All posts by Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan is the president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc., (http://peterdehaanpublishing.com) the publisher and editor of Connections Magazine and AnswerStat, and editor of Article Weekly. Peter DeHaan’s personal website (http://peterdehaan.com) contains information and links to his blogs, newsletter, and social media pages.

News Release: TAS Industry Events Calendar

TAS Trader logoTelephone answering service conventions, meetings, and events are now being posted on this site.

They have been grouped together and given their own link: http://tastrader.com/category/events/

You can bookmark this link for quick and easy access to all TAS industry events.

Or bookmark the home page of http://tastrader.com, click on the “subscribe” button on the right, or use one of the news feed options, to see all postings.

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

The December 2009 Issue of TAS Trader

The Art of Negotiating

By Steve Michaels

When people are contemplating selling their answering service, they may wonder if they should hire a broker. There are several advantages, such as being visible to a larger pool of buyers, making sure the paperwork is done properly, the escrow is handled – and maximizing the selling price. Even so, some TAS owners still opt to go it alone. If you do decide to sell your answering service yourself, here are a few tips from my thirty years of experience:

It is common for the buyer to initially flatter you with compliments about your business. Flattery tends to soften you so that you drop your guard and offer tidbits of information that will aid the buyer’s negotiations, resulting in a lower price and less favorable terms for you. Sometimes the buyer may state that certain multiples are industry standards and tell you that your answering service is not worth what you are asking. Some buyers may also assure you that because of their years of experience in purchasing businesses, all deals are done a particular way – that is, their way. Sellers with less negotiation experience can fall prey to their pitch and sell their TAS for less than it’s worth. Having someone experienced in these matters makes all the difference, plus it provides peace of mind, knowing that you are getting the best return from your many years of hard work.

Here’s another buyer’s tactic that has worked in the past. If you have hired a broker or an attorney to do your negotiating for you, then let him or her do their job. I’ve seen buyers try to sidestep the broker, calling the owner directly to finalize a transaction. Remember, there can only be one negotiator. Any house divided is a house that will fall.

Here are some other ideas to keep in mind:

  • Never fall in love with a deal – or the buyer. A deal is just a deal; there will always be other deals and other buyers.
  • Listen carefully when engaged in serious negotiations. Don’t be in a hurry; nobody ever got poor by listening.
  • Use silence as a negotiating tool; silence is disconcerting. People tend to fill silences with chatter, often weakening their bargaining position.
  • If you’re in a hurry, you’re in a position of weakness.
  • Choose a rogue element that is to your advantage, like a voicelogger or a new account about to sign up, bringing it into the negotiation at a late stage. You’ll be amazed at how often this tactic produces positive results.
  • Empty yourself and act like you do not care; it is only a business. You need to convince yourself that you do not care what the outcome of the negotiations will be. Cling to this illusion of emptiness while you negotiate. This attitude will help to strengthen your position, demonstrating to the buyer that you have something of value for sale and are not selling out of weakness or desperation.
  • Set a price that you will not deviate from; this is where a skilled negotiator can help.
  • The buyer’s job is to downplay your business and lower its worth. You need to keep talking about how well your answering service is doing, the value of the equipment, the growth of the company, and even the possible acquisition of a competitor should the deal not come to completion. This will show the buyer that you are not desperate to sell the business and that you have backup plans.
  • Be willing to walk away when the price is not met. Remember that your answering service is not for every buyer; you just have to find the right one.
  • Establish where the balance of weakness lies in any serious negotiation. Most strengths are self-evident, especially like cash position and existing infrastructure. Weaknesses are usually hidden; ferret them out and make a battle plan.
  • Whenever you have the chance to sell an asset at the zenith of its value, do so. Things do not keep increasing in value forever.

In the final analysis, the answering service owner is the final arbiter. That remains true whether you are a good negotiator or a bad one, whether you have hired a broker or not. The final decision is yours. Just remember that whatever you agree to during a negotiation, fulfill your commitment. Nobody wants to do business with a weasel or a chiseler.

Steve Michaels, a telephone answering service broker, can be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com for questions. His Web site is www.tasmarketing.com.

Negotiation Tips for Buyers

When in the buyer’s seat, do your homework, and do it rigorously. What you don’t know or haven’t bothered to find out can greatly hurt you in a serious negotiation. Do a lien search on the business. Check out equipment service contracts and rental or lease agreements to see when they expire and if they are assumable. Even if you are contemplating purchasing the accounts only, you may want to pay a little extra and take the seller’s equipment out of the picture – simply to keep the seller’s staff from buying it and opening a competing service. Also, buyers should avoid auctions if at all possible. You could end up paying more than the answering service is worth. (Auctions are generally good for the seller.)

