Commemorating a Foundational Call Center Journalist: Linda Driscoll Dobel

It takes talented and dedicated people to build a technology-based industry. There are the scientists who make breakthrough discoveries. The engineers who take these ideas and help develop them into functional products. The entrepreneurs who find niches for specific solutions and build profitable companies around them. The early adapters who put these products to work and hire specialists to use them to help build profits for their organizations. And as an industry blossoms, media developers and publishers take note and create information resources to capitalize on the interest, report on progress and help guide the marketplace.

It is at this point where business journalists…the people whose job it is to sift through a non-stop flow of press releases and discern hype and vaporware from valuable information and products that can make a difference…. come into the picture. As the industry gathers momentum, there are established templates for communicators to follow, but they could not do so without the initial contributions of the best and brightest. In the burgeoning technology space that has evolved from telemarketing to CRM to customer experience and service automation over the past five decades, one of the most influential trailblazing journalists was Linda Driscoll Dobel who passed away unexpectedly– and far too soon –at age 59 in November 2018.

In the late 1970s, telephone technology had become sufficiently sophisticated that it made economic sense to set up centralized groups within companies to both sell products and service customers in such areas as airline reservations and banking systems. Among the contributing factors were the ever-higher cost of personal sales calls, which made doing business by phone more attractive, particularly in the business-to-business arena; advances in telecommunications, computers and database management; consumer acceptance of toll-free 800 numbers, which led to a rise in inbound customer service; and a growing body of successful inbound and outbound campaigns, which inspired more companies to use the phone as a primary sales tool.

Telemarketing, as it quickly came to be known, began in the early 1980s and instantly changed the way business was being done in the US. In 1981…just as Linda came on board at Technology Marketing Corporation fresh off the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT… the total business expenditures for telemarketing exceeded the spent on direct-mail advertising for the first time. As TMC CEO Rich Tehrani noted, “She was there when things got started in 1982, when the first call center publication, Telemarketing, was born. When Linda started with us, customer records were still stored on index cards because contact center software had not yet been invented.”

As noted by former TMC editor and now Editorial Director of Syllepsis Communications, Tracey Schelmetic, “Linda nurtured Telemarketing, later called Call Center Solutions, from a bimonthly startup with a premise that at the time was speculative (some in the industry trade press might have even said “dubious”) to a successful monthly trade publication that covered and even guided the development of the multibillion-dollar call center, computer-telephony integration and customer relationship management markets that exist today.

By 1987, spending on telemarketing had risen to more than twice that of direct mail ($41.2 billion vs. $17.2 billion), according to the American Telemarketing Association. Linda and her team of editors helped steer the industry through the formative years of early automatic call distribution services (ACDs), predictive dialers and telephone headsets to make it easier for customer service representatives (CSRs as they were called then) and sales agents to conduct conversations for hours at a time.

She chronicled the progress of programs designed to improve the process of hiring, training and retaining personnel in an industry where massive turnover was an issue from the outset. She edited countless articles on the rise of what were then called “service agencies” …mostly US-based at a time when Omaha, Nebraska set the pace for America in terms of making a living on the telephone. And Linda was there to note the changes as the growing concept of a global community, fueled by advancing technology and a fiercely competitive economic climate turned the tide to business process outsourcing in every corner of the globe. As was the case with many professional women, she balanced her editorial responsibilities with motherhood after the birth of the first of her three sons in the late 1980s.

Linda ran a tight ship. She was one of a diminishing breed of strict grammarians, going over every piece of content as though it was the Magna Carta, whether it was articles, marketing materials or opinion columns. ‘Linda wielded her red pen fearlessly but with majestic purpose,” said Schelmetic. “She was adamant about capitalizing “Internet.” (“There’s only one Internet, which makes it a proper noun.”) She resisted the word “email” as a noun and sent younger editors scurrying to change “emails” to “email messages.” Yet it was all done with good will and a light-hearted spirit. As her Editorial Director, Erik Lounsbury, who joined her staff in 1993, recalled, “Linda could always make me see the error of my often-eccentric grammar and leave me laughing at the same time.”

Beyond serving as Executive Editorial Director, she rose to Vice President. “She was always a great mediator, not only when serving as a buffer between management and staff or in inter-departmental disputes, but also in delicate situations such as misunderstandings with authors or advertisers,” recalled Lounsbury. “In short, Linda could always make everyone see sense in the end and leave them feeling good about it.” As Schelmetic noted, “She brought a sense of calmness to meetings and held her cool even while under intense deadline pressures. She was much-loved as a manager and helped guide and develop the careers of many of today’s writers and editors working in today’s contact center /CRM space.

Nadji Tehrani, the founder of TMC, summed it up “Linda was the foundational editor who brought the world of call centers to life. Without her, our publications might never have gotten off the ground.

After 22 years, Linda went on to become Editor at Due North Consulting, including a stint at the now-defunct Contact Professional magazine and most recently, Managing Editor of Trade & Development magazine. She took on numerous free-lance assignments, developing content for CRMXchange as well. She is survived by her husband Myron, three sons and a grandson.

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