Tag Archives: business

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.

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.

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

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

This fall, the thoughts of school age children everywhere are focused on returning to school. Some approach the new school year with dread and trepidation, a few with excitement and high expectation, and others with inevitable acquiescence and acceptance. Regardless of their personal perspective, many will be faced with the traditional writing assignment, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

What I did, or more precisely, what my family did on our summer vacation is not noteworthy or unique as far as family vacations go. True, the time together as a family was special and the memories will last forever. The time of bonding, through both the high points and the not so high points, fostered a deepened understanding of each other and a renewed respect for our individuality and divergent personalities. My daughter summed it up succinctly, “Ya know, this is kinda like a once-in-a-lifetime thing!”

Family issues aside, it was also a vacation for me. It is one thing to take a vacation from the office; it is another to take a vacation from work. Taking a vacation from the office means you aren’t there physically, but you’re still there mentally. Taking a vacation from work, means leaving work behind completely. That was my goal; one that I accomplished with a considerable degree of success. Nevertheless, our vacation experience did bring to mind some workplace lessons.

Our vacation was a pull-out-all-the-stops, eight-day adventure at Disney World. The Disney experience and their unique vision for achieving high “customer satisfaction” is legendary and has been the focus of many a discourse. While true and correct, customer satisfaction was not the central theme of the three insights I gained.

Change is not only inevitable, it is also necessary and must be ongoing: At each of the parks we visited, we would see signs of change. At Epcot Center, one whole attraction was being demolished; at MGM, shows present just a few months prior were nowhere to be seen, replaced with newer, fresher alternatives. The Magic Kingdom had one area boarded up with the simple explanation, “New attraction under development.” Some rides were shut down for “maintenance,” other areas were being expanded, and new developments were being squeezed in where space permitted.

Even Disney, with its reputation as the premier family entertainment company in the world, is continually reinventing itself. If this is necessary for them, then it is all the more true for us.

If you’re not making an ongoing effort to keep your business fresh and moving forward, then the rest of the industry is going to pass you by; don’t get left behind. The moment you assume that you have everything in place could signal the beginning of the end for your organization.

Nothing lasts forever – no matter how good the idea: Several standard fixtures of the Magic Kingdom had been impacted by the march of time. The ride 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was no more; the lagoon still exists, but the attraction has disappeared. The Tiki-Hut was “Under New Management,” and “It’s a Small World” was, well, smaller – the portion of the ride outside of the building had been eliminated.

Even Disney, which has been thus far successful in re-releasing its animated movies every seven years for a new batch of kids, knows that no attraction will draw visitors and hold their interest perpetually. The same is true for all organizations.

No innovation will last forever, no paradigm is without end, and no idea cannot be bettered. Today’s revolutionary, earth-shattering development is nothing more than tomorrow’s status quo.

Staffing is key: Despite all of the technology, all of the marketing, and all of the organization and structure, the key to Disney World’s ongoing success resides with its people. As I watched Disney employees in action, their performances (remember, all Disney employees are “cast members”) were on a higher level than any other organization I’ve encountered. Certainly they outshone everyone at the airline, which brought us to Orlando, as well as the employees of the shuttle bus company, which took us from airport to hotel, but they also outpaced those at other theme parks. How? Quite simply, they acted as though they enjoyed their work. They appeared to be saying, “I have a choice on how I do my job. I can do what’s minimally required to get by or with little more than an attitude change, I can make my job really enjoyable – for both myself and those around me.” I assume their training played a big part in this, but I also saw many of them switch jobs frequently and conclude that variety and variation played a key role as well.

These are lessons we can apply directly to our businesses. Yes, we all advocate training, but do we really practice what we preach? Do we provide ongoing training, as well as coaching, mentoring, and career-path development? All are required if we are to have employees who outshine the competition. In short, do we merely give our staff enough training and support to get by or do we give them enough training so they can excel?

Conclusion: It is highly unlikely that your organization will ever achieve the status or prominence of Disney. However, we can all aspire to improve our business and take it to the next level. Rather than be overwhelmed by the formative challenge that the Disney example sets and the enormity of the task before us, we are well advised to start small and put things in proper perspective by recalling the humble words of Walt Disney himself when he stated, “Remember, it all started with a mouse.”


Key Lessons

  • Change is Inevitable and Necessary: Make an ongoing effort to keep your business fresh and moving forward.
  • Nothing Lasts Forever: The edge your business enjoys today will not sustain it tomorrow.
  • Your Staff is the Key: Give your employees the training needed to excel.

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.