances could render them obsolete in an incredibly short time.

Let’s revisit the list again, with these issues in mind:

  • Drive-in Movie Theaters: This is an obsolete option. Those that have survived have adjusted their business model and reinvented themselves to make it work. Over 500 have done just that.
  • Single-Screen Theater: This option is one step removed from the drive-in. Those that have stayed open have figured out how to market themselves and fit into a desirable, sustainable niche.
  • Multiplex Theater: The leader among off-site movie viewing, and the conventional business model, the multiplex is facing increased and intense pressure from the remaining options on the list (except for network TV).
  • Network TV: This is the last distribution node to obtain a movie after its release; therefore, it is typically the last option we consider. How would you like to be least preferred option and garnering decreased interest? Enough said.
  • Movie Channels: An option for many, but increasingly viewed as limited in comparison to the next five options.
  • Pay-per-View: You get to see movies closer to their release date then the preceding options, but the titles are quite limited in selection and somewhat restricted by schedule.
  • Video-on-Demand: This solves the scheduling restriction of pay-per-view, but still suffers from limited titles.
  • Local Video Rental Store: Who wants the hassle of going to a video store to rent a movie, especially without knowing if your title will be available? Succinctly put, this model is rapidly approaching obsolesce. This is precisely why Blockbuster ventured into rental via mail.
  • Mail Rental: Netflix changed how we rent movies, but this model will quickly fade. Downloading movies will soon make this option passé.
  • Download Rental and Streaming Video: This remaining option seemingly has no immediate threats, but it is a technology-based solution and technology changes rapidly. As such, a pervasive threat to this business model could erupt at any moment and with little or no warning.

Many industries are likewise fragmented. Some businesses are stuck in the past. These companies, mired in obsolescence, are still in business because they have done what the drive-ins and single screen theaters have done: somehow they reinvented themselves, found a niche, and marketed effectively.

Then there are organizations that are trapped in their business plan, traveling down a narrowing road. Perhaps their distinctive advantage is their staff, but they can’t hire enough qualified employees. Maybe they have staked their future on an uncertain and questionable strategy. Others are loaded with technology, but the next competitive technological innovation could render all that they have as something that no one wants.

This analysis is not unique to movie distribution. It exists in every business, in every industry, and in every economy. Some will survive and some won’t. The key is taking what you have and using it to your advantage, perhaps in a way that no one else has thought of. It could be your location, your staff, your technology, your niche, your management team, your leadership, or something else. If you have none of these options, then perhaps it’s time to morph into another line of business, be it within or apart from the industry in which you are currently a part of. Regardless of your situation, with determination and innovation there’s always the opportunity to reinvent your business. The one solution that won’t work is to do nothing at all.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Politics and Outsourcing

Peter DeHaan: Author, Blogger, Publisher, EditorBy Peter DeHaan

It seems that “outsourcing” has been politicized. Once a word becomes politicized, as outsourcing was in the 2004 United States presidential campaign, all reasonable thinking stops and logic becomes, well, illogical.

Rhetoric steps in and common sense is relegated to lesser important things. Think of any major societal issue and it has likely been politicized by a one word rallying cry. Regardless of what the word is, or it’s original and true intent, proponents hold it up high as a emblem of virtue and all that is good, while opponents decry it as indicative of evil, being characteristic of what is wrong in the world today.

Twenty years ago, the word telemarketing was coined to put an apt and descriptive label on a nascent and promising industry; one that used the telephone to cost-effectively promote products, better service customers, and provide companies with a competitive advantage. But then that simple and benign word became politicized and now few people use it.

Those who still do telemarketing, have long since adopted a less emotionally-laden label for fear of verbal retaliation or psychological retribution. While those who vehemently object to telemarketing’s practice, wield that word as an offensive slur to convey their frustration against all they find unacceptable in businesses. In short, it is no longer politically correct to engage in telemarketing. A word is a powerful thing.

So, emotion and rhetoric aside, what is outsourcing? In it’s broadest, most general sense, outsourcing is having another company to do work for you that you could do yourself. This occurs at both the business level and a personal level – and more frequently then you might think.

Some common business outsourcing examples include: payroll, bookkeeping, human resources, building maintenance, cleaning services, telecommunications management, public relations, executive search, tax accounting, information technology, and, call processing. On the personal level, we outsource as well.

