Our Industry's Image Is Under Siege

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I recently returned from the American Teleservices Association convention in New Orleans. Unlike most industry conventions that I have attended, this event had a sublime intensity. Our industry, more than ever, is on the verge of profound achievement. It also is in flux because of the economy and a national identity crisis.


In the past 20 years, teleservices has grown exponentially in technology and human resources deployment. This has resulted in more profitable use of resources for internal and outsourced call center functionality.


Regionally, call centers provide hundreds of thousands of jobs, millions of dollars in revenue as well as untracked trickle-down economies for fuel, public transportation, hotels, restaurants, air travel, auto repair, clothing ... the list goes on. So where is the social disconnect on our industry perception?


Our national news covers manufacturing and job openings and closings if they number more than 50, but teleservices goes unnoticed, almost as if it were not real. This national perception coupled with the dearth of understanding from a majority of our lawmakers has created a myth of nonchalance: CRM and eCRM services, inbound and outbound telemarketing do not represent real jobs, real careers or a real contribution to our nation's economy. Don't believe me? Look at the legislation on the table to manage outbound telemarketing.


The ATA has done an exemplary job in trying to convey a positive image and to educate our national leaders about the intrinsic value of the customer interaction industry. As crucial as this work is, it is not enough. It is time that we re-evaluate what we can do with the ATA locally and regionally to show the economic, cultural and social value that our industry provides whatever its location.


If we are defined by our industry, it is incumbent upon us, in concert with the ATA, to network and recreate the image of our industry. Grass-roots efforts in education, public awareness and community reinvestment are imperative to initiate this process. Most importantly, we have to be involved with the ATA at the local chapter level. Our association is defined by our involvement.


When a new acquaintance asks what I do for a living, I say I work in teleservices. Typically, this elicits a glazed look of mock despair and a value judgment: "So you are the people who bother me at dinner?" I reply, yes, but we are also the team who helped you load your software, who fixed your cable or satellite TV bill, programmed the IVR for your prescriptions, handled your bank loan, late payment and/or credit upgrade, made the insurance change on your car, routed the emergency call to your doctor, handled your home, office and wireless phone questions, installation and billing issues. We did all that and called you at home to ask whether you would do business with a nationally recognized bank, insurance agency and department store. If this bothers you, please just say, "No, thank you."


It is time that we move with pride to get the message out to our non-industry associates, to invite a local politician or congressman to a career day at our centers. It is time that we educate and inform. The ATA has provided the knowledge and experience to deliver the message in Washington. We need to support its efforts and accentuate them to deliver the message to our individual regions.


When one contemplates the economic effect, technological use and pure accomplishment of our combined talents, it is shocking that we are not in the limelight, but instead pigeonholed and stereotyped. Enough industry profiling, enough offshore erosion of our jobs and client base. Today is the day to change and educate.


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