Category Archives: Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Columns

Articles by TAS Trader publisher and editor Peter Lyle DeHaan

A New Year Means New Possibilities

Embrace Today as an Opportunity to Form a Better Tomorrow

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderAs we step into the new year, we embrace the potential that it brings. Now is the time to move toward our best year yet. It starts with embracing the opportunities we have in front of us at this moment.

What might this be? It might involve personnel, such as a new hire, a restructuring, or fixing a broken team. Could it be technology? To implement or fully master what’s already installed, to acquire something new, or to replace something that’s inadequate. What about operations? Streamline an outdated process, establish a procedure, or simplify the complicated. Then there’s sales and marketing. Master online ads, overhaul sales collateral, or update an ineffective website.

There’s plenty to do and each one of these things will help pave the way for a better tomorrow.

new possibilitiesToday Is the Day

We’re a couple days into the new year, and if you’re like me, you’re still trying to wrap up last year and put a nice bow on it. Yet it’s hard to look forward when we’re absorbed with the past. It’s true that we shouldn’t leave last year undone, yet we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to not move forward. Today is the day to step into our future. Don’t delay.

Don’t Wait for Tomorrow

We shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that next week will be a better time to embark on a special project. Promising ourselves that we’ll make a fresh go of it tomorrow, merely serves to delay forward progress. Putting things off till tomorrow can easily become next week and then next month. Before we know it, it’s spring and then summer, and the year is half over. Don’t wait for a better time to launch important initiatives. Start today.

Focus on One Thing

I have more great ideas then I’ll ever have time to do. If I try to do them all, I’ll end up accomplishing nothing. Therefore, join me today in picking one thing that will make tomorrow better. Then go do it. We aren’t likely to wrap up our project in one day, but the work we do now brings us one day closer to completing it.

Then Move to the Next Task

Once we complete one item, it’s time to start the next. Though taking a day off to catch our breath is enticing, it also threatens to negate the habit we just formed of using today to produce a better tomorrow.

May today be the day that we start to take hold of our future, for our business and for our life.

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.

How Much Do You Pay Your Entry-Level Staff?

It’s Time to Take a Counterintuitive Look at Hourly Pay

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderThe biggest expense for telephone answering service is payroll. You know that. You strive to hold down payroll costs to control expenses and stay in business, hopefully to turn a profit. Scheduling too many people to answer phone calls drives payroll costs up. Paying too much per hour also drives payroll costs up. This is bad. Left unchecked, runaway payroll costs is the quickest way for an answering service to fail.

Or is it? What if we challenge conventional wisdom and dare to consider paying new hires a higher hourly rate?

Will Higher Pay Increase Retention?

I’ve never met anyone at an answering service who felt they earned too much. Most employees, especially entry-level operators, complain they’re not being paid enough. I get this—from both the employee and the employer standpoint.

How Much Do You Pay Your Entry-Level Staff_

Employees leave an answering service for various reasons. Sometimes they quit and exit the workforce, but usually they leave for a new position—often one with better pay. And often it’s the best employees—the most employable ones—who leave first. Will paying a bit more encourage them to stay a bit longer?

Will Higher Pay Reduce Other Costs?

Assuming that by paying telephone operators a bit more will increase your retention rates, consider the ramifications of this. If employees stay longer, that means you need to hire fewer replacements. This means hiring costs will go down. Even more significantly, training costs will decrease. You won’t have to pay as many new hires for their training; you’ll also save on the cost of the trainer.

Will Higher Pay Improve Customer Service?

When you pay an entry-level rate, you get entry-level work. This reflects the level of service your staff provides to your clients. New employees are also the ones who make the most errors. If you pay new employees more, will you get a higher level of work from them? Maybe. Keep reading.

Will Higher Pay Reduce Management Hassles?

Is there a correlation between level of pay and job commitment? People who arrive late, quit without notice, cause conflicts with coworkers, and trigger a myriad of other issues take up management bandwidth to deal with. If paying staff a bit more will reduce a bit of these headaches, is it worth it?

