Returning to the Telephone Answering Service Industry
By Peter L DeHaan, PhD
I recently talked with a lady who had sold her answering service and was now getting back into the business. My first thought was to congratulate her, but I know from experience that celebration might not be in order. Indeed I have talked with too many who were forced back into the industry when some aspect of their sale fell through, such as not receiving their monthly payments. Once out, some people don’t want to go back.
Yet others miss the industry and return as soon as their non-compete clauses are up. Fortunately, in this case, the woman wanted to get back into the answering service business. Once I confirmed this, I congratulated her and wished her the best. I’m excited for her.
Though I didn’t ask for details, I see three options for her to consider:
Start From Scratch: Starting an answering service with no clients is challenging. Yes, I know many people have done exactly that over the years, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The key to this is getting as many clients as quickly as possible. Otherwise you have staff sitting around with little to do and expecting a paycheck, but you don’t have enough revenue coming in to pay them.
Buy an Existing TAS: An alternative is to buy an existing operation. Buying a going concern solves startup and initial cash flow concerns, but it is a sellers’ market so finding a service to buy for a good price is a challenge.
Return to Your Former Business: A third option is to rejoin the service you just sold. It could be you buy an equity stake or that you return as an employee. Both options have their drawbacks. Your new role will be different from your former one, the operation will have changed, and staff will have turned over. As the saying goes, you can’t go back home.
So I’ve given three options to return to the answering service industry, and all three have serious downsides. Maybe the key is to make sure you really want out before you sell – because it’s hard to go back.
Mastar.com…for in/outbound stand-alone TAS systems since 1986. Startup as low as $1,500 per station and you own it. Contact 541-606-9272 or email@example.com
Seeking to Acquire TAS: Looking to purchase an answering service or call center. Please contact me if you are selling! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help Wanted: Northwest Indiana telephone answering service seeks to add an operations manager to our team. We want someone with experience in the telephone answering service industry and are willing to relocate the right candidate. Salary range $50,000-$70,000. For consideration please email your resume and salary history to email@example.com.
Seeking Acquisitions: Reputable TAS, in business since 1967 and still owned by the founding family, seeks a small TAS acquisition in the USA. Ideally, you’re billing under $50k per month. Smaller is better. We’ll treat you right, and your employees and customers. Let’s talk. Contact Doug at 888-693-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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HIPAA Phase II and Your Answering Service
By Geoff Mina
Although the date is not yet known, HIPAA Phase II is poised to go into effect. You can expect an increase in audits. To make sure your medical answering service is ready, here are five best practices to help meet current HIPAA requirements and gear up for HIPAA Phase II.
Focus on Protected Health Information: Protected Health Information (PHI) is any individually identifiable health data that is held or maintained by a covered entity (CE) or its business associates (BA – such as medical answering services) that is transmitted or maintained in any form. This includes demographics, mental conditions (both past and present), genetic information, and payments of healthcare to an individual that is received by a healthcare provider, plan, or employer.
For example, operators likely know to ask customers for their name only. However, what do they do when the caller offers up more information than the operator needs, such as how they feel, medications they’re on, and so forth? This happens too often, so it’s important answering services provide operators with guidelines so they’re prepped on what to do if this situation arises.
Encrypt All Protected Health Information: While not currently required by HIPAA, encrypting all patient health information is a best practice that all answering services should follow, for both data in transit and static data.
Use VPN for Offsite Agent Access: Any TAS operators working remotely should use a secure VPN (virtual private network). Doing so will help ensure PHI information doesn’t land in the wrong hands.
Protect or Avoid Recording Sensitive Information: For many recording systems the calls are immediately saved to a server where they can be accessed by others in the company. Depending on what was said in the call, this potentially infringes on a customer’s privacy and breaks HIPAA policy.
Enforce a Strong Password Policy: Answering service employees should change their password every three to six months. This makes it harder for systems to be hacked or stolen passwords to be used. For added security the policy should also include a secure recovery process for operators. For example, require staff to check with their supervisor whenever they need to recover their password.
In preparation for a possible audit, it’s important to assess your answering service’s compliance as it relates to HIPAA Phase II, and implement these best practices. Never operate under the assumption that your TAS is not likely to be audited. By preparing ahead of time you will reduce the likelihood of running into trouble.
Geoff Mina is the chief technology officer and founder of Connect First.
Telephone Answering Service News
VoiceNation Captures “Best of Show” Award
VoiceNation, an answering service and virtual receptionist service provider captured the “Best of Show” award at the annual ITEXPO, held in January in Florida. VoiceNation’s award-winning exhibit highlighted their open source answering service software, OpenAnswer, an intuitive, intelligent open source live answering software that provides the answering service industry with a collaborative solution that is freely available to download, install, and modify. OpenAnswer is built on open source technology and provides a way for entrepreneurs to open an answering service at very little cost.
Alston Tascom releases Adam 1.2
Alston Tascom announced the release of Adam version 1.2. Notable feature updates include Adam Wallboard: access the site’s wallboard from anywhere via computer, tablet, or cell phone with Internet access; Listen In: a great tool for training and quality assurance; and dynamic remote operator: the system will assign each agent to an available position, resulting in a more efficient use of system resources.
Bobby Bennett Joins Startel
Startel Corporation expanded its sales team with the addition of Bobby Bennett Jr. as sales manager for the western region. Bennett has twenty-two years of sales and business development experience in the TAS and healthcare industries. Most recently Bennett served as a regional sales manager with Amtelco for fifteen years. Before that he worked in sales roles at Telescan and CadCom (now OnviSource).
Pat Dye Promoted to Regional Sales Manager
Tom Curtin, president of Amtelco, announced the promotion of Pat Dye to regional sales manager for the TAS division of Amtelco. Pat is covering TAS businesses in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. He is also responsible for Amtelco’s 1Call healthcare division in Texas and Oklahoma. Pat’s in-depth knowledge of Amtelco’s hosting, soft switching, and SIP offerings will benefit new and existing customers. Pat has a great depth of experience with many aspects of Amtelco. He started as an installer, served as project manager, then a team leader, Eastern sales manager, sales engineer, and miSecureMessage sales specialist, before moving into his present position.
OnviSource and OEO to Hold Annual Meeting
OnviSource and members of the OnviSource Equipment Owners (OEO) Association will gather at the Hilton Dallas Park Cities in Dallas, Texas, April 4-6, 2016, for their annual meeting. Attendees will have the opportunity to expand their product knowledge during the first day of educational training sessions. These sessions will highlight new product features and enhancements. In addition users can pose questions to OnviSource service engineers regarding their particular systems and technical environments. OnviSource will act as host on day two of the event during a site visit at their newly expanded headquarters in Plano, Texas, with a tour of the facility and call center.
Quotes for the Month
“You can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.” -Oliver Goldsmith
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
“In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.” –unknown