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The April 2010 Issue of TAS Trader

Raising Rates Is Imperative

By Jacquelyn Ormsbee

I was in my second year of business as the owner of a new telephone-answering service. My accounts were all drastically underpriced, flat-rate accounts, and I was having trouble making ends meet. I was a novice at running a business and only knew about managing an answering service from the perspective of my experience as an operator. I had a long and eye-opening discussion with my accountant. He said that I had to double my rates or die. He explained that I could lose half of my clients at double the rates and still make the same amount of money. However, he didn’t think I would lose that many clients. I then asked myself the tough question if I really wanted to be in business or not.

Ultimately, I decided that doubling my rates really was how I had to approach it. Because it was such huge increase, I wrote a forthright letter explaining the dire situation (without sounding too desperate). I explained how much I enjoyed servicing my clients and helping their callers. I also offered them alternate billing options, such as time-based usage billing. Then I proceeded with the rate increase. I did, in fact, raise my rates two times – and in some cases three times – so that each account was now profitable. To my utter amazement and total shock, I did not lose a single client because of the rate increase.

That was done during the month of February. Since then I have followed the advice of many industry veterans and raised my rates every year. I picked February as the month to do this. I also started using time-based billing more. I now have about 70 percent of my clients on time billing, with the remaining 30 percent on a flat-rate plan appropriate to their usage. Last year, because of the economy, I delayed my increase until July, and I plan to continue that as my new “standard.”

I tell clients that I raise my rates between 3 and 10 percent per year. The month before the increase, I put a line item on their bill as a reminder, but I do not mail any rate increase letters. When I do the increase, I put another line item on the invoice to reminded them; for time-billing accounts, I note that the price increase for overages (additional time) will be seen on the following bill. Most accounts I only raise 3 to 5 percent, but if an account has changed it’s “personality” and is now more complex, the rate increase will head towards 10 percent. Flat-rate accounts are subject to change whenever their account changes in a way that affects volume or complexity, such as adding an additional office or another partner. In those cases, I explain the reason for the increase.

I’ve never lost a client to price increase. I have had a few clients protest their increase, and then I negotiate with them.

I treat my clients fairly, and I’m honest about my pricing methods with them. Prices go up everywhere for everything. I often have clients call me to know in advance what their increase is going to be this year. The majority of my clients are happy with their service; they tell me this regularly.

So believe the wisdom of the industry experts: Raise your prices; be profitable. I personally keep the words of Paula Ford on my monitor: “Profit is not a four-letter word. Fear is a four-letter word.”

Jacquelyn Ormsbee is the founder of Best Connections Answering Service.

PINetwork Holds User Group Meeting in Scottsdale

PINetwork held their annual Professional Inbound Network (PIN) meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, on March 14 to17. In addition to company and product updates, sessions included:

•    Real-time traffic reporting
•    Agent training
•    SMS features
•    Disaster recovery
•    Pinnacle Dashboard
•    Previews of the new Pinnacle features

Tuesday night, the group visited Contact One Call Center in Tucson and then enjoyed a real western barbecue. The barbecue was hosted by Judy Wood and her family.

The new PIN board of directors for 2010-2011 was announced:

•    Susan Liggett, CallNet – president
•    Charlie Crown, Towne Answering – vice president/president elect
•    Larry Bear, Port Answer – treasurer
•    Michael Shaw, Business & Professional Exchange – secretary
•    Royce Mitchell, Westpark Communications – board member
•    Rose Nigro, Professionally Speaking – board member
•    Peter Gross, Sunshine Communications- board member
•    Phyllis Shaw, Business & Professional Exchange – past president

“The PIN group planned a great meeting. The sessions were interesting, and the social events were over the top,” said Pat Kalik, vice president of Professional Teledata.

News

Professional Teledata Announces PInnacle Dashboard Accessory Program
Professional Teledata announced the availability of the Pinnacle Dashboard Accessory Program for all Pinnacle cus- tomers. The dashboard provides a real-time visual display of system metrics and an over- all image of answering-service load and per- formance. It also has a real-time traffic screen, which provides a graphic display of call activity. Dashboard is designed with mul- tiple monitor support in mind, so it can easily be run on a second monitor attached to a su- pervisory PC. When used with a large screen monitor, it easily serves as a sophisticated reader board.

