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Insights, hints, tips, and resources for service and support professionals, given in the spirit of sharing information in a quick-read, content-rich newsletter. "People Serving People in the Service and Support Profession."

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  In this issue

Call Centers and Help Desks in a disaster

Tele-seminars and events


Job Openings & Candidates

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The 6th Annual Government Customer Support Conference and Expo
May 7-9, 2007
Alexandria, VA

9th Annual Help Desk Professionals Conference and Expo
October 22-24, 2006
Phoenix, AZ




Hello from Seattle - "Storm Central"

You haven't seen eSharings in a short while because we have been buried in snow with wind and extreme flooding in Seattle and outlying areas, plus we took some time off for the holidays.

In this issue of eSharings, I wanted to share my view about how indispensable Call Centers and Help Desks are during storms. If not for them, we wouldn't have these valuable communication points to access necessary information.

The impact on help desks and call centers who are dealing with the pressure of a blow like this to any city when such disasters happen can be indescribable. The following is a brief summary about what has been happening in the Northwest over the past two months and what our support centers responded to in an area where these sorts of extreme issues rarely ever occur.

  • No power for over one million people in Seattle and outlying areas.

  • Few to no phones.  Cell phones could only be used for emergency calls, if at all.

  • 911 had busy signals for days on end.

  • Innumerable people without heat and water.

  • Limited or no fuel - gas stations closed or with two hour waiting lines.

  • Flooding, downed trees and power lines blocking roads, side streets and major arterials. In many cases leaving residents stranded with no way to get food and supplies.

  • Seattle Times could not print newspapers - no power for the printers.

  • Temperatures ranging from 20-30 degrees.

  • Police and firefighters were going door to door evacuating residents.

  • In some cities the water was over chest deep.

Floods: People were evacuated from their homes and many stranded. They said this could be the hundred-year flood.  In some locations only the roofs of homes and farms could be seen in the high waters.

Snow: The snow was some of the heaviest seen in years and temperatures were in the twenties.  People left their cars alongside the roads and walked home, sometimes over 10 miles in the freezing cold.  Seattle isn't prepared for these sorts of weather conditions.

Wind: Seattle didn't want to stop with just a snow storm but went from floods to snow and then wind that was beyond anything that has hit the Northwest in decades.  The winds were 60-75 miles per hour with gusts of 110. 

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Travel: Eighteen wheel semi-trucks were driving on residential side streets to get to stores to deliver necessary food and other supplies.  Rescue vehicles were going around picking up people who needed to have dialysis or other medical conditions. Main arterials were blocked and they used any avenue they could to get supplies delivered and reach people in need.

Housing: We didn't have power for nine days and no phone, internet or cable for 15 days.  The warmest we got our house was 48 degrees inside with the average temperature around 40.  You could see your breath inside the house! 

Communication: Most people's connection to the disaster was an AM radio station, KOMO 1000. They set up a neighbor-to-neighbor helpline 7 / 24. Total strangers were opening their homes to others to offer a warm place to sleep.  Schools, churches, and community centers opened their doors so people could have a warm place to go.  It was amazing what this station's call center team members did for the community. 

Patience wears thin: When people called in to KOMO and complained about the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) Call Center I almost lost it.  They were angry because they couldn't reach a live person.  Consider that over one million people were without power and how many people were calling. They would demand to know when they would get their power on and say the call center should be able to tell them and reach a "live" person.  Give me a break!  Providing staffing and technology to handle this sort of call volume with only a couple days notice is unreasonable.

Power: There was a period of time when the winds were at hurricane speeds and they asked all utility workers to be on standby.  There was too much risk of losing lives. It is understandable that people want to know estimated times to get their utilities back but they should appreciate that the call centers were doing everything they could with limited resources and often no information.

911: People complained if they got a busy signal calling 911.  People were calling 911 to find out when the power was going to be on in their area and using 911 for other non-emergencies.  And they wondered why the lines were busy?

Wireless: Cell towers were down and lines were so jammed that most cell phones didn't work either.  The cell phone call centers were getting an insurgence of calls.  Comcast told us they were routing calls to Canada and other local centers to respond to calls.

Restoring power: PSE had on its property 50 additional crews (double what is normally on the property for day-to-day work). Others were on the way. At the beginning of the restoration efforts, more than 185 two- and four-person crews were mobilized to begin the repairs. By Wednesday, December 20, a total of 500 crews, or 2,000 people, from as far away as Kansas, Utah, Missouri, Southern California and British Columbia were making progress restoring power, repairing transmission lines, re-energizing substations and going from neighborhood to neighborhood restoring outages.
[Source: http://www.pse.com/InsidePSE/serviceAlert.aspx

Can you imagine the pressure on the call center people, help desks, and SWAT centers to communicate and coordinate all of these efforts?  These service and support people should be commended for their work efforts.

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Stress Management Under These Conditions

Were these storms stressful? YES!  Was it hard to cope at times.  ABSOLUTELY!  Did people become difficult? YES!  You get pretty grouchy - you're cold, have little to no access to warm food, can't sleep well, have limited information, and it makes you irritable.  And I was certainly one of those who was getting irritable near the end.

It takes some pretty extraordinary people to be on the end of the service and support lines. Every company with a call center and a help desk had to deal with severe conditions, stressed and short-tempered customers, high call volumes and too few staff - so what do you do in times like this?

  1. Accept the situation for what it is.  You can't change the consequences of the storm, but you can help others in dealing with the situation.  Your skills in compassion and empathy are essential here.  Patience becomes one of your greatest assets.

  2. Do the best you can with the tools and resources available and always be truthful to the callers. If you can't give an actual estimated up time - suggest they go someplace warm and get a drink, calm down, and call back in a couple of days. (Just kidding.) Actually, answering callers questions openly, honestly and explaining why you can or can't help them and what you can do for them  goes a long ways.  Just be truthful. A little humor helps too. 

    We called one of our providers and the rep said that no outages had been reported in our area and they needed to schedule a service call.  We knew this wasn't possible.  When we called back two other times, we got a different answer from each representative.  It turns out the information was in the database and there were 300 people with an outage.  The reps may not have been trained how to use their resources properly and were simply sharing their best guess.  I would have rather had a more truthful answer than a guess.

  3. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake - we all make mistakes under times of duress.  No one is perfect and if you beat yourself up for the way you handled a call you won't feel good and it could flow over to the next caller who is likely already irritable too.  Reassure yourself and offer encouragement to your peers on what a good job they are doing.  Time and again give yourself positive affirmations.

  4. Avoid thinking negative thoughts about others.  Understand the callers situation and be companionate and empathetic.  When all else fails, put them on hold and scream, then pick up the call again in that kind voice you always use with customers. As we know, they are reaching out to for reassurance and assistance.

    A tool to gain composure and patience I use is to imagine the caller as a parent or grandparent and think how they would want to be treated. Try pretending you are speaking to your grandparent.  It's easier to be more understanding if you put things into a context that makes you relate to the caller more easily.

  5. Offer a kind word, share a smile, or deliver a hot chocolate or coffee to someone in the office - boss, peer, subordinate, janitor, security guard, or anyone that looks like they need some kindness or a smile put on their face.  Try to leave your callers feeling better than before they called.  Humor and empathy both work well to get these results.

Other things to think about in a disaster

  • Was getting to work an issue? What would you do next time?

  • Basic needs: Food, water, heat, plumbing, etc. How can you be sure you have enough supplies for you and your family  to last xx number of days?

  • Lost wages because of a "Act of God" disaster an issue? Don't forget the long term effect of it.

  • Was your home damaged? The building where you work destroyed?

  • Did you lose any data because of power outages? Even little things like this can be important. 

  • Do you work from home? Were your files backed up?

  • If you are a virtual rep did you have phone service and Internet access? What can you do to insure you are available to the customers?

  • Did you plan for a disaster like this and if so was it enough? Was there enough warning? 

  • Did your company plan for this sort of disaster? Are there remote locations that calls can be overflowed to and if so do the reps in the other locations have access to your customer's profiles and other necessary information.

  • Does your company outsource it's support and if so how did they handle it? Did it hurt your companies image if they didn't?  Were they prepared to handle the calls and did they understand your customers expectations?  

  • Do you really know what it's like to be in a situation similar to Seattle's Wind-Rain-Floods-Snow-Ice, Hurricane Katrina or Colorado's recent massive snow storms?

Government offices:

  • Police have to watch for vandals and deal with accidents, traffic, and maintain law and order. 

  • Fire departments have to deal with water freezing or lack of water, fires from electricity lines being down and igniting houses or trees and emergency health care situations.

  • Army/National Guard may be called in to assist in many facets but may not be able to get to everyone right away.

  • Remember to only use the 911 system when you are truly in a life threatening situation. 

You never know what sort of disaster will hit and some you would least suspect (Austin shuts downtown after dead birds discovered - January 8th, 2007).

Can things be done better in situations like these? Absolutely!  But no matter how bad things are, those on the frontline answering the phones should be appreciated for their incredible work efforts and commitment to the customers.  As I have always said, the help desk and call centers are indispensable corporate assets!

Thank you for being one of our subscribers. Our goal is to help you to make 2007 a great  year. Please write to me with any questions or observations and I will get back to you as quickly as I can. We would love to hear some of your stories too.

I wish you a wonderful year in 2007!

Kind regards

Ivy Meadors
High Tech High Touch Solutions

www.ivymeadors.com or www.hthts.com



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Attend the 6th Annual Government Customer Support Conference and Expo

Designed Specifically for Government Customer Service and Support Centers Call Centers, Contact Centers, Service Desks, Help Desk, and Web Service Portals.


This section lists random tele-seminars, events and other applicable educational opportunities.  Vendor product and services promotional events will only be listed for those who are sponsors of our conferences.

High Tech High Touch Solutions is now offering free tele-seminars presented by speakers of our upcoming conferences.  Our first featured speaker is Peggy Gritt, someone who knows how to load a session full of immediate take-away material.


Peggy Gritt, Founder of the VoIP Institute, presents:
"Mitigating Business Risks with VoIP"


Date: February 1st, 2007

Time: 10:00 (pacific time) / 1:00 (eastern time)

Call in number: (563) 843-5600  access code 724326#

Cost: FREE


Please RSVP: Simply email solutions4u@hthts.com to say you will be joining us. There are a very limited number of lines and this session will fill up fast.


The first 100 people who RSVP and call-in will receive a copy of my personal 750 weblinks of incredible resources, a $197 value.  You must attend the call to receive the special offer.


What you'll learn:

Get ready to do an about face on your current thinking about VoIP. The VoIP Institute's founder, Peggy Gritt, will give a refreshing presentation on VoIP and the standard Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). She will cover how SIP and VoIP are more reliable, offer greater disaster recovery options and are possibly MORE secure than your previous voice communications systems.

The presentation will be aimed at all levels and offer technical and business level advice for these important VoIP design considerations. Ms. Gritt has 17 years background in voice and data convergence and has spoken to groups worldwide regarding multi-channel contact center, VoIP and SIP technologies.

Meet our speaker:

Peggy Gritt has over 17 years experience in the multi-channel contact center and VoIP technologies – she spent ten years launching products at Interactive Intelligence including the first multi-channel ACD system in 97 and the first software-based IP PBX in 2002.

Peggy has spoken to groups internationally and has traveled to over 20 countries meeting with and presenting to businesses and contact centers. As founder and CEO of the VoIP Institute, she is focused on accurate and educational information for the user of VoIP technology. She provides workshops on requirements planning, security, and VoIP technology basics for professionals. Her focus on the user experience means a non-biased look at the state of the technology, deployment types and the effects on your company’s operations.


This section includes various seminars, meetings, special offers, etc. from non-profit associations applicable to our industry.

Free Salary Survey from Association of Support Professionals

Are your tech support salaries in line with current industry standards? To help provide you with data to answer this critical question, the Association of Support Professionals (ASP) conducts an annual support salary survey that provides the industry's most detailed look at support compensation trends.

The ASP survey, to be published in February, supplies comparative salary benchmarks by job title (seven categories), company size, product price, and employee skill level. We invite you to help with this project by filling out this brief questionnaire. In return, we'll send you a complimentary copy of the final report as soon as it's published.

As always, individual survey responses will be kept strictly confidential.

You can fill out the survey online at: http://www.asponline.com/07salaryQ.html

If you'd like to review last year's survey, incidentally, a free copy is available on the ASP web site http://www.asponline.com/06salary.pdf

Many thanks for your help!

Jeffrey Tarter

Executive Director

Association of Support Professionals

Mark your calendars now for the 9th Annual Help Desk Professionals Conference

October 22-24, 2007 in Phoenix Arizona at the incredible Pointe South Mountain Resort

Register now and save $300.


Job Opening:

Seattle, Washington: Director of Support

Manage call center managers as Director of Support for company that provides integrated services and support to the wireless industry. Base comp is in the $95K plus range, with bonus plan and benefits.

The support organization has grown substantially and requires a full-time steward to meet the needs of clients. The Director of Support will provide direction, coaching and support to call center managers at multiple locations. The Director will be charged with the following responsibilities: managing all aspects of staff performance; defining internal metrics to measure support effectiveness and customer satisfaction; ensuring clients' KPIs are met across multiple business lines; identifying opportunities for operational improvements; and working closely with individual managers on optimizing center performance. The Director will be charged with the following KPIs: revenue growth, profitability across multiple lines of business, quality of service for customers and employee satisfaction.

This position calls for a seasoned professional with 8+ years of call center experience at the management level and 2-5 years at the director level. The role requires experience and success in managing managers and a firm understanding of financial call center metrics. Telecom or wireless experience would be a plus as would experience in "for profit" support or managing "cost center" call centers along with running a tight shift and meeting financial metrics. A background in growing smaller centers into larger ones would be an asset. Managing multiple call types or lines of business is preferable. Strong leadership ability coupled with a "can-do" attitude. Confident and decisive in nature.

Contact: Mona Valdok by email at monav@parkerservices.com or call 206-652-1509 and tell her you read about the position in eSharings.


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Be an Event Sponsor Government Customer Support Conference 2007


Click for more info or email GCS@hthts.com.


Association of Support Professionals

BMC Software

Brad Worthley Intl.

Call Center School




Customer Service Group


DEMA Education

Driva Solutions

Fed Tech Magazine

Government Customer Support Community of Practice

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HDI Capital Area Local Chapter


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RightNow Technologies


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