The May 2010 Issue of TAS Trader

A Call to Compete Upward

By Gail O’Connor

I recently conducted a market survey in my area and was disappointed to discover that progress being made to benefit the telephone answering service industry had been thwarted. To my dismay, I discovered giant leaps and bounds in a backward direction. I was shocked to discover that base rates and other services that we rely on to make a profit have been dramatically reduced or eliminated all together.

Gone were the twenty-eight-day billing cycles, holiday charges, email, fax, relay charges, and so forth. I sense fear all over the place, but what exactly are we afraid of? The recession could benefit our industry, as our services are obviously less expensive than hiring a secretary. I can count on one hand the number of clients who have stopped using my service due to the economy; customers recognize our value, especially in a slow economy.

I just do not understand why we don’t compete “upward” so that everyone benefits. Our operators deserve raises, bonuses, and better compensation. Our vendors have increased their costs as well. It seems that the very fees we require to “band” together to charge our clients, have been eliminated to “one-up” the competition. We all suffer when rates and other charges are reduced or eliminated. If this continues, we are going to underprice our services to the point where no one will profit, and it will be the end of an industry. I wonder if this trend is localized or nationwide. It is almost embarrassing that this is the standard of our worth.

I plan to remain competitive and keep my rates as they stand. I believe that customers appreciate quality above all else. I am not a “discount” answering service, and I refuse to participate in undermining my call center’s worth.

Gail O’Connor is the owner of The Telephone Secretary in Fullerton, CA.

The PINetwork Annual Convention Overview

By Phyllis H. Shaw

PINetwork held its annual convention March 15-17, 2010, at the Cottonwoods Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. This year’s agenda was packed, with a combination of presentations from Professional Teledata as well as from many of our users. There were several interactive sessions, with both presenters and attendees participating in the discussions.

As part of his introductory comments, Jim Graham took a stroll down memory lane, highlighting the progression of the PIN group over the years – complete with pictures. This was the group’s fifteenth annual conference, and many founding members were present.

Professional Teledata previewed some of their new features. PInnacle dashboard shows a customized snapshot of what is happening in real time in an operation. Highlights also included Real-Time Traffic and Enhanced ACD Monitor presentations. Members shared reports that they have developed for a variety of purposes, including tracking employee statistics and performance. There was a discussion of what PInnacle and Switch data members are currently analyzing.

The Disaster Recovery presentation covered various stages and levels of disaster recovery – from the most basic steps right through colocation. The discussion covered everything from system backups and spare parts to complete colocation of offices and everything in between.

A financial case study was presented. This took the group through the many different financial aspects of our businesses. Financial spreadsheets were shared so participants could put in their own financial information. There was also a panel discussion on employee scheduling. Panelists and members demonstrated how they use various employee-scheduling modules, as well as some creative methods they developed on their own.

The group was treated to a site visit to Contact One Call Center in Tucson, followed by a real western BBQ hosted by Judy Wood and her family. The sprawling family ranch was the perfect setting for games, entertainment, good food, and fun. Some went horseback riding, while others tested their skill at various games. A few adventurous souls explored the desert on ATVs. The menu featured an assortment of appetizers and several BBQ selections (chicken, pork, and beef), topped off by a variety of homemade desserts. After dinner, we gathered around a campfire and were entertained with cowboy songs and dancing. Jeff delighted us with some of his cowboy poems. A great time was had by everyone!

Phyllis Shaw of Business & Professional Exchange is the past president of PINetwork.

MedCom Helps Vision Impaired

Spring is in the air, and that means it’s time for a little spring-cleaning. The staff at MedCom Professional Services, Inc., with offices in Levittown, Allentown, and New Holland, Pennsylvania, took their spring-cleaning to a new level. They swept their offices and homes for used computer equipment and donated it to the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“It’s a win-win-win situation all around,” MedCom’s executive vice president Tom Sheridan said about the donation. “I had just said that we had a lot of stuff in the storeroom that we need to get rid of, and they called looking for donations.”