Will Higher Pay Result in a Higher Caliber Employee?

The fundamental question is, will a higher pay rate result in higher caliber employees? That’s largely up to you. Seriously. If you offer to pay more but don’t change your hiring process or expect more from new hires, you won’t realize much benefit by paying a higher hourly rate.

However, if you tighten your screening procedures, raise your hiring requirements, and increase your employee standards along with the hourly rate, you can expect to get a higher caliber employee. When you do this, you’ll be able to shift money from your hiring and training budget into your operations payroll budget. This could even have a net positive effect on your bottom line.

Increasing your starting pay to realize these benefits is a high-risk, high-reward proposition and shouldn’t be entered into without careful thought and preparation. However, when done wisely, the result could positively impact every aspect of your answering service.

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.

How Often Do You Thank Your Answering Service Staff?

This Thanksgiving Seek Effective Ways to Show Appreciation to Your Front-Line Employees

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderThanksgiving will soon be here. For many people that means a four-day weekend. There may be a grand feast with family, watching a parade or football game, and perhaps a nap. Then there’s Christmas shopping on Friday—or Thursday afternoon for those who can’t wait. Later in the weekend, some will put up Christmas decorations and others will go to a movie. Traditions vary, but for most people Thanksgiving is a break from work.

Not so for those in the answering service industry. Quite possibly Thanksgiving weekend means four days of work. Given the theme of the holiday, being thankful, let’s look for ways to thank staff who will spend time working when most other people aren’t. Some bosses do a great job at this, others not so well, and a few don’t even think about it. Here are some ideas to say “thank you” to your staff.

Use Words

Sometimes the simplest of ways is the best way. Just look each employee in the eye, and say “thank you for all you do.” It can mean a lot.

I once had a boss who personally handed out paychecks each payday. Though not the most personable guy, he made a point to say “thank you” as he gave each of us our check. That was thirty years ago. I still remember it.

Give a Card

Cards are nice too, but to have maximum impact, don’t use the premade kind with flowery sentiment and your printed signature. Instead handwrite a short note of sincere appreciation, say thank you, and sign it. For increased impact, include a gift card or cash.

Do Something Special

As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” What action can you do to show your appreciation to your answering service staff working on Thanksgiving? Maybe you could drop off a treat for them to enjoy during break. How about a small gift awaiting each one when they come into work? Come up with something creative you can do for your staff, and it will have a huge impact.

Avoid the Cliché or the Routine

Some companies give frozen turkeys to their staff on Thanksgiving, and others have practices that have become expected but carry little meaning. Phase out the old, tired convention and replace it with something fresh and new that will have employees buzzing.

Continue Year-Round

Though we think of being thankful this time of year, don’t restrict your appreciation of your staff to one weekend. Continue to thank them and show your appreciation for the hard work they do throughout the year.

Yes, this takes effort and is time-consuming, but so is hiring and training new staff when your existing employees quit because they don’t feel appreciated.

May you and your staff have a happy Thanksgiving.

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.

Why Do Some Answering Services Grow While Others Struggle?

5 Key Contributors to Answering Service Success

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS Trader-answering serviceOver the years I’ve seen some answering services get larger, while others didn’t. Before we attribute the difference to bad timing, being in the wrong place, or poor luck, let’s consider some characteristics that can contribute to answering service success. This isn’t a scientific analysis or a guaranteed checklist. Instead it’s a list of key characteristics that will help tip the balance in favor of growth, profits, and quality.

1. Strong Leadership and Management

Does an answering service need a leader or a manager? It requires both. A leader plans for tomorrow, while a manager handles today. Having one without the other leads to an imbalance in the operation and promotes frustration among staff and clients.

2. A Capable Management Team

When an answering service starts from nothing, the owner needs to wear many hats. However, for existing answering services, having one person attempt to handle everything is a bad idea. They’ll end up neglecting something critical.

