The New Communications Company

By Roy Emmett

It’s a good time to take stock of what the business world needs, so that you can provide for a whole new world of business.

I don’t care what kind of communications company you are, it’s time to diversify. Everybody go outside. Get out of your office. Go for a walk, a drive or better yet, make an appointment to visit a prospect. Talk to someone not involved in your business. Look at the world of business communications as well as personal, non-business related services. Gather in a whole new perspective on what’s about to happen. “It ain’t at all gonna be like it ever wuz..”

We’re about to be shaken to the rafters in terms of what is going to hit the communications industry over these next couple years and every year from here on out.

Business Week Magazine published its 65th Anniversary issue on October 17 this year. The cover story, with huge letters emblazoned on the cover said, “Rethinking Work.” It noted as a subhead, “The Economy is Changing, Jobs Are Changing, The Work force is Changing. Is America Ready?”

Business Week used this anniversary to announce what they called their “metaphoric rebirth.” Already perhaps the most helpful weekly national business journal for anyone interested in what the world is up to in telecommunications and information processing (from a layman’s perspective), Business Week has bolstered itself as a publication preparing for the new age of business bubbling up around us. In fact, they have added sections titled: “Technology and You,” “Science and Technology” and “Information Processing.” It seems that virtually every issue has a focus article on some aspect of telecommunications in the corporate world and a release or two on some new communication or computer development.

You will also be able to get Business Week on CD-ROM and via America On-line, weekly. This, to join the Information Revolution now taking place worldwide.

In this special issue, Business Week devoted a 34-page special feature to defining the twin forces of technology and globalization and how they are rapidly changing the way we work, indeed the very notion of work itself.

This is not a commercial for Business Week, though it well could be. We need to absorb the perspective that the business world itself is suggesting so we don’t continue to exist in a vacuum. There isn’t any other vehicle dwelling on the changes in business which will define for us just what the business world will want so we can better prepare to sell it to them.

You may not personally deal with Fortune 500 companies, but you do deal with the trickle-down of businesses that are, out of necessity, transforming themselves into a part of the business world that serves them. The global marketplace includes regional areas of the globe to an even greater degree than it does the entire globe. Expansion beyond the borders of your local market, even if it’s only to the next county or to another state, will represent a shift not only just for you, but for the customers you hope to serve. We need to be thinking globally, not just focusing on the beaten paths of our own back yards.

I preface this article with this thought because it is apparent that those of us with entrepreneurial communications companies, are not used to such expansive thinking. And yet it is we who can make it possible for other businesses to actually operate more on a global scale, and get outside of the well worn rut of the past. We must stop thinking of ourselves as either local or limited in our ability to build our client bases.

Is it time for a make-over?

There are perhaps 3,700 independent phone companies, maybe 6,100 answering services, 5,500 paging companies and resellers, zillions of interconnect companies, vast numbers of cellular agents and resellers, and an incalculable number of independent communications companies of some miscellaneous single focus orientation.

Guess what? The business world hasn’t got a clue as to what is available to them in terms of the latest in business communications services. And there’s virtually no place to turn to find out. Most people don’t even look for new ideas because they don’t understand technology or they are afraid of stepping off into the great unknown. And nobody’s there to fill the void.

You may not be interested in becoming more than you already are in your present communications business, but somebody’s got to do it! Somebody’s got to meet the new marketplace at least half way if they expect to tap this ultra rich vein of potential new business.

Two kinds of people are reading this article: those who expected to find a checklist of ideas that would help define the profile of the communication companies of the immediate future, to be able to move in that direction; and, those who are prepared to start something new that is designed to take a major role in what Business Week has assured us is happening now is ” the changing work world.”

A cosmetic make over won’t do, we’ve got to change the guts. We’ve got to bring on a whole new creature, something to attract the imagination of the business world. A good answering service can become a great answering service. But it’s still just an answering service as far as the public is concerned. God bless ’em, they’re needed.

A paging reseller is a commodity seller. Price is the chief arbitrator of a sale in paging. Interconnect companies sell and install phone systems and perhaps computer networks. They aren’t geared to move in these new circles with their image as interconnects. More power to them. The good ones will prosper.

Cellular agents are almost always something else first, with cellular phones as an adjunct. That makes them convenient, but not diversified communications companies. Phone companies are just that- phone companies, institutions. When was the last time you ever got sound advice on developing a specialized communication arrangement from an order taker? Right about now we’re running out of communications companies to take up the banner for the new “Communication Revolution.” They simply don’t exist in any known category that the topical human being can locate. I don’t think a make-over will do.

