By Peter DeHaan
It used to be that telephone answering services (TAS) could function as a generalist – serving all clients – or specialize in specific niches. I now wonder if a niche strategy might be needed in today’s marketplace.
A huge answering service niche is the healthcare industry. Within this focus, there are sub-niches, such as medical answering service, hospital console, telephone triage, physician referral, appointment setting and verification, pharmaceutical support, patient follow-up, clinical trials, and so on.
Other examples of niches for answering services to consider include property management or transportation. There are also regional opportunities, such as with the logging, shipping, oil and natural gas, farming, tourist, or entertainment industries.
The niche a telephone answering service elects to pursue should hinge on the size of that market and the answering service’s connection and affinity with that market. Never pursue a promising niche if your company lacks experience serving it or if it bores you.
Developing services specifically geared towards a particular industry establishes expertise and increases proficiency that is unobtainable by a generalist answering service. Increased efficiencies will result. This provides the option to charge less, improve profitability, or both.
Pursuing a niche, however, is akin to the adage of “putting all your eggs in one basket.” The key is to diversify by developing multiple niches. After establishing yourself in one niche, pursue a second, and then add a third. In most cases, three niches is the minimal number. This keeps an economic downturn in one niche from financially devastating your TAS. However, if you have too many niches, the risk is diluting your focus and becoming a generalist.
Only you can decide if a niche strategy is right for your answering service. But if it is, be intentional and then diversify.
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It’s Time to Go Back to Calling Ourselves an Answering Service
By Michael Shooster
Years ago, many warned that voicemail would replace telephone answering services. This did not happen; there is no technology that brought an end to what we do. But there is something we ourselves are doing that is detrimental to our industry. It is the terminology we use.
Our Own Worst Enemy: I see many answering services doing all they can to avoid using the term answering service. They use call center, teleservice provider, customer services, and other phrases that sound good but don’t reflect the work we do or the clients we serve.
Unfortunately, when we use the term answering service less frequently, the rest of the world does, too. In working hard to position ourselves as both relevant and cutting-edge, we have lost the essence of who we are. When we avoid saying “answering service,” we hurt ourselves as far as potential clients and new business.
Call Centers Are Great Businesses, Too: When answering services refer to themselves as teleservices companies or call centers, they are not doing anyone any good – not the industry or customers. Don’t get me wrong: Call centers are thriving. In fact, it’s a significant part of our family’s business.
But call centers and answering services are two different industries; it is up to us to make this distinction in the marketplace. Call centers provide customer life cycle services, which include customer service, sales, collections, and order taking. Telephone answering services take messages, primarily for service businesses, and relay them according to clients’ specifications.
If you provide both answering service and call center services, consider marketing them as distinct (but potentially complementary) offerings that have different client needs, employee training, and target markets.
If you are a telephone answering service, perhaps it’s time to update your marketing to include only services that relate to your core answering service. If you have bigger aspirations and wish to also promote call center services, then treating that part of your business as a separate entity may allow you to become more successful.
Are We Losing Our Identity? I keep hearing that answering services – both as a term and as an industry – are old-fashioned, throwbacks to a time with less advanced technology and more human-to-human contact. However, when it comes to serving our customers’ ever-evolving needs, we are actually at the forefront of industries that effectively combine technology and human touch. It’s important we promote ourselves in the most accurate, relevant, and powerful way possible.
Look at how you market your answering service. Might you be using the wrong term because that’s what your colleagues are doing? Have you considered going back to basics and calling your business an answering service? Be open to ways in which you can more accurately (and effectively) market your answering services to those who need them.
Michael Shooster is co-CEO of Answering Service Care division of Ding-A-Ling Answering Service LLC, a subsidiary of Global Response Corp, provider of call center services.
Telephone Answering Service News
PInnacle Spring Upgrade to be Unveiled at PIN Conference
Professional Teledata unveiled several new features for the Spring 2015 PInnacle Upgrade at the recent PIN User Group Meeting. “It’s been a long cold winter in New England and we all made the best of our time stuck indoors adding new features to an already powerful and flexible platform to make it even more robust and feature rich,” said VP Jim Graham. “We are excited to put our hard work on display to our users in Baltimore.” Timed auto actions, rotating oncall, and template driven locates with current Oncall support are some of the new features that were presented.
2015 NAEO Employee of the Year Award
Amtelco customer project manager Jana Olson was honored with the National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) Amtelco employee of the year award at the recent 2015 NAEO convention. Jana joined Amtelco as a trainer in 1997. Before moving to the project management team in 1999, Jana served as an installer and a field-engineering technician. In 2000, she received Amtelco’s William J. Curtin employee of the year award, the most cherished award available to employees. Jana primarily works with answering service and Billing Link customers. Caring for Telescan customers was added to her responsibilities after Telescan’s acquisition by Amtelco in 2012.
Quotes for the Month
“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” -Flannery O’Connor
“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” -B.F. Skinner
“When she saw her first strands of gray hair, she thought she’d dye.” -unknown