Amtelco Goes “Pink”
Amtelco launched a “You Click – We Donate” fund-raising campaign for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. For every new fan on Amtelco’s Facebook page, Twitter, or those with a unique login to Amtelco’s customer support Web sites (Techhelper, Amtelcopedia, and Resource Library), Amtelco will donate to this far-reaching cause. The campaign continues through October (which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month), 2010. Amtelco presi- dent Tom Curtin noted that this is an ideal way “to benefit an organization whose core objective is to find a cure for a disease that has touched so many of our friends and relatives.”

AnswerNet Promotes Josue Leon to VP of Operations
AnswerNet announced that Josue Leon has been promoted to vice president of operations. Leon has been with AnswerNet and its predecessor companies for over twenty-three years. He began as a site manager and has held various operations management positions within the company. Leon will be responsible for all of the call center and client-facing operational activities, including client services, quality control, and measurement and service delivery. “Josue is a creative and thoughtful executive who embodies AnswerNet’s core values,” said AnswerNet president and CEO Gary A. Pudles.

CAM-X and WSTA to Hold Joint Convention
This year CAM-X and WSTA will hold a joint conference to increase the pool of vendors and member participants, allow for a better program, and provide a better economy of scale to hold down costs. The convention will be in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Casino Hotel on October 3-6, 2010. It is hoped that the location will be one more attraction for international attendees. The theme is “The Future of Our Industry,” with a focus on marketing; there will also be sessions on “social networking,” a second Profit Enhancement Group (PEG) meeting, and roundtable discussion groups.

CenturiSoft Receives 2009 Best of Business Award
CenturiSoft Inc. has been selected for the 2009 Best of Business Award in the telecommunications category by the Small Business Commerce Association (SBCA). The SBCA 2009 Award Program recognizes the top 5 percent of small businesses throughout the country. Using statistical research and consumer feedback, the SBCA identifies companies it believes to have demonstrated what makes small businesses a vital part of the U.S. economy. The selection committee chooses the award winners from nominees based on statistical research and monthly surveys administered by the SBCA, a review of consumer rankings, and other consumer reports.

Professional Teledata’s PInnacle Freedom Negates Weather’s Fury
Professional Teledata’s hosted solution, PInnacle Freedom, proved itself during winter storms and outages. “With the recent weather issues in the East causing outages and transportation issues, the ability of Freedom offices to continue operation has really proved the effectiveness of hosted solutions,” said Dale Schafer, VP of engineering at Professional Teledata. Hosting is also effective in integrating multiple locations and for relocations. The Freedom product includes PInnacle software licensing and use of hardware hosted in the Manchester, New Hampshire; call center staff can access the system using a high-speed Internet connection 24/7.

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

The March 2010 Issue of TAS Trader

Prepare Your Answering Service for Sale

By Paula Ford

Every telephone answering service should always be prepared to sell. This is a strategy that puts you in control, allows you to say “no” or hold out for a better offer, and increases profitability. This strategy improves your TAS every day, whether you want to sell or not. Having your service ready to sell means having it running at its maximum potential.

Keep Good Books: Don’t do anything under the table; it can come back to haunt you. No buyer will pay for income you can’t prove. Also, if your labor cost is low because you are paying someone under the table, it makes everything else about the deal look fishy.

Match Billing with Clients Serviced: Compare your services to what you are billing. I once knew a service that claimed to have 150 clients but billed less than 100. Were they doing work and not being paid, or did they just keep poor records? Either one is bad news.

Do You Have a Business or a Hobby? Conduct an honest appraisal of whether you are running a business or a full-time hobby that “sort of” pays for itself.

Charge Appropriately: Do you give excellent service but charge “competitive” prices? This is just another variety of undercharging. Whoever buys your service will do one of two things:
•    Provide lower quality service than you do, making your clients unhappy
•    Give world-class service at world-class prices, making your clients unhappy

Raise Rates: Failure to do routine price reevaluations is the biggest reason why your answering service might be not as profitable as it should be. One TAS I know hasn’t raised its rates in four years. Each year its cost of doing business has risen, so it cuts profits every year. The quickest way to increase the value of your business is to raise your rates.