News

Inc. 5000 Includes Answering Service Call Centers
Inc. magazine ranked Answer Center America, Inc. (Chicago, IL) #1,870 and Call Experts (Charleston, SC) #4088 on its third an- nual Inc. 5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. The list is a comprehensive look at the most important segment of the economy: America’s independent-minded entrepreneurs.

A Trio of Advancements from Amtelco
1) The real-time backup feature of Amtelco’s Infinity software version 5.5 allows the entire Infinity database to be backed up across a TCP/IP network connection to a backup Infinity server. 2) Version 5.51 includes several key scheduling enhancements, with the Infinity Intelligent Series (IS) directory becoming more of a focal point for the system. 3) Amtelco continues to enhance its call center Web interface with a client Web interface, Web reporting, and smartphone access.

Answer 1 Awarded Spirit of Enterprise Award
Answer 1 Communications was honored at the recent W.P. Carey Spirit of Enterprise Awards ceremony. About 250 businesses were nominated for the annual awards, which recognize entrepreneurial companies that excel in ethics, energy, and excellence. Answer 1 was one of five businesses honored. “Being a recipient of this award validates everything that we have worked for and lets us know we are on the right track,” said Mary Jones, president of Answer 1 Communications.

Startel Launches SMS Services
Startel Corporation launched a new SMS (think “texting” or “text messaging”) aggregator service on October 16. Two versions of the service are available: one for the Startel CMC platform and the other for customers using other equipment. “Because Startel’s SMS service is a pure software solution, the reliability is phenomenally high, and the total cost of ownership is greatly reduced,” stated Bill Lane, CEO and president of Startel Corporation.

TAS Marketing Celebrates Thirty Years
From northwest Montana, TAS Marketing has supplied answering services with products and services for thirty years. President Steve Michaels has gone through the gauntlet of selling answering service products from the first DID (Direct Inward Dialing) system by Candela Electronics in 1979 to the more sophisticated Asterisk-based TASterix system today. TAS Marketing’s primary business is selling TAS businesses, which to date has brokered over 370 transactions.

CAM-X News
At its recent convention, Paul Lloyd (Answer Plus, Toronto, ON) was inducted into the CAM-X Hall of Fame, and Doug Swift of Tigertel Communications Inc. was honored with the 2009 Tom Ryan Ethics, Integrity, and Quality Award. CAM-X also announced their 2009-2010 board of directors: president Gary Blair (Tele-Page), past president Mary Anne Straw (Tigertel), first VP, Tom Sheridan (Executive Services), and second VP, Brad French (Alliance Wireless Communications). Directors includeNicole Linde (Intercon Messaging Inc.), Denise Reynolds (T.A.S. Communications), and Tim Carwell (CommAlert). The vendor representative is Patty Anderson (Telescan); the executive director is Linda Osip.

TAS Scheduler V1.0 Ships
TAS Scheduler has shipped version 1.0 to its first twelve preorders. The software, developed by BJ Fischer and Steve Lawrence, enable TAS supervisors to quickly create employee schedules using forecasting. TAS Scheduler can use data from any of the major answering service switch vendors.

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

News Release: Archive of Past Issues Added to TAStrader.com

TAS Trader logoReaders asked for it; we responded.

Past issues of TAS Trader are now available online at the TAS Trader website.

We hope you find this TAS Trader archive useful.

Thank you for your feedback and ideas.

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

The October 2009 Issue of TAS Trader

The Simple Tools of Control

Sam Carpenter

In Western culture, the word “control” has an undeserved bad rap.  It conjures up the image of a type A personality gone wild with power, who, headed down the road of personal self-destruction, cuts wide swaths of anxiety among all those encountered.  “Control freak” is a term that often surfaces.  But if hyper-control is a bad thing, do we want the opposite, to be out of control?  Like everything else, moderation is the key.  In truth, most people don’t spend enough time focusing on the methodology of control.  There is a science and an art to it.

In your answering service and in your personal life, if you’re ready to devote some energy and time to seizing control of your day, let’s get technical.  Center your efforts around three primary tools: a digital voice recorder, Microsoft Outlook, and a cellular phone.  Of course, none of these tools are new, and they stand on their own in terms of their usefulness.  However, when one combines them a new and powerful sense of control is found.  These tools are about the following:

•    Having a goal-oriented, consistent strategy of communication with others as well as yourself.
•    Having efficient systems to accomplish all necessary tasks and completing them promptly.
•    Not suffering ineffectiveness due to actions not taken.  Most of our failures stem from what falls through the cracks, not from overt mistakes.

