Putting Out The Call

With travel down, the conferencing business picks up.

January, 2002

According to Gary Payne, vice president project management at Genesys Conferencing, the hardest part of the teleconferencing business has been changing people’s behavior. Developments in his industry, especially advancements in Web-based technologies, have made teleconferencing easier and more practical than ever before. But for many, business travel is just part of doing business, no matter how difficult and time-consuming catching planes and taxis may be sometimes. Much of that perception changed after Sept. 11.

“What we were trying to accomplish for so long was realized in the most horribly bitter way,” says Payne, who himself lost a close family friend in the Sept. 11 tragedies. “There is a bad taste in our mouths, but our job is to help people to communicate. And there is a lot of people who need to talk with each other now.”

Since Sept. 11, there have been quite a few people who have turned to Genesys, the largest conferencing specialist in the world, which has a call center in downtown Honolulu. For the third quarter of 2001, Genesys reported a total call volume worldwide of 216.2 million minutes, a 43 percent increase from the third quarter of 2000. Unassisted conference calls saw the biggest jump with a 165 percent increase from the third quarter of last year and up 22 percent from the second quarter 2001. Many of this increased traffic came from new customers. From Sept. 11 to Nov. 27, Genesys had 2,852 new subscribers to their conferencing services, more than double the new accounts signed up during the three months before.

“Many of our customers were based in the World Trade Center so during that week we saw a reduction in business,” says Margie Medalle, Genesys’ president and chief operating officer, North America. “But the following week, we saw our increases. We had to cancel a number of trips ourselves and started to use our own services.”

In addition to their call center in Honolulu, Genesys also has U.S. centers in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Virginia and Alabama. Hawaii’s facilities are the smallest in the global company, but its operators and equipment handle calls from around the nation and throughout the Pacific Rim. The majority of business comes from conference calls, both operator assisted and automated. Video conferencing accounts for about 10 percent of Genesys’ business. According to Medalle, about 80 percent of the Hawaii center’s calls come from the East Coast. About one-tenth of 1 percent of the traffic is from local businesses.

“Many of our operators are on a first-name basis with CEOs on the mainland, heads of large corporations,” says Payne. “We call that the ‘Aloha spirit’ factor.”

Prior to Sept. 11, business had already been good for the conferencing industry whose market is estimated at $3 billion and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 30 percent to $11 billion by 2005. Currently, audio conferencing accounts for nearly 80 percent of the traffic. However, the fastest growing segment of the industry is expected to be data and Web collaboration, Internet-based communications that marries voice, video and computer functions. According to Payne, the technology can accommodate meetings from six to 6,000, integrating multimedia presentations with things like on-line polling and surveys among many other features. Soon, the technology will be introduced on mobile phones.

“The technology has arrived and it’s addicting once you sit down and start using it,” says Payne. “And people are more apt to sit down and try it now. It’s a pity it had to happen this way.”

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David K. Choo