Adjust Your Thinking: Almost every answering service has a few big accounts – ones that pay $1,000 or more per month. The trouble is that these accounts often cost more to service than the income they generate. Here are some solutions to the problem of serving big accounts:
•    Figure out what the account should be paying to be profitable.
•    Find five to ten new customers who will make money.
•    Adjust the rates on the big account.
•    If the big account cancels, you have the replacement income in place; if they stay, you will have more profits.

Pursue Quality Clients: A buyer will look at the quality of your client list as well as your income. Short-term clients and poorly paying customers don’t inspire high offers.

What if you don’t sell your business after taking these steps? Your business will be more profitable and be more enjoyable to run. Either way, it’s worth the effort!

Factors Affecting the Sales Price:

•    Likely 10 to 15 percent of your clients will immediately quit, regardless of how smoothly the sale of your TAS goes.
•    A few clients only use your service because they are friends or you are also their customer.
•    Every answering service has a few customers who have stopped using the service months or even years ago, but the billing department has not made the adjustment. Something as simple as changing the billing address causes an alert, generating a letter stating, “We have no further need for your services.”
•    If customers are considering cancelling, the sale of your business might make the decision for them.

You Might Have a Hobby if You:

•    Give preferential rates to friends
•    Keep accounts on service even when they can’t pay for it
•    Don’t know which clients are current and which are past due
•    Don’t evaluate rate increases
•    Aren’t making a living income
•    Never figured out what your income is
•    Work as a full-time agent in addition to managing your business
•    Don’t routinely evaluate an account’s status when a change of work is requested
•    Have no way to know whether a client is profitable
•    Don’t charge for all the work you do for a client

CAM-X 2010 Convention News

This year’s CAM-X Convention will be a joint conference held with the WSTA (Western States Telemessaging Association). The partnership will increase the pool of vendors and member participants, allow for a better program, and provide a better economy-of-scale to hold down costs.

The convention will be in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Casino Hotel on October 3-6, 2010. “This hotel has been fully renovated,” said CAM-X Convention chair Tom Sheridan, “and even ‘the economy’ rooms are wonderful. Airfare, registration costs, and hotel rates are all affordable. We’re sensitive to offering our membership extra value, especially when convention budgets can be limited. Vegas is easy to get to from just about everywhere. The city is ‘larger than life’ and just plain fun to visit, especially if you or your managers have never been there before.” It is hoped that the location will be one more attraction for international attendees.

There are many changes happening in the TAS industry. “This year we’ve focused on the ‘wow factor,’ and ‘The Future of Our Industry’ is our theme,” he continued. “Our agenda will focus on marketing, comprising a full day of ‘boot camp’ seminars broken down into seven subtopics. This way, there will be relevant marketing-related content for owners and managers alike. In addition, we’re holding sessions on social networking, a second Profit Enhancement Group (“PEG”) meeting (which was very well received last year), and roundtable discussion groups (a great networking opportunity for CAM-X and WSTA members). We are also working on signing up a guest speaker for the more technical topic of search engine optimization.”

The last session will be a panel discussion entitled “Evolution – The Future of Our Industry.” Additionally, there will be the Gala Banquet and the CAM-X Award of Excellence program.

News

CenturiSoft Celebrates Ten Years
CenturiSoft is celebrating ten years of service to the TAS industry. John Pope founded CenturiSoft with the vision to “Revolutionize the Way We Communicate.” He departed from past standards, building a new messaging product, the Centuri Messenger, from the ground up using ISDN-PRI (digital) instead of analog. In 2003, VoIP was added and the way prepared for HD audio and video capabilities. With two patents pending, its “Call Logic Engine” and scripting has allowed CenturiSoft to accomplish hundreds of installations interfacing to different switches and vendors seamlessly and without sacrificing features.

Telescan Joins with CenturiSoft to Introduce Two-Way Voice Messaging
Telescan has introduced the integration of automatic message delivery notification between Centuri Messenger and Telescan’s Spectrum. This jointly developed software integration allows the Centuri to notify Spectrum of the delivery of a message with a date and time stamp. This new feature eliminates the need for call center agents to periodically check for message delivery, saving time and improving accuracy. Marcy Hewlett, president of A Better Connection, the software’s test site, said, “The marriage of Telescan’s Spectrum with CenturiSoft’s Centuri Messenger has been a blessing, providing everyone with peace of mind.”

