Michael Ferree: What was it like in 1999, on the hills of internet and things going digital, from a technology standpoint in the call center space?
Steve Bederman: Well, back in the 70s when I first entered the space of call centers, you would call off list, working with piles of paper and sales agents would just dial. And you had to make 100 dials a day, that was minimum.
But when we started TouchStar in 1999, it was all on-premise systems. We were the first sequel-based system. You would load data just like you do now – well, it is simpler now -, running multiple calling campaigns, we were working with parent-child campaigns and were trying to blend in a variety of campaigns. And it was actually very robust…
I would tell you that only today, almost 20 years later, that the hosted systems are competitive with the original early sequence-based systems from the late 90s.
Steve Bederman on the Lead Generation World Live Podcast.
The discussion revolved around the technical evolution of call centers and the key role the SaaS plays for this particular industry. Learn about the change from call center to contact center, what role omnichannel played in this and many more interesting subjects.
Watch the full episode here:
Almost everything that is available today was available back then. Obviously not omnichannel. Multichannel? If you wanted to, you could trick the system into having multiple screens…
But as you were talking I’ve realized that I have lived through the whole thing, from the beginning, from the manual dialing and all the way to where we sit today.
Michael: I wonder at what point it all went from the call center industry to the contact center industry? Contact Center is relatively new because now we’re talking about omnichannel, right?
Steve: Now you see the same thing happening with different names. We went from customer service to client advocates or customer success. But initially they were the same thing. Back in the days, the most efficient way of contacting somebody was through voice calls. As additional channels became available, it took a very long time for the centers to want to integrate them. Because they knew what they can get with X amount of dialing, X amount of agents and X amount of data. The money rolls in and you have such a high overhead in keeping this rolling so it becomes really difficult to implement something new.
I’ve always found that the centers are very adverse to change. They like it, they want to look at it, they go to shows get demo… But it has always been difficult to implement in the live environment. And what ends up happening is that call centers stay call centers when they could be contact centers.
Five years ago when I took over a company, the founder of that company asked me why should I implement omnichannel? Because I don’t see anyone adopting it. But today that’s not the case. It seems that all of the sudden, omnichannel is here to stay.
The truth is that call centers actually started to become contact centers in the last few years.
Michael: When we speak of this difficulty in implementation and change, is it generally a tech, training or management problem?
Steve: My experience is that most businesses are more comfortable saying “No”. I would say that the tech people often times don’t want to change because they are set in their routines, their rituals and there certainly is a great deal of job security in that. You have to remember that in this day and age, everybody is using something. In my day, this was new technology, but today, everybody is using something that works. So getting over the hump to where the CEO believes that he can do an implementation without disrupting his environment becomes the real issue.
Certainly training plays a role. But there is another piece, and this is adoption by the agents. The agents are doing their thing too. It took them a certain amount of time to learn a system and they are not welcoming something new. So once you get the CEO involved and he wants it, once you get the tech group involved and they want it, now you’re dealing with the agents and the supervisors who really don’t want it…
Michael: From an innovation standpoint, is text messaging taking over the outbound dial now, from a sales contact center perspective?
Steve: I look at it from a different perspective. Regulation on voice calls are in place because people want it, because people believe that often, what we do is intrusive. We are always fighting this reality that society as a whole prefers not to be contacted. What it really needs to happen is finding other ways to find the audience. And you find the audience in the social media space on Facebook, LinkedIn and so on or chat apps such as WhatsApp, SMS and so on.
What I’m really doing is chasing the target (because it is less of a target than it has ever been) in an environment where I can find them. And then I’m counting on my agent to use that connection with their professional expertise to actually optimize the content. In truth, I am contacting somebody any way I can find them.
I don’t think this is just an outcome of technology, but also an outcome of a shrinking audience that keeps trying to hide from us. But the crazy thing is that it isn’t all sales or marketing, we also look at plenty of support, client service and many more necessary reasons why we need to integrate everything to make it work…
Messaging has been going on for as long as I have been involved with software products but it was very different. But on one channel we had texting and on a separate channel you would take the inbound calls and they would never meet…