These tools are about event control.  Think of the mind as an endless filmstrip spewing out a stream of thoughts rushing downhill with no rhyme or reason.  How do you trap the good ideas and slow down the incessant mind-noise?  Very simple: Carry a digital voice recorder.  When an idea worth remembering appears, pull out the recorder and record the thought.  Then forget it and move on, leaving your mind with one less bit of clutter.

For me, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing – I capture the thought, and my mind is free to move on.  There is nothing more to ponder in the moment and nothing to remember later.  Daily, I review the recordings of the past twenty-four hours, transcribing them into the appropriate Microsoft Outlook task, calendar, or contact list.  Once transcribed, the thought has permanence and action will be taken.

Microsoft Outlook, my second efficiency tool, has enormous timesaving advantages over the classic paper-based day planner that I lugged around for years.  Synchronizing Outlook with my PDA once a day, all information is at my fingertips no matter where I am.  As a manager, Outlook’s most vital feature is the task list.  (Hint: designate each manager as a “category,” thus centralizing each manager’s various tasks in order to better engender concise and quick “sit-downs” to review progress on various tasks.)  Outlook’s appointment calendar and contact information features are also vital.  Keep them up to date – and use them.

One habit that remains from my former paper-based planner routine is my early morning “planning and solitude session.”  In the quiet of dawn, it’s time to download the voice recorder information into Outlook and then review the tasks for the day.  This session is the day’s most significant act of personal control.

The third efficiency component is the cell phone.  The key understanding here is that a telephone number doesn’t represent a place; it represents a person.  After all, people aren’t looking for the place where Sam is located; they’re looking for Sam.  However, this fact of life can lead to a day of unending disruption.

Everyone has a cell phone, but because most people use it improperly, it’s often a source of anxiety and a time-waster.  This means that the cell phone’s best feature is its on/off switch.  The primary purpose of my cell phone is to make calls – not to receive them – and so my phone spends a large part of the day turned off as I divert incoming calls to voicemail.  This way I can focus on immediate tasks without interruption.  I’ll call people back later when I am in “callback” mode.

That’s it, three communication tools to seize control of the day.  If you can muster the necessary self-discipline and patience to work out the details of how the tools interface with each other to suit your own style, you will experience significantly more control and peace in your day.

Epilogue: Last year I combined these three tools into a single combination tool (i.e., the Blackberry).  I immediately hated it and went back to using three separate tools.  The added “benefit” of having email readily available was a distraction because there was a subtle (and sinister) prodding to check messages in every spare moment.

Sam Carpenter is president of Centratel in Bend, Oregon.

The Belle Behind the Bells

Dear Peter:

I enjoyed reading your movie review of The Bells Are Ringing in the August 2009 issue of TAS Trader.

Here is some background: In 1956, Mrs. Mary Printz, better known as “Ma Belles,” started the Belles Celebrity Secretarial Service in New York.  A few years later it became The Belles Celebrity Answering Service – better known simply as “Belles.”  The answering service, and Mary in particular, became the inspiration for this musical.  Unfortunately, Ma Belles passed away early this year, appointing me as her legitimate successor to carry on with the Belles legacy.

Thank you for sharing the wonderful review.

From Roger Snyder, president, The Belles Celebrity Answering Service, LLC

Here are some related quotes that Roger shared with TAS Trader:

“The Belles may well be the most famous answering service in the United States, even though until four years ago its own number was unlisted.  It was founded in 1956 by a smashing brunette named Mary Printz, whose nicknames range from “Ma Belle” to “The Witch of the East.”  Mary had been in business for just a short time when two of her clients – songwriters Adolph Green and Jule Styne – told her they were going to write a musical about an answering service and base its main character on her.  The result was The Bells Are Ringing…”  (Eisenberg, Lawrence B., “Confessions of an Answering Service,” Cosmopolitan, February 1977).

“Of all the switchboard operators Mrs. Printz trained, few were better than Miss Holliday herself, who reported for instruction after she was cast in The Bells Are Ringing.  Miss Holliday became so proficient, People magazine reported in 1979, that Mrs. Printz offered her a job” (Fox, Margalit, “Mary Printz, an Ear for the Famous, Dies at 82,” New York Times, March 2, 2009).

“The walls of Printz’ office are rim-tight with autographed photos from celebrities: Candice and Louis Malle, for example, sitting in a carriage in a French field after their marriage.  The photo is inscribed:  ‘To all our Belles with love from Candice and Louis’” (Larkin, Kathy, “The Woman Who Wakes Up Robert Redford,” Manhattan Daily News, Wednesday, August 11, 1982).