CAM-X Announces More Site Certifications
The Canadian Call Management Association (CAM-X) announced that three more answering services have achieved 24/7 Call Centre Site Certification. They are Connections Call Centre of Squamish, BC; Re: Messaging Solutions, of Abbotsford, BC; and Extend Communications, Inc. of Brantford, ON. The certification indicates that these answering services have met or exceeded high standards in the areas of business practices, life safety, operations (including normal and emergency procedures), and personnel hiring, training and ongoing evaluations through a peer review program fo- cusing on a 99.9 percent annual run time.

AnswerNet Acquires Assets of Exchange Network
AnswerNet announced the addition of the Exchange Network of Billerica, Massa- chusetts, to its network of call centers. “We are extremely pleased to bring Exchange Network and its employees on board with AnswerNet,” said AnswerNet president and CEO Gary A. Pudles. “Exchange Network has done a great job of providing premier telephone answering and call center services to its clients throughout the Merrimack Valley and New England for over sixty years.” Exchange Network principal Alan Hamer added, “This is an excellent oppor- tunity for Exchange Network employees and clients.”

CAM-X Leadership Training
CAM-X announced the dates of their annual spring training seminars. The first will be held in Toronto on April 13 and repeated in Calgary on April 15. This is ideal for telephone answering service supervisors, team leads, and managers. Topics include “Out of Site, Not Out of Mind: Everything You Wanted to Know about Remote Agents” with Tom Sheridan; “Training Best Practices and Performance Management” with Barbara Bradbury and Dana Lloyd; and “HR Software Demonstration and Social Networking” with Ron Guest of TwoGreySuits. More information can be found at www.camx.ca.

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

The February 2010 Issue of TAS Trader

Answer First Communication Marks Fifty Years in Business

When Jim Kilgore’s Smyrna-based answering service, Answer First Communication, started operations in 1960, there were no personal computers, email, faxes, cell phones, voicemail, texting devices, PDAs, or pagers. There were “just good old-fashioned telephones and operators answering live twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week,” said Kilgore. “Some things that work for businesses just don’t need to change,” he added. “If you have a business telephone in any industry, we answer anytime 24/7 with trained and skilled folks, so our clients never miss a call from a ready-to-buy customer. Your business telephone is still your most important business tool. A lot of businesses run an advertisement, but have no one to answer their phone. That doesn’t happen here.”

However, there is current technology that does make sense for Kilgore’s answering service. “Of course we deliver messages to our clients by any of the most up-to-date electronic devices and means businesses use today, and we have state-of-the-art computer equipment, but having a real live, friendly, and professional person on the front end makes a great impression on customers,” Kilgore proudly stated. “Our system has proven to increase sales for our clients. Most people just hate answering machines and the ‘voicemail jail’ they encounter in a business environment and will just hang up and try somebody else.”

The Smyrna Business Association recently recognized the answering service at their monthly meeting on January 9. In addition, the city of Smyrna issued a proclamation from Mayor Max Bacon’s office stating their appreciation for the longevity demonstrated by Answer First Communication. “I extend congratulations to Answer First Communication on their fiftieth anniversary, with best wishes for many more years to come,” said Mayor Bacon.

Jim Kilgore, a former baseball catcher who had played pro ball for two years for the former Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league affiliate in Thomasville, Georgia, is active in the local community. He is a member and past president of the Smyrna Business Association and a member of the Smyrna Kiwanis Club, the Vinings Business Association, the Atlanta Apartment Association, and the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. He also plays softball for the Smyrna Senior Gold League.

Kilgore says another benefit he offers his clients is that many of his employees have been with him for over ten years and are well-versed in providing exceptional service. “We have some great people on the phone lines and in the call center. We take care of them so they can take care of our clients. Our director of operations, Donna Ellis, has been on the job since 1978, and we have many clients that have also been with us for well over ten years.”