That’s why it takes a team to run a telephone answering service. As the answering service grows, the number of people on the team grows with it. Two common mistakes answering services make are growing the team too slowly and growing it too fast.

3. No Weak Links

It takes several departments for a successful answering service. Operations is the biggest. Also needed is sales and marketing, accounting, and technical. A strong leadership administrative team holds them all together. Each of these units must pursue excellence in all they do. There can be no weak links, or the answering service will struggle.

For example, if operations produces high-quality work but sales doesn’t add enough new accounts, it doesn’t matter how good the quality is because there won’t be enough accounts to serve. Conversely, if sales and marketing adds new clients fast, but poor quality and customer service drive them away faster, it’s a losing situation.

4. Attention to Details

Details matter. It matters whether you’re taking a message, programming equipment, setting up a client, sending an invoice, or leading a team. Doing 90 percent of the job isn’t good enough. It requires 100 percent to achieve success.

5. Industry Involvement and Networking

Too many answering services try to function in isolation. They don’t attend industry events, network with other answering services, or work to make the industry better. They toil in isolation, hoping they can figure everything out on their own. And even if this does work, it won’t work as well as if they had regular input from others in the industry to encourage them with new ideas and provide motivation. Though some answering service owners and managers may claim they don’t have the time or the money to get involved, the truth is they can’t afford not to.

Conclusion

Following these five tips may not guarantee answering service growth and success, but they will certainly place the answering service in a better position than had you not pursued them. Look at your answering service operation through the lens of these suggestions. Then determine what area needs attention and seek to improve it. If you do, you could very well end up realizing the growth and success that you seek.

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.

How a Mystery Caller Program Can Benefit Your Answering Service

Receiving Independent, Third-Party Feedback Is the Most Valuable Information You Can Get

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderAs a writer, I’m a big fan of constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s affirming and other times it’s discouraging, but when it comes from a credible source it’s always beneficial. The same applies to the answering service industry. Receiving independent, third-party feedback about service quality is always beneficial.

Regardless if it’s praiseworthy or agonizing to hear, it provides the means to celebrate what’s good and improve what falls short. Just as smart writers are always open to receive credible feedback, so too should smart answering services.

Although client testimonials are gratifying, they certainly don’t give a balanced view. Online reviews have the potential to address both the good and the not so good, but these are seldom balanced either. They often provide extreme views that are neither helpful nor useful.

That’s where a mystery shopper comes in. A mystery shopper for your answering service provides valuable insight from an outside source. Though you could hire someone to be a mystery shopper, the results may be skewed because you’re picking up the tab. A better solution is to contract with an organization that provides the service and where the evaluation is done blind, without knowledge of which answering service they’re analyzing.

Enter the Independent Mystery Caller

The ATSI Award of Excellence program and the CAM-X Award of Excellence program both function the same way. They place mystery calls to your answering service, evaluate the results, and present a composite score that reflects overall quality. It’s the most valuable input your answering service could ever receive.

Though you may think that one program is enough, they cover different times of the year. This means that by tapping both the ATSI and the CAM-X offerings you can enjoy year-round evaluations, as well as detailed feedback twice a year, instead of just once.

(And for those providers that have moved beyond the traditional answering service clientele, there are two advanced options to consider. One is the CAM-X Call Centre Award of Distinction and the other is the ATSI Call Center Award of Distinction. Both are worth pursuing.)

The Winner Is…

Answering services that meet the quality benchmark standard in the Award of Excellence programs are honored as an Award of Excellence winner for that year. This is the most reliable mark of answering service quality available in the industry. Those who have one these awards operate at a different level than those who don’t.

However, just by participating in these programs, makes answering services a winner, even if they fall a bit short of the expected results. This is because the feedback from the program is invaluable. Applying the evaluators’ analysis of the mystery callers lets answering services know what to work on to increase their level of quality. This allows them to pursue and achieve year-over