News

Aaron Boatin Honored with Don Berry Award
TeamSNUG announced that Aaron Boatin has received the Don Berry Award of Excellence. Boatin was selected because of his exceptional dedication and involvement in the business and his demonstrated service to others through TeamSNUG; he and his company are leaders in the industry. The award was created to honor individuals who gave of themselves for the betterment of the telephone answering industry and is named in remembrance of Don Berry for his contribution to this industry. Boatin is VP of Ambs Call Center, a telephone answering and call center based in Jackson, Michigan.

Line Celebrates Thirty Years
Thirty years ago, Larry and Ruth Goldenberg had a dream: to provide quality, reliable answering services to the medical and business community at a good value. So on September 10, 1979, with a 557B switchboard and ten clients, Direct Line was born. Today, their son, Ken Goldenberg, continues the legacy as he increases his leadership role in Direct Line’s daily operations and develops plans for future growth and development.

CAM-X and WSTA to Hold Joint Convention
The Canadian Call Management Association (CAM-X) and the Western States Telemessaging Association (WSTA) announced that their respective fall 2010 annual meetings will be held as a cooperative effort in a combined meeting October 3-6, 2010. “This joint meeting held at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, answers our members’ choice to venture out of Canada every fourth year for the convention,” said Linda Osip, CAM-X executive director. Dan L’Heureux, executive director of WSTA added, “We are confident the combined efforts…will yield a superior product for all participants.”

Telescan Introduces Live Video Monitoring
Telescan introduced new live video monitoring, an addition to its popular Spec- trum ® Messenger. This allows managers to monitor up to six locations at the same time. Either using a local LAN or used remotely, Spectrum video monitoring allows call cen- ters to monitor any location anywhere in the world, as long as there is a Web camera and Internet access.

Professional Teledata Announces PInnacle Enhancements
Professional Teledata announced enhancements for PInnacle customers with eQueue switches and all PInnacle Freedom customers. The ACD Monitor program shows complete details for all calls in the ACD queue, including DNIS, ANI, client name and ID, and the current stage of call handling; agent information shows the agent mode (such as talking or working). These enhancements are designed to be compatible with ATSI Certification.

Amtelco Introduces IS Appointment Scheduling
The Infinity Intelligent Series (IS) appointment-scheduling module offers answering services the ability to host appointment schedules for their clients. IS appointment scheduling offers answering services the ability to purchase the package and run it on their premises, run IS appointment scheduling as a Web module using any platform, and integrate it with Amtelco’s scripted IS messaging or CMI Diamond contact management database.

Cosmopolitan Medical and Answer 1 Earn Gold Certification
Cosmopolitan Medical Communications and Answer 1 Communications have both requalified for the ATSI Gold 24/7 Call Center Certification Award. The certification indicates that they have met or exceeded high standards in the areas of business practices, life safety, operations, and personnel hiring, training, and ongoing evaluations through a peer review program focusing on a 99.9 percent annual run time.

Jan Lee to Speak at ASTAA
The Atlantic States Telephone Answering Association (ASTAA) announced that Jan Lee of PaceLine Communications will speak at its fall conference on October 14-16, 2009, at the Loews Philadelphia. The conference will center on services and leadership through more effective communication.

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

The August 2009 Issue of TAS Trader

Finding the Right Business

By Gary Pudles

I’ve been asked a number of times how I got into the telephone answering service and call center business. Most people are surprised to learn that I had little significant call center experience when I bought my first telephone answering service in July 1998. In fact, other than going through Sprint Spectrum’s agent training with the start-up wireless company I worked for, I had never worked in a call center.

In 1997 and 1998, I decided that I wanted to run my own business. Over the first ten years of my career, I had worked for other people and knew that I was ready to forge a path of my own. My first thought was that I would have to start something from scratch, to come up with some great idea that was new or better than businesses that were out there. Every week, I would meet with my friend Leslie at a coffee shop in Manyunk (a part of Philadelphia), and we would brainstorm about ideas that we thought could be big.

At one of those meetings, I confessed that I was worried about starting my own business because I had a family to feed, and I wasn’t sure I had enough money to support them while I built my business big enough to create a salary for myself. As a result of those discussions, I realized that I would either have to start a business that could get early investment (venture capital) or that I would have to purchase an existing business with strong cash flows that would be strong enough to turn my savings into current income.

With this realization, I went on the Internet to find an existing business to buy. I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities. Restaurants, retail, cleaning, franchises, and so forth – the list and types of opportunities were staggering. Plus, there were hundreds of Websites dedicated to business opportunities and businesses for sale.

This is when I had my brainstorm. I listed everything I might want in a business. I liked businesses with recurring revenue, heavy in communications technology (particularly telecom), where I could manage people, and where the company focused on selling its services to other businesses.

