The Threat of “Do-Not-Mail”

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

The Opportunity to Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

How to Make a Book Cover Design that Flies Off the Shelf!

By Karen Saunders

Karen Saunders-BOOK COVER DESIGN

According to “The Wall Street Journal”, “The average bookstore browser who picks up a book spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds reading the back.” You can’t tell—but you can sell—a book by its cover.” Here are a few powerful book cover design techniques that professional book designers use:

The essential elements for your front cover

The front cover presents your book title, subtitle, and your name. Golden opportunities often overlooked are including endorsements and short testimonials from VIPs.

Think of your cover like a billboard. The best designs communicate the book’s message at a glance, with simple, uncluttered design. Unique, distinctive, bold, colorful graphics work well. But keep the graphic style consistent with the content and personality of the book. Make sure there is a central focal point to your design. Book cover design is a form of packaging—and good packaging attracts buyers to products. Click To Tweet

I recommend using bold, contrasting lettering on the front cover. When choosing colors, consider how these colors will look when converted to black and white so your cover will reproduce well in black and white ads, catalogs, and flyers. Also make sure the font you use for the title is legible from a distance and appropriate for the book’s subject.

Covers that scream “amateur” and have a “made-at-home look” make it difficult to sell your book at all. If you lack talent in this area, seek the services of an experienced book cover designer. A professional designer has the creativity, skills, software, access to stock photography, and printing knowledge that will make your cover stand out above others in the marketplace.

What should you put on your spine

Your name, book title, and publishing company logo show up on the spine. Make sure the information on the spine is clean, uncluttered, and legible. I recommend using bold, contrasting lettering on the spine as well.

Critical items you should include on your back cover

Place the category name in the upper left-hand corner to help bookstores shelve your book properly. Write a headline that clearly addresses who should buy the book. It should be followed by sales copy explaining what the book is about. Then provide a short bulleted list of benefits to readers.

I recommend including no more than three testimonials and endorsements, as well as your bio and photograph. Close to the bottom, put “sales-closer” copy in bold print. Position the price in the lower left corner of the back cover. Also include the 13-digit ISBN number for cataloging and the bar code in the lower right corner (below ISBN number), which stores use for scanning information and price.

Don’t forget to include credits for your book cover’s illustrator, photographer, and/or designer.

What goes on the inside flaps (If Applicable)

  • Sales copy
  • Short “teaser” description of the book
  • Your bio and photo

You now have a good idea of what makes a strong book cover design. Remember, book cover design is a form of packaging—and good packaging attracts buyers to products. That’s why successful organizations spend millions researching and developing the best product packaging possible.

Karen Saunders is the author of the e-book, “Turn Eye Appeal into Buy Appeal: How to easily transform your marketing pieces into dazzling, persuasive sales tools!” Karen has produced thousands of successful marketing projects and has designed the covers of 18 books that have become best-sellers or won awards, including a “Writer’s Digest” Grand Prize winner for the best self-published book in America. Contact her at 888-796-7300.

Politics and Outsourcing

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.

Why Area Codes Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As telephone numbers are assigned, the availability of numbers within an area code diminishes. In order to make sure that there are always numbers available, usage is analyzed, number exhaustion dates are projected, and steps are taken to provide for more numbers.

Although short-term steps can be taken to deal with and respond to this, the long-term solution is either an area code split or an area code overlay. Both methods accomplish the same goal of making more numbers available; however, each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

An area code split means that the geographic region of the area code is divided in two. One part will keep the same area code, while the other section must switch to a new area code (but everyone will retain their seven-digit number). There is a transition period for this, called permissive dialing, in which either the old or new area code can be dialed for the effected section. After a time, mandatory dialing goes into effect. At this point, any call to the new region using the old area code will not go through. These numbers eventually become available for reuse. Splits are not popular with businesses, as it requires printing new stationary, changing all advertising, and many other changes, including reprogramming phone systems. (In rapidly growing areas, to avoid the need to repeat this process in a few years, sometimes a three-way split is made at the same time. This divides an area into three sections, one retaining the original area code and the other two each getting their own new area code.)

An area code overlay means that a new area code is assigned to the same geographic region as the existing code(s), which is running out of numbers. With an overlay, no one needs to change area codes. However, if it is not already implemented, ten-digit dialing becomes required for all calls, even local numbers. All new number assignments are in the new area code. As such, ordering a second line could result in a number with a different area code. Overlays are not popular with most consumers, as they do not want to dial ten digits on every call, nor remember different area codes for friends and neighbors.

If you are in area that is running out of phone numbers, you can expect your local phone company to provide ample notification in the form of letters or bill inserts, giving you time to make the needed plans and adjustments. However, do not expect to be notified of changes outside of your area code. Therefore, if your area code changes, it is up to you to notify those who call you from outside your area. Likewise, others will need to notify you should their area code change.

Dealing with new or changing area codes is not easy or enjoyable, but it is necessary to ensure that there is an adequate supply of numbers for future growth.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is a published author and commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services.