About a third of the twenty or so computers, valued at around $1,000, came from employees’ homes, while others came from MedCom’s offices, Sheridan said. The SABVI picks up donations of twenty or more computers; in addition, they provide donors with certification that all data on the donated equipment’s hard drives is destroyed.

“The program appealed to me because it not only helped the SABVI, but it also recycles computer equipment in a responsible way,” Sheridan said, adding that the office equipment MedCom donated was about four or five years old and still in working condition. Some only needed new operating systems.

“SABVI is excited to offer this new service to businesses throughout our service area,” said Dennis Steiner, president/CEO of SABVI. “Not only are we able to increase employment opportunities for the blind, but we will be providing a much-needed service to our community. We are very happy to be working with MedCom and are fortunate that they have chosen SABVI as a partner.”

For more than eighty years, the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired has been helping to restore autonomy and independence to the lives of Pennsylvania residents who are blind and vision impaired. Through generous donations from area residents and the support of businesses throughout the community, SABVI assists the blind and vision impaired to take back their independence and improve their lives.

News

Alston Tascom’s Universal Communicator FR-500
Alston Tascom will unveil the Tascom FR-500 communicator system at the upcom- ing ATSI 2010 Convention in May. When triggered, the system will phone a call center’s customer base to inform them of new features, notify them of a system upgrade, deliver a progress report on system issues, or other rel- evant information. This autonomous service works on any call center platform or on stand- alone basis. Once the initial contact persons have been reached on each team, the system moves on to call other teams until the re- sponse unit is completely manned. The FR- 500 communicates over SIP trunks, PRI, or analog lines.

Abby Leibowitz Named to Forty under 40 List
Abby Leibowitz, executive vice presi- dent of Call Experts in Charleston, South Carolina, was named to the 2010 class of “Forty under 40” by the Charleston Regional Business Journal. The twenty-six-year-old oversees the answering service’s finances, legal framework, organizational structure, and operation of each department. She also ensures that the company’s growth remains on track. Founded in 1982, one of the company’s goals has been to help local charities, providing free answering service to several local nonprofits. Leibowitz noted that Call Experts “facilitates most of the behind-the- scenes communication throughout the Lowcountry.”

CenturiSoft Releases CenturiMessenger 5.0
CenturiSoft announced CenturiMes- senger 5.0. Its features include a “survey” box and multiple holiday scheduling. The emphasis of the release was mostly on enhancements and improvements to delivery and notification through various mediums. Interconnection to Skype is also included. Various additional features and improved scalability to 600 ports has been added to the update (up from the prior limit of 400). “Our larger customers have needed larger system scalability, and we have been able to deliver on that need,” remarked John Pope, president of CenturiSoft.

Professional Teledata Announces PInnacle Dashboard Accessory Program
Professional Teledata announced their Pinnacle Dashboard Accessory Program, which provides a real-time visual display of key system metrics, including ACD-queue status, agent status, message-delivery status, and call traffic. It provides an overall image of the key elements of call center load and performance. Custom color-coding allows managers to set graduated warning parameters for real-time performance issues such as long hold times, excessive calls on hold, long calls, etc. Further details may be displayed by clicking or “drilling down” on various components of the master screen. Dashboard also has a real-time traffic screen.

A Better Connection Scores with Local Media Coverage
Marcy Hewlett from A Better Connec- tion notes that “every little bit of marketing helps.” The Arizona-based business was re- cently contacted by The Arizona Republic. Eight years ago, during another economic downturn, the paper ran a story about the an- swering service’s launch during challenging economic times. They felt that a follow-up during this recession was warranted. In ad- dition to positive coverage for the answering service, it also mentioned that many of A Bet- ter Connection’s twenty-seven employees work from home. That sparked employment interest. “We didn’t even know they ran the story until…we started to get employment calls,” Hewlett added.

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[Posted by Peter DeHaan for TAS Trader, a telephone answering service e-publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]