I also wrote down the kinds of businesses I didn’t like. I didn’t want to own a restaurant because it is hard to do well in that industry. Owning a retail shop wasn’t in the cards because of the risk involved in picking the right inventory. In addition, my father-in-law at the time was a retailer, and he continually told me how tough it was to be successful. There were other things on the list, but I think you get the point.

With these lists in hand, I went back to the Internet and matched the businesses for sale with my list, eventually concluding that the telephone answering service and call center business was for me. Today, because of my small amount of preplanning, I now own and operate a business that I really enjoy and which continues to interest me every day.

Movie Review: The Bells Are Ringing

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderAlthough I frequently write movie reviews, this is the first to appear in a trade publication. However, given that the setting for this Broadway musical-turned-movie is a telephone answering service, the justification can be easily made.

In The Bells Are Ringing, Judy Holliday reprises her Tony Award-winning role as Ella Peterson, a telephone answering service operator, in Vincente Minnelli’s musical comedy. Ella can’t keep from eavesdropping on her client’s calls, compulsively going overboard to help them out. She does this by sharing tidbits of information she hears from other clients. Initially everybody benefits, so her involvement doesn’t cause too much of a problem, but when she goes incognito to meet and help her problem-plagued clients, things begin to go awry.

One of them, playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), becomes enamored when he actually meets Elle (who adopts a concocted alias), and she falls in love with him. Unfortunately, Jeffery doesn’t realize who she is, since when she calls him from the answering service, she adopts the voice of an old woman so she can mother him. He buys into the rouse completely by affectionately calling her “Mom.”

Holliday and Martin have great on-screen chemistry, the musical score is superb, and the dancing enjoyable. The production is so delightful that the fact it is a musical (which I generally don’t care for) doesn’t get in the way or detract in the least.

Jean Stapleton (aka “Edith Bunker”) plays the role of Sue, the owner of the answering service, which is cleverly called “Susansaphone.” The answering service has a diverse group of clients, one of which is actually a bookie whose messages are coded to sound like record orders. Of course, the police, who also suspect Susansaphone of being a front for another age-old profession, aren’t far behind this enterprising crook.

The movie begins and ends with creative and compelling commercials for Susansaphone. Sadly, this was the final film appearance of the talented Judy Holliday before her premature death.

Although released in 1960, the movie still has great appeal to anyone working in the telephone answering service industry – even more so if they used or remember the quintessential cord board.

If you have a movie, play, novel, or book about telephone answering services that you would like to share with us, please email Peter@TAStrader.com.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

News

ATSI Award of Excellence
Leading the list of answering services that earned the 2009 ATSI Award of Excellence are Michigan Message Center (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and Rochester Telemessaging Center (Rochester Hills, Michigan), both having the distinction of a thirteen-year streak. For a complete list, go to www.connectionsmagazine.com/articles/ 9/044.html. Registration forms for the ATSI 2010 Award of Excellence program are available on the ATSI Web site.

Recertification for Answer 1 and Cosmo Med
Answer 1 Communications (Mary Jones, president) requalified for the ATSI Gold 24/7 Call Center Certification Award. They also have earned six consecutive years of the ATSI awards: The Award of Excellence and the Award of Distinction, plus the CAM-X Award of Distinction and the Award of Excellence. Cosmopolitan Medical Communications (Margo Weiss, president) requalified for the Gold 24/7 Call Center Certification Award. Additionally, they have been recognized as one of the “Best Places to Work,” earned the ATSIAward of Excellence for three consecutive years, and received the Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.

Call Experts Recognized for Making Work “Work” in Today’s Economy
Call Experts (Michael Leibowitz, owner) is a winner of the 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility, distinguishing it as a leading practitioner of workplace flexibility and effectiveness in Charleston and across the nation. Call Experts has been awarded this honor for their employee-friendly and flexible work environment. They employ 70 employees in Charleston and 120 nationwide. Open 24/7, Call Experts considers the individual employee in all staffing decisions, emphasizing a positive business culture to ensure a productive and cheerful work environment.

Startel Receives ATSI Switch Certification
Startel has been awarded the ATSI Industry Standards Switch Certification. “We are extremely excited to receive this certification,” stated Dan Feis, Startel director of sales and marketing. “The ATSI Industry Standards Switch Certification validates the accuracy of the statistics and reports provided by our technology. It also provides credibility and a differentiator for our clients when they are selling their services.”

Hudson Valley Answering Service and Answerphone of Jacksonville Sold
TAS Marketing announced the sale of two answering services: Hudson Valley Answering Service (Dominic and Sharon Gallo, Poughkeepsie, New York) was sold to Dick Gore and Julie Mooney with Berkshire Communications (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), and Answerphone, Inc. (Vicki Leonard, Jacksonville, Florida) was sold to Peter and Andy Gross of Sunshine Communication Services, Inc. (Coral Gables, Florida).

