Call Centers Stay Open Through Disaster

Many companies maintained inbound teleservices after the terrorist attacks, but reported extremely low call volumes.

Calls to catalogers J.C. Penney and Fingerhut went through without delay in the afternoon, and a call to Lands’ End was delayed a few minutes because of the popularity of its latest catalog, according to a recorded greeting.

Teleservices agency DialAmerica Marketing Inc., Mahwah, NJ, which employs 10,000 telephone agents, continued its inbound teleservices but suspended all outbound telemarketing operations indefinitely. Outbound telemarketing agents were sent home until further notice, and the company was anticipating low inbound call volumes.

“Our whole company is just in shock,” said Richard Simms, development manager at DialAmerica, who canceled plans to attend the Direct Marketing Association’s Direct Marketing to Business conference in Philadelphia in the wake of the attacks.

The company would restart outbound telemarketing when it becomes apparent consumers are prepared to turn their attention back to personal business, Simms said. DialAmerica has not specified when that time will be.

Representatives for TeleTech Holdings, Denver, and Sitel, Baltimore, said their teleservices agencies were experiencing low inbound call volumes. Mark Anderson, director of community relations at TeleTech, speculated that inbound call volumes will increase over the next few days as consumers check on delivery shipments delayed by the national moratorium on air traffic.

Bill Miklas, senior vice president at Sitel, said many clients chose to shut down inbound services and greet callers with a prerecorded message in light of the tragedy. Sitel first suspended calls to New York and New Jersey and then ceased outbound telemarketing operations altogether an hour and a half after the tragedy.

Sitel wanted to show consideration for consumers and was concerned about tying up phone lines needed for emergency use, Miklas said. The disaster occurred during hours that typically are high-volume telemarketing periods for the East Coast.

In Brooklyn, Multimedia Tutorial Services, a 100-seat teleservices agency, was able to stay open because most of its workers are from the area. However, the agency experienced problems receiving calls because of sporadic phone service in the New York area likely caused by high volumes of call traffic in the local telephone infrastructure, said Multimedia president Barry Reichman.

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