The company has also just added a new vice president of sales and marketing, Glenn Christian. Mr. Christian, a Smyrna-area native, has eleven years’ experience in business development in the call center industry and is helping to broaden and enhance the services offered by the company. “We like to make it easy for people to do business with us. The benefit of a live answer 24/7 and the peace of mind it brings are immeasurable,” says Christian.

In addition to their core service, Answer First also provides 1-800 numbers, order taking, crisis and emergency lines, and help desk services. As for new services, Kilgore says, “For our clients and other businesses, we offer an ‘Employee Workplace Awareness Hotline’ program for loss-prevention and risk-reduction so their employees can call in anonymously twenty-four-hours-a-day to report any complaints or potential illegal activities they observe in their workplace. We also provide a 24-Hour Job Line for employers so they can prescreen and prequalify job seekers on the phone before they decide to set up an interview. We also have an expanded Web site, www.answer1stinc.com to make it easy for our clients to find us, gather information on our services, and provide feedback to us. The company can also be reached at 770-333-1000.”

How much longer does Kilgore plan to work in the business? “Just as long as I feel good and that probably will be for a long time, because we provide a service that helps businesses increase sales and improve their bottom line, especially today,” he said. “Some things never change.”

News

Answer Midwest Named “Best Customer Service”
Answer Midwest, Inc. answering service has been selected by St. Louis Small Business Monthly (SBM) readers with providing the “Best Customer Service” in St. Louis. Each month SBM polls its readers for its annual “Best in Business” contest, asking them to nominate and select the best businesses in St. Louis. Answer Midwest will be honored in the magazine’s February 2010 edition. According to Gary Tedrick, president and CEO, Answer Midwest has been in business for sixty-four years and is based in Alton, Illinois.

Amtelco Increases Infinity Conferencing Seats to Sixty-Four
Expanded voice conferencing of up to sixty-four parties is now available with the Infinity Conference Bridge. Conferences are created with or without operator assistance; operators or the conference moderator can initiate audio recording, with the resulting WAV file emailed to them. Moderators can manage and view their conference via a Web interface. Conferences can be secured with a moderator password. Multiple conference bridge IDs can be predefined, allowing each staff member to have his or her own conference bridge. This is available in Infinity v5.51. For more information, call 800-356-9148 or 608-838-4194.

Candy Myura Partners with TAS Source
Chuck Boyce and TAS Source, providing support to the TAS industry, has partnered with business and executive coach Candy Myura. Her company, A Better You Coaching, focuses on leadership development while helping individuals and businesses grow. Candy worked as the COO of Appletree Answers and also for MBNA, a fortune 500 financial institution. Her experience, tools, and resources will help TAS Source and the TAS community stay active and vibrant. Additionally, Candy spoke at the recent TAS Source Marketing Summit. Contact her at 302-383-4344 or cmyura@ ABetterYouCoaching.com; you can reach Chuck at 302-352-9488 or chuck@tassource.com.

Amtelco Adds Auto-Connect Option to Soft Agent
Amtelco added a configurable auto- connect option to its Intelligent Soft Agent. This allows incoming calls to be answered immediately as they ring on an operator workstation, eliminating the need to manually connect. Auto-connect calls are preceded by a discreet audible tone, alerting operators of a new call. The feature saves time and eliminates missed or delayed calls when operators are not looking at their workstations. The Soft Agent application is specifically designed for use with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based telephone switching systems. For more information, call 800-356-9148 or 608-838-4194.

Mail-N-More to Print and Mail Invoices
Chris Twigg of Mail-N-More announced that their new invoice printing and mailing services can cut costs up to 50 percent and speed up receivables. Additionally, Mail-N-More can track bills (via the USPS Web site link), split a billing file into mailed, faxed, and emailed invoices, provide optional online payment capability, track faxes and emails to delivery, and bar code all information required by a bank if the remittance address is the sender’s bank lockbox. Mail-N-More is proud to send out invoices for AnswerNet. Call Chris Twigg at 321-729-9972 or info@ bizmailservice.com for further information.

GLTSA Announces Spring Sales and Supervisors Seminar
GLTSA (the Great Lakes Telemessaging Services Association) announced that their Spring Sales and Supervisors Seminar will be held April 13-15, 2010, at the Wyndham Lisle-Chicago Hotel in Naperville, Illinois. For more information, contact Dan L’Heureux at 763-473-0210 or Dan@CallConsult.net; GLSTA’s Web site is www.GLTSA.org. Also, mark your calendars for the GLTSA Fall Annual Meeting, October 25-27, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois (more information to follow).