Medical Call Center Newsletter
Medical Call Center News is an e-newsletter for medical call centers. It is available at no cost to anyone in the medical call center and telehealth industry. Interested individuals may subscribe to receive future issues and view the current issue at www.medicalcallcenternews.com.

Sharing Is Caring
Share your TAS news and articles for the next issue of TAS Trader. Email them to Peter@TAStrader.com by October 1 to be included in the next issue.

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

Save

Movie Review: The Bells Are Ringing

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Although I frequently write movie reviews, this is the first to appear in a trade publication. However, given that the setting for this Broadway musical-turned-movie is a telephone answering service, the justification can be easily made.

In The Bells Are Ringing, Judy Holliday reprises her Tony Award-winning role as Ella Peterson, a telephone answering service operator, in Vincente Minnelli’s musical comedy. Ella can’t keep from eavesdropping on her client’s calls, compulsively going overboard to help them out. She does this by sharing tidbits of information she hears from other clients. Initially everybody benefits, so her involvement doesn’t cause too much of a problem, but when she goes incognito to meet and help her problem-plagued clients, things begin to go awry.

One of them, playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), becomes enamored when he actually meets Elle (who adopts a concocted alias), and she falls in love with him. Unfortunately, Jeffery doesn’t realize who she is, since when she calls him from the answering service, she adopts the voice of an old woman so she can mother him. He buys into the rouse completely by affectionately calling her “Mom.”

Holliday and Martin have great on-screen chemistry, the musical score is superb, and the dancing enjoyable. The production is so delightful that the fact it is a musical (which I generally don’t care for) doesn’t get in the way or detract in the least.

Jean Stapleton (aka “Edith Bunker”) plays the role of Sue, the owner of the answering service, which is cleverly called “Susansaphone.” The answering service has a diverse group of clients, one of which is actually a bookie whose messages are coded to sound like record orders. Of course, the police, who also suspect Susansaphone of being a front for another age-old profession, aren’t far behind this enterprising crook.

The movie begins and ends with creative and compelling commercials for Susansaphone. Sadly, this was the final film appearance of the talented Judy Holliday before her premature death.

Although released in 1960, the movie still has great appeal to anyone working in the telephone answering service industry – even more so if they used or remember the quintessential cord board.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

The June 2009 Issue of TAS Trader

Thinking About a Name Change?

By Darlene Campbell

Many answering service owners consider changing the name of their company from time to time. Changing your name sounds exciting, providing an opportunity to play in the strategic branding arena and escape the day-to-day concerns of staffing and hold times. However, it can be a costly and a dangerous minefield if not planned well and executed with precision. A few years ago, I changed the name of my business from Metro Message Services to Information Communications Group. Here is how we proceeded and what we learned:

Why We Changed Our Name: I increasingly found myself saying to prospects, “I am not just a message center.” This had become necessary as I positioned the multifunctional capabilities and capacities of my business to executives and board members of my new target prospects beyond the medical community. It became evident that this target population of decision makers had a preestablished definition of my business based on its former name, Metro Message Services Inc. Since our inception, we evolved from:

  • Being locally focused to an international and multilingual focus
  • Being labor intensive to becoming Web-enabled and highly automated
  • Being internally focused to seeking alliance partners
  • Being segment specific to strategically seeking diversity

With continually strained margins in the traditional live medical answering service arena, we had grown to a level where a significant percentage of revenue began to come from other sources. These segments have expectations beyond that of the local medical community. We looked to find a way to be service sensitive to our roots but yet present an image that met the expectation of the growth markets of Fortune 1000 companies and notable nonprofits. Central in this discussion was a complete costing of the name change and a projection of the lift in targeted relationships we would need to pay it back in twelve months.

Planning: Our first discussions about name change began when we completed a strategic review of the business. At minimum, a twelve-month planning process is recommended, as the name change in and of itself is the major component of an annual marketing plan.

In our case, it was a two-year process. In the first year, we developed and implanted the products, technologies, and resources necessary to be what we want to be. During the second year we incorporated the name change into our annual marketing plan:

  • Staging and coordinating annual media placements like Yellow Pages
  • Lowering the emphasis of “brand” and reducing media expenditures in advance of the name change
  • Running off inventory of all brand supporting collateral material

Measuring Success: The simple response to this subject is the return on investment (ROI). We knew what our costs for the name change were. A careful tracking of new business over the ensuing thirty-six months would allow us to measure our success and track the ROI. Our definition of success was growth in the business segments we have targeted. Beyond that, we became more sensitive to listening to the market and our prospects.