Consider the dry cleaners, car washes, tax accountants, lawn services, car mechanics, maid services, pizza delivery, catering, and so forth. In fact, anyone who provides a service is actually an outsourcer and we are all, in one way or another, consumers of outsourcing services.

Does this imply that outsourcing is a manifestation of laziness? Although that may be the case in some limited instances, the far more common and general reasoning is that outsourcing can reduce costs, save time, or result in higher quality. Sometimes outsourcers can provide two of these results or maybe even all three.

Another oft-stated justification for outsourcing is that it allows organizations to offload nonessential tasks, thereby permitting them to focus limited resources (which is a reality for every organization limited resources) on their core competencies. Some organizations have found it beneficial to even outsource their core competencies. Why not if it can be done cheaper, better, or faster by a specialist?

Therefore, we can correctly conclude that the entire service sector provides outsourcing services, that we all use these outsourcing services, and that there are many wise and beneficial business reasons to do so. So why all the flap over something that is so common and so pervasive?

Although the word “outsourcing” is the moniker that has been villainized, this is a grossly unfair and ignorant generalization. What the focus and outcry is truly about is offshore call center outsourcing that is done badly. Offshoring is not outsourcing, but rather a small subset of it.

In fact, the majority of call center outsourcing today is reportedly intra-country, that is, it is companies located within the United States, outsourcing call processing work to call centers located within the United States. Yes, there is an increasing trend towards offshore call center outsourcing, and it may one day represent the majority, but for the near future it embodies a minority of call center outsourcing, where it is projected to remain for the next several years.

This is in no way to imply that I am against offshore call center outsourcing per se. I am, in fact, a hard-core, free-market, laissez-faire idealist. At least until my phone call is answered by someone who I can’t understand, be it due to a heavy accent or words that are used in a way that simply doesn’t make sense. While such a result may be indicative (but not necessarily so) that a call center is located outside the country, it is critical to point out that the converse should not be assumed either. That is, every agent who speaks with clear and comprehensible English, is not automatically US-based.

Just as lucid communication can occur with agents in other countries, severe communication hurdles can exist with agents located within our borders. The original and true frustration was not with the location of the agent, but quite simply with their ability to effective communicate in understandable and conversational English.

Politicians saw this frustration as a safe and universally acceptable cause on which to campaign. They made the false assumption that it was a location issue, put a wrong label on it (outsourcing versus offshoring), vilified it, and promoted themselves as the ones who could solve the problem they defined. That’s politics!

The next step was to feed the fire by adding fuel to their argument. National security issues were brought into play, as was personal privacy concerns, since information was leaving the country to reside in a foreign-located database. The exporting of jobs was denounced, as was the harm that this was causing to the U.S. economy.

By the time the politicians were done, “outsourcing” (or more correctly, offshore call center outsourcing) was portrayed as a threat to all that is American. It was the enemy and it had to be stopped. Rhetoric is persuasive and as such, a word becomes a powerful thing.

The results of all this are sad, but predictable. First, people learned that is was okay to be intolerant of agents who spoke with an accent or hadn’t yet fully mastered the English vernacular. Unfortunately, some people went beyond intolerance, with their attitudes spilling over into hatred, bigotry, and abhorrence. Second, we were taught that any form of call center outsourcing – in fact, all outsourcing – is an increasingly unpatriotic and unacceptable act.

Lastly, and most dangerously for the industry, is a spate of bills that were introduced on the national, state, and local level to control, limit, or restrict the inbound call center industry. Although the intent of these bills are ostensibly focused against the offshore call center, their broad and inclusive language is all-encompassing, covering all call center outsourcers (remember that U.S.-based call centers handle the majority of US outsourcing work) and has widespread ramifications for the in-house call center as well.

Less anyone misunderstand what I am saying or the way in which I communicated it:

  • Outsourcing is not synonymous with offshoring.
  • I support outsourcing as good, beneficial, and necessary and I am passionate about the importance and value it.
  • Offshore outsourcing is here, it is real, and the marketplace should decide its position in the global economy.
  • The real enemy is legislation, which if left unchecked will forever and detrimentally change the entire call center industry, be it outbound or inbound, outsource, or in-house, as well as offshore.
  • I love the USA – it’s the politicians that drive me crazy!

Don’t let the politicians skew your understanding of outsourcing.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

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