Telescan Joins with CenturiSoft to Introduce Two-Way Voice Messaging
Telescan announces integrated auto- matic message delivery notification between Centuri Messenger and Telescan’s Spectrum. This jointly developed software integration allows Centuri to notify Spectrum of the delivery of a message with a date and time stamp, eliminating the need for answering service agents to periodically check for message delivery – thus saving time and improving accuracy. A Better Connection was the test site for the new Telescan/ CenturiSoft integration.

Amtelco Intelligent Soft Agent System with Asterisk and ACD Connectivity
Amtelco has released the Intelligent Soft Agent, specifically designed for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)-based telephone switching systems. The Intelligent Soft Agent application integrates with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-enabled PBX equipment from Asterisk, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel, Siemens, and Amtelco’s Infinity ACD system. It provides the ability to establish low-cost, efficient, direct connections to clients’ PBXs and ACDs. The Internet-based communication makes it possible to easily and efficiently offer remote receptionist and messaging services. For more information, call 800-356-9148 or 608-838-4194.

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

The January 2010 Issue of TAS Trader

A Great Answering Service Can Improve a Medical Practice’s Bottom Line

By D. E. Murray

With rapidly improving diagnostic technologies, physicians are continually challenged to learn more and do more. Patient care may be technically improved as a result, insurance companies and third party administrators may be made happy by their efforts, and the care team may take pride in efficient and effective medical treatment. However, patients may often feel as if they are only a small part of a thoroughly mechanized, automated, and impersonal process. Too often, they are right.

Studies have shown that medical litigation is greatly influenced by a patient’s relationship with their physician. The more a patient feels they have been heard and can share their concerns with their physician, the less likely that patient is to sue – even when the physician has made an error.

In the United States, medicine is practiced in a team environment. The physician is typically in charge of the team, which often includes physician’s assistants, nurses, aides, technicians, and front office staff – as well as the practice’s telephone answering service. As the practice’s primary ambassador after-hours, patients may associate a poor answering service with substandard care if calls are mishandled. Conversely, an outstanding answering service will project a practice’s focus on patient care and professionalism 24/7.

“A great answering service may greatly assist the patient/physician interface, improve and solidify patient relationships, and add to the practice’s bottom line. If your answering service is merely serving as a voicemail system with a live operator, you are missing the boat,” stated Nancy Duncan of On Ramp Medical Communications. “Beyond the crucial after-hours interface with patients, a great answering service can add to office profits, patient satisfaction, and retention by providing appointment reminders, surgery or appointment cancellations, Rx refill information, and patient surveys.”

A great telephone answering service knows that they are an extension of their client’s practice. Therefore, answering service training should include both initial and ongoing instruction with a focus on patient service and client profiles. A great service will utilize current and upgraded software and hardware with backup capability in the event of power failure, severe weather, or disaster. A great answering service will regularly communicate with their clients, keeping them abreast of opportunities to improve patient communication during and after office hours, thus increasing office profitability.
“At the end of the day, a great answering service recognizes their importance to the patient care equation, understands that they are an extension of the medical practice, adds to the practice’s bottom line, and delivers professionalism and value far beyond the expectations of the practice,” continued Duncan. “An answering service does more than just answer patients’ calls; their influence on patient satisfaction is enormous.”

D. E. Murray is a freelance writer residing in Florida.

Seasonal Traffic Opportunities

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, author, blogger, publisher, editor

As a publisher, December is a slower time of the year for me. It’s not that I have less work to do, but I have fewer interruptions in the form of ancillary email messages and phone calls. Conversely, for most answering services, the winter holidays present the opposite scenario, with the days leading up to Christmas being busier – and for some services, significantly busier. The amount of increase in December call volume varies by region and client mix. While some call centers see little change in call volume during the winter months, most see an increase.

In cases where the increase is moderate, it is handled using existing staff, with operators working more hours and additional shifts or former operators being pulled in from other departments. The goal is to not increase the employee count if possible and to avoid having to let people go when the holiday rush is over.