Picking a Name: We wanted a name that:

  • Reflected what we presently did and planned on doing in the future
  • Would not limit our capacity to do more in the future

We did not deploy an external focus group but opted instead for a focus group of our constituencies: employees, customers, vendors, and industry experts. The synthesis of this effort was the realization that we generically deal with two subjects: information and communication. From there, Information Communication Group was formed.

What We Learned: We learned many valuable lessons along the way. Here are our recommendations for anyone considering changing the name of their answering service:

  • Anticipate heavy marketing expenditure in year one of the name change. It makes no sense to go through the effort and not tell anyone. Additionally, you will have to consider “transition promotions” as you may reference your old identity in selected media. Do not assume that your clients or market saw your letter or ad announcing the change.
  • Do not become consumed in the graphic design elements of the name. Seek professional counsel here. Every little decision, such as the number and type of colors in your logo, can have major financial implications over time.
  • Develop a complete communication matrix for the name change. Provide at least two direct communications with each constituent group (client, vendor, intermediary, and so forth).
  • Consider a public relations agency to support your program. We can all prepare media kits, but securing placement is their expertise.
  • Do an inventory of every item with your logo on it to work towards updating, consolidating, and eliminating every possible form and document you can. This can be a surprise cost-benefit of the program.
  • Check with governing agencies for possible duplication, and register your new name with the help of legal counsel. Also, check that an appropriate Web address is available and secure it.
  • Determine the balance of expenditure between Web site redesign and the investment in new paper and trade show marketing material. A new name and look means a new Web site.

Several years after our name change, we at Information Communications Group are delighted with the overall experience of the name change. We received feedback from our clients that was above our expectations. It gave our employees a lift, and our promotional initiatives have born much fruit.

Changing your answering service’s name is not a task to be entered into lightly, but with creative thought, careful planning, and meticulous execution, the results can be well worth the effort – it has been for us!

Visit Information Communications Group at www.infocg.com.

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

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

Make Your Billing Strategy Work for You

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderThere are likely as many billing plans as there are telephone answering services. It seems that everyone has his or her own idea of the right way to bill clients, with each answering service viewing its method as superior. Yet privately, they comprehend its shortcomings. In reality, there is no perfect billing philosophy and no single right way to charge clients. Successful billing requires that TAS owners understand their selected rate structure and operate their answering service that enables them to capitalize on their billing structure’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are some typical TAS billing plans:

Flat Rate: Every client is billed the same fixed rate every month. Though not used much any more, it was common when client expectations were uniform and call-processing systems were manual.

Advantages: Bills are easy to generate, explain, and understand; all revenue is fixed; and clients know exactly what to expect and can budget accordingly.

Disadvantages: It is not fair – essentially half of the clients are profitable, subsidizing the other half who are not. It also attracts high-volume (unprofitable) accounts while discouraging low-volume (profitable) ones.

Possible abuses: Revenue stays the same regardless if work is done; therefore, there is no direct financial incentive to answer calls.

Strategy: Seek low volume accounts; streamline and automate high volume accounts.

Modified Flat Rate: Each client pays a flat rate, but that rate differs from client to client based on his or her historical usage.

Advantages: There are the same benefits as with flat rate billing, and the disparity between profitable and unprofitable clients will be largely eliminated.

Disadvantages: Knowing what to bill a new client is hard, it neglects seasonal fluctuations, and you must continually review client traffic for changes in usage.

Possible abuses: The initial rate might be set too high or too low for new clients. Failure to lower rates if usage drops significantly will result in overbilling.

Strategy: Analyze client profitability each billing cycle by calculating client revenue per minute. Clients with a pattern of low revenue per minute (unprofitable) may need their rate increased or their account streamlined and automated.

Unit Billing: Tracks and bills units of work, such as calls answered and calls made; some services charge an additional unit if a message is taken. There is usually a base rate that includes an allowance of units, with excess units being billed additionally.

Advantages: More work can be tracked and billed; high volume and active accounts pay more.

Disadvantages: Not all units of work require an equal amount of time and effort.

Possible abuses: Performing unnecessary units of work under the guise of being thorough, such as double dispatching.

Strategy: Count every measurable unit of work. Automate time-consuming processes.

Time Billing: The time operators spend working for the client is tracked and billed. As with the unit billing, there is generally a monthly rate that includes a block of time; excess usage is billed separately.

Advantages: Billing will directly reflect the amount of time spent for that client.

Disadvantages: Billing complaints are harder to resolve.

Possible abuses: Talkative operators inflate bills.