A Lunar Landing on Earth

We need to come out of the primeval dark and land our sleek new ship smack into the middle of the gray-tone world of yesterday’s technology. The business world needs to know that we have arrived and we brought the beer! At least that’s the way the brewing industry would portray it. Right now there’s more excitement in the beer commercials than there is in the sum total of the business communications service industry.

Of course the services need to be practical, down-to-earth and relevant for the day-to-day aspects of business. But the business world is changing radically! The merging together of computer, telephone and television into a mind-boggling new era of instantaneous information, communications, and entertainment are out dating everything you have on the shelf. New ideas are traveling at warp speed and there isn’t currently an identifiable outlet to bring these revolutionary ideas to the marketplace in bite-size pieces that the average business person can chew on.

If I were to portray what this new business entity were to look like, it would look something like this:

  1. It would be designed for customer inter activity. The very space this business would occupy would have an air of excitement as it relates to communications technology. Customers should look at it as an on-ramp to the information super highway.
  2. It should be a well known resource for the business community. The latest in voice, fax, electronic mail, on-line service and specialized operator services should be available.
  3. Professional communications consultants would be available to assist clients either in person or on the phone, to help assemble bundled service programs custom-tailored to the individual client’s unique needs.
  4. The client would experience new concepts in communications, on their own via video, computer or telephone, right in the reception area.
  5. Signing up for service would automatically outfit the client with 800-number service, long distance service, and a special billing art voice card to relieve the company of billing and collection, but would provide a good commission on all traffic.
  6. The heartbeat of the operation would be a state-of-the-art voice/fax processing system to provide information services, sophisticated messaging, fax on demand, and a wealth of specialized services available from this technology.
  7. Highly trained and personable telesecretaries would be available for quality services where real people are crucial for effective communication.
  8. Access to the latest communication hardware could be found in the “New Technology Display” in the reception area. It would be available directly from the communications consultant for rent or purchase.
  9. Internal facilities would be available for use by customers for video teleconferencing, private meetings using various communications options, and other on-site services.
  10. Overall, the communications company would need to position itself as a source for all the latest ideas in business communications services, regardless of where they come from. More importantly, the company should take the lead in introducing such new services to make sure they maintain a leadership position.

You will need to be versed in the new wireless technologies, provide paging services via the Internet, access on-line services for your customers, offer specialized computer services in support of operator services, and be prepared to help businesses explore the most relevant options specifically for them.

That is obviously an oversimplified outline of some of the high points that need to be fine-tuned to create this new style company. What you would call such a company, how you would present it and promote it are all crucial to its success. It needs to arrive on the scene with all the fanfare it can possibly get. It needs to be, more than anything, on the market now and it needs to encompass a feeling that it will provide the service options not available from traditional sources.

The people who will run such a center will need to be well versed in the computer applications and in telecommunications overall. We need to develop a true sense of professionalism in the field. After all, the industry is one of the most vital in the world today. Those who specialize in it, will truly become invaluable resources. Why is this the TAS of the Immediate Future?

We can no longer expect to build a business by just hanging out a shingle, sticking an ad in the yellow pages and loading up on operators and DID lines. We can’t expect scores of people to come to us for pagers when thousands and thousands of multi level marketers started selling pagers door-to-door in 1995. We can’t expect to be installing cellular phones when they’re all portable. We can’t expect to make money by simply answering phones for people who now have dozens of options for handling incoming calls. We can’t expect businesses to need us at all if we aren’t in tune with what the rest of the world wants and needs.

But we can expect to develop into unmitigated successes if we provide SERVICE. If we bring the ideas to the people we choose to serve, ideas that make absolute sense and can truly be of help.

Inter activity at your place of business will be more and more important, just like it has become important in the computer world. By inter activity, I mean the ability of the prospect to sit down and experience the service concepts you’re trying to sell. Without obligation, people want to know the details of what you’re suggesting and specifically how it relates to them. In short, the new communications company will be more diverse in many aspects, more personal in service and sales, and more in touch with the day-to-day changes in communications technology.

We’ll be more visually stimulating and more retail orientated. You will also be significantly more automated, perhaps as much as 80% of your business in totally automated services.

There it is. Take it or leave it. I don’t have a crystal ball any more than you do. But I can,, with a degree of accuracy, predict that this opportunity to develop a new style of communications company with an automated approach will bring lots of new entrepreneurs into the business. There’s too much of a vacuum out there for it not to be filled with those who will bring about the fulfillment of the ideas that are designed to make money for the entrepreneurs who introduce them.

[From Connection Magazine, January 1995]