For answering services with a greater influx of calls – such as those that also do some order taking – existing staff is often inadequate to cover the projected traffic. In these instances, temporary staff is needed. Although hiring temporary holiday staff – be it directly or indirectly through a staffing agency – is daunting and draining, there is an upside. These short-term workers give the answering service an opportunity to evaluate their skill and effectiveness, picking out the best for possible permanent status come January. This may be the ultimate agent-screening tool, one that produces the best possible evaluation.

Regardless of which category your answering services fits into – whether you see a slight increase, a moderate bump, or a big jump – one thing can be expected: January should be a slower month, requiring fewer hours on the schedule. Moreover, this year things are compounded by worries over the economy and wonderings of how much longer the recession will last.

With this as the backdrop, I offer the following considerations for January:

  • Staff morale will become an even bigger issue. In December, the goal was to keep staff motivated amid an increase in calls, complaints, and fatigue, whereas in January, the need is to keep morale up in the face of reduced hours, fewer shifts, and possible terminations for temporary staff or even layoffs for permanent staff. Even though things have slowed down, morale is still an issue that can’t be overlooked.
  • Slower times are a great opportunity to renew quality initiatives and provide additional training. Side-by-side coaching and silent monitoring can once again be given the attention and priority they deserve.
  • When hours need to be cut, the weaker staff should bear the brunt of it. Some operators may not have what it takes to provide the quality service that you seek, while others might have given up trying and are merely coasting. Terminating the obviously weaker agents sends a powerful message to stronger agents that their good work is noticed and appreciated.

A slower January is not a time for either fear or relaxing but a time of opportunity; don’t miss it.

News

TAS Trader Goes Monthly
Starting in 2010, TAS Trader will be published monthly and distributed the first Thursday of each month. Launched in April 2009, TAS Trader was initially a bimonthly e-publication. In addition to the premier issue in April, there were four other issues in 2009: June, August, October, and December. All of these issues are archived online. There are 2,000 subscribers to TAS Trader, which covers the telephone answering service industry.

STA Webinars
The Southern Telemessaging Association (STA) has announced a series of educational Webinars for the first quarter of 2010. The first is a representation of their well-received December 10th Webinar entitled “Customer Service.” It will be offered on January 7th. Part 2 of “Customer Service” will be held on January 21st. On February 25th, the Webinar will focus on the “Supervisor’s Role in Customer Service,” followed by “CSR Training, Coaching, and Evaluating Customer Service” on March 18th. All Webinars will be held at 1:00 pm CST. For more information or to register, go to www.sta-assoc.org/calendar.html.

Amtelco Users Meet in Newport Beach, CA, for 2010 Conference
The National Amtelco Equipment Owners 2010 Conference will be held in Newport Beach, California, March 21 to 25 at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel. Amtelco and NAEO will provide in-depth educational presentations during the conference, and Amtelco will announce major software and hardware innovations. Kevin Beale, Amtelco’s director of research and development software, will present new releases designed to add new services and increase profits for answering services. For more information, contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148 or email info@amtelco.com.

Amtelco Receives Patent for Dynamically Creating Records
Amtelco received a U.S. patent for “A System and Method for Dynamically Creating Records.” It encompasses a script that pulls information from a database using a dynamic link, such as automatically entering a patient’s address when the operator enters the patient identification number. Working in the opposite direction, the process can also add information to a database using a dynamic link. Creating “contact databases as operators take calls offers unlimited potential,” said Amtelco president Tom Curtin. This is the twenty- eighth patent received through Amtelco, beginning with the first patent in 1954.

TAS Trader Adds Convention Schedules Online
Telephone answering service conventions, meetings, and events are posted online. You can bookmark this link for quick and easy access to all TAS industry events. You can also subscribe to be notified of updates, or use one of the news feed options to see all postings.

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

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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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD 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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, author, blogger, publisher, editor

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.

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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD for TAS Trader, a telephone answering service e-publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]

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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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD for TAS Trader, a telephone answering service e-publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]

The April 2009 Issue of TAS Trader

Make Your Billing Strategy Work for You

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, author, blogger, publisher, editor

There 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.

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