Strategy: Provide the client with the services they need, coach operators to be thorough yet efficient, and make sure that all time is tracked and billed.

Tiered Time Billing: Agent time is billed the same way as time billing; any system time or automated activity is also billed, but at a lower rate. System time includes non-operator activity, such as automated dispatching, call screening, IVR, voicemail, patching, and conferencing.

Advantages: All of the benefits of minute billing; automated activity also produces income.

Disadvantages: There are more items to track; not all systems provide adequate statistics.

Possible abuses: Same as for time billing.

Strategy: Be sure to track and bill all appropriate time elements.

Other items to be considered for any billing method are ancillary charges (fax, email delivery, and on-call schedules), pass-through charges (local, long-distance, and toll-free costs), or surcharges (holiday fees). Other issues are the length of the billing cycle (monthly versus twenty-eight days), late fees, and discounts for early payment.

Regardless of which method you implement, be sure you know its strengths and weaknesses, follow it ethically, and pursue it strategically. With the right approach, any of these methods can be successful.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

The April 2009 Issue of TAS Trader

Make Your Billing Strategy Work for You

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderThere are likely as many billing plans as there are telephone answering services. It seems that everyone has his or her own idea of the right way to bill clients, with each answering service viewing its method as superior. Yet privately, they comprehend its shortcomings. In reality, there is no perfect billing philosophy and no single right way to charge clients. Successful billing requires that TAS owners understand their selected rate structure and operate their answering service that enables them to capitalize on their billing structure’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are some typical TAS billing plans:

Flat Rate: Every client is billed the same fixed rate every month. Though not used much any more, it was common when client expectations were uniform and call-processing systems were manual.
Advantages: Bills are easy to generate, explain, and understand; all revenue is fixed; and clients know exactly what to expect and can budget accordingly.
Disadvantages: It is not fair – essentially half of the clients are profitable, subsidizing the other half who are not. It also attracts high-volume (unprofitable) accounts while discouraging low-volume (profitable) ones.
Possible abuses: Revenue stays the same regardless if work is done; therefore, there is no direct financial incentive to answer calls.
Strategy: Seek low volume accounts; streamline and automate high volume accounts.

Modified Flat Rate: Each client pays a flat rate, but that rate differs from client to client based on his or her historical usage.
Advantages: There are the same benefits as with flat rate billing, and the disparity between profitable and unprofitable clients will be largely eliminated.
Disadvantages: Knowing what to bill a new client is hard, it neglects seasonal fluctuations, and you must continually review client traffic for changes in usage.
Possible abuses: The initial rate might be set too high or too low for new clients. Failure to lower rates if usage drops significantly will result in overbilling.
Strategy: Analyze client profitability each billing cycle by calculating client revenue per minute. Clients with a pattern of low revenue per minute (unprofitable) may need their rate increased or their account streamlined and automated.

Unit Billing: Tracks and bills units of work, such as calls answered and calls made; some services charge an additional unit if a message is taken. There is usually a base rate that includes an allowance of units, with excess units being billed additionally.
Advantages: More work can be tracked and billed; high volume and active accounts pay more.
Disadvantages: Not all units of work require an equal amount of time and effort.
Possible abuses: Performing unnecessary units of work under the guise of being thorough, such as double dispatching.
Strategy: Count every measurable unit of work. Automate time-consuming processes.

Time Billing: The time operators spend working for the client is tracked and billed. As with the unit billing, there is generally a monthly rate that includes a block of time; excess usage is billed separately.
Advantages: Billing will directly reflect the amount of time spent for that client.
Disadvantages: Billing complaints are harder to resolve.
Possible abuses: Talkative operators inflate bills.
Strategy: Provide the client with the services they need, coach operators to be thorough yet efficient, and make sure that all time is tracked and billed.

Tiered Time Billing: Agent time is billed the same way as time billing; any system time or automated activity is also billed, but at a lower rate. System time includes non-operator activity, such as automated dispatching, call screening, IVR, voicemail, patching, and conferencing.
Advantages: All of the benefits of minute billing; automated activity also produces income.
Disadvantages: There are more items to track; not all systems provide adequate statistics.
Possible abuses: Same as for time billing.
Strategy: Be sure to track and bill all appropriate time elements.

Other items to be considered for any billing method are ancillary charges (fax, email delivery, and on-call schedules), pass-through charges (local, long-distance, and toll-free costs), or surcharges (holiday fees). Other issues are the length of the billing cycle (monthly versus twenty-eight days), late fees, and discounts for early payment.

Regardless of which method you implement, be sure you know its strengths and weaknesses, follow it ethically, and pursue it strategically. With the right approach, any of these methods can be successful.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

—-

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