'Child of the Industry' Gives ATA Members Tough Love

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PHOENIX -- David Yoho, a call center consultant who spoke at the first American Teleservices Association convention in 1983, returned to the show after 20 years yesterday to point out some of the telemarketing industry's mistakes.


Yoho, 52, who started working phones in 1965 and helped open outbound call centers during the teleservices boom of the late 1970s and early '80s, told attendees of the ATA's 20th Annual Convention and Exhibition here that the industry's recent troubles result from its focus on technology rather than people. Dialers and massive HR departments now take precedent over the telemarketing agents who have contact with the public, he said.


"We've got to remember how and why we became successful," Yoho said. "We were successful because of the people. We were successful without the technology."


Trouble for telemarketing began with the deregulation of long-distance telephone service and the breakup of AT&T, he said. Along with the birth of competition in long-distance service came slamming, the illegal practice of calling consumers and switching their long-distance provider without their permission.


Slamming was among the first developments in telemarketing that upset consumers, Yoho said. Then came the abandoned calls that grew common after the inception of predictive dialers in call centers.


Dialers fooled call center managers into thinking they could hire lower-quality phone agents and get the same or better results because they could reach more people, Yoho said. Now call center managers oversee 30 to 35 agents, often whose names they don't know, whereas they used to handle 15 at most.


Another development that at first seemed positive but had negative consequences was the introduction of executive talent from outside the telemarketing industry, he said. Though this talent was more sophisticated, few of these executives actually worked on the phones in a call center. They could understand the job from an intellectual standpoint, but not a practical one.


Another industry development that had negative consequences was the establishment of public telemarketing companies, Yoho said. Investment bankers made decisions based on the quarterly bottom line and not on good marketing strategy.


"We forgot where we came from," he said. "This industry is all about people. We started placing more value on things than we did on people."


Yoho urged the ATA to form an ethics committee "so when one of our members does something wrong, we throw them out and tell everyone what we did. If you don't do something about it, it's not going to stop."


Technology can help the industry, if viewed as a tool that must be used properly, Yoho said. He said he came to speak at the ATA convention because he was a "child of the industry" and wanted it to succeed.


Though his family wants to place their home number on the national no-call list, Yoho has refused, saying it would be hypocritical. However, he said industry critics weren't entirely wrong and that new regulation is "shaking out a lot of garbage."


"I'm living proof that this industry is not only a viable career but a great career," he said.


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