The Net Results

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatI first heard about the Net over 25 years ago from one of my college buddies. He landed a job with a computer mainframe manufacturer and was assigned to work at a university. He regaled me with tales of instantaneously sending text messages across the country and doing so at no cost. “That is fantastic,” I enthused. “How can I get in on this?”

“You can’t,” he replied matter-of-factly, “not unless you’re at a major university or work for a defense contractor.” I was disappointed. My visions of fast and free communications faded as quickly as they had formed. With little more thought or contemplation, I quickly dismissed the Internet as a non-issue, one with limited utility and no future.

That was in 1981. Fast-forward 15 years. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone was talking about the Internet. I was perplexed. How could something so limited be treated like the next big thing? Had something changed to make the Internet a practical reality for the masses? Indeed, things had changed.

I soon obtained a dial-up Internet account. Back then, using the Internet seemed to me to be a waste of time. It took eons to be connected, a bit of luck to stay connected, and patience to accomplish anything useful – not that there was much to do from a business standpoint. When a colleague would get email I would excitedly make note of the address, but would invariably pick up the phone for any communications. As more people became connected, I tried to check email once a day, while checking voicemail multiple times daily. However, it wasn’t long before I was checking email several times a day and voice mail only once or twice. Now I have dedicated Internet access and spend all day connected, receiving and sending hundreds of messages. All too often, I forget to check voicemail!

I recently gave some thought to what my day would be like without email. Indeed, over 95 percent of my work on this magazine is accomplished via email. Articles are submitted electronically, then routed to our proofreaders, passed back to me, and forwarded to production. Design proofs are sent as PDF attachments and most progress reports and requests from our printer are sent via email. Without email, we would be forced to rely on snail mail and overnight delivery services, adding to our costs and lengthening our production cycle. In fact, if I only had the phone and delivery services for communications, I would likely need to hire an assistant just to accomplish the same amount of work. Plus, I would not be nearly as effective or efficient. In short, the Net results are great!

Email is just one aspect of the Internet; the World Wide Web is another part. Once the realm of large companies with big budgets, websites are now common for organizations of all sizes. In many cases, divisions, departments, and even projects within organizations boast their own website. Nowadays, an organization without a website is perceived as second rate or as a non-player. Websites are also a great equalizer, leveling the playing field between major corporations, smaller competitors, and start-ups.

The AnswerStat website (AnswerStat.com) is one of our company’s larger websites, ConnectionsMagazine.com is the biggest and ArticleWeekly.com is third. AnswerStat.com currently boasts 600¬†pages and grows larger as each issue is posted online. It contains every article ever published in AnswerStat magazine, currently standing at over 300. Usage of the website has steadily increased, with new records being set just about every month. Last month we hit another high, with over 22,000 requests – a tenfold increase from a year prior. Most of these visitors come to read our articles, others for our whitepapers, and some for industry news. The site contains 150 Megabytes of data and over 900 links.

Here are some interesting, albeit trivial, statistics: The site has the highest usage between 11 am to noon, with the most visitors on Mondays; Saturday is the slowest day. Most people who find us via a search engine use Google, followed at a distance second by MSN, with Yahoo coming in at number three.

Frequently accessed articles include “Telephone Answering Service Systems,” “What is Telephone Nurse Triage?” the “Dr. Barton Schmitt Interview,” and “Voice Logging: A Call Center Necessity.” Several whitepapers are also frequently requested, including “Web-based Patient Scheduling Software” and “Call Center Certification.”

The most frequently accessed pages are:

While the purpose of the AnswerStat magazine website is to provide useful industry information, other organizations may have different goals. Some merely want to drive as much traffic as they can. These sites are commercial, for-profit creations, which generate revenue from ads. Our banner ads help to cover our costs to run and maintain the site. Other sites are fee-based, intended to be revenue-generating vehicles, while password protected sites are used as a member benefit or to serve customers. Another common goal of websites is promotion and marketing.

One seemingly obvious feature of websites is to provide a means for further communication. Therefore, a “contact us” page is a common element. As such, it is surprising when contact information cannot be found; this is confounding. These organizations should want to interact with customers and prospects, but visitor to these sites can’t call, can’t write, and in some cases can’t even find an email link.

Of course sending a message to an email address found on a website isn’t any guarantee of dialogue. In researching a recent article, I used a search engine and contacted the first 10 companies listed via email. The results were appalling. One site responded within five minutes with a personal response. Two more followed later that day, and a fourth, three days later. But six never responded or even acknowledged receipt of my message. Now it could be that a message or two got lost in cyberspace. That does happen, but certainly not 60% of the time.

In another instance, I sent out a targeted email to over 100 addresses gleaned from printed directories and listings. Again, the results were disconcerting. Six percent were returned because the mailbox was full, eight percent were rejected because the domain name was “unknown,” 14% were refused because the user name “could not be found” and 61% did not respond; only 11% replied.

This all suggests some valuable services that a call center can provide, first to its own organization and then to help others. The first service is to verify that a website is up and running. True, there are software programs that can do this, but who is checking to make sure the programs are actually running? Plus, who is watching for error messages? A second call center service is to periodically send out test email messages to important email addresses. If it bounces back or there is an error, the recipient or technical staff can be contacted to correct the problem. This is especially needed for generic email addresses, such as info@…, sales@…, customerservice@…, and so forth. An even better idea, and the third service opportunity, is to actually access the email sent to these common addresses, responding to it as appropriate or forwarding it to the proper individual.

By expanding your view of a call center to include these and other Internet services, will enhance the standing of your operation and thereby increase “the Net results.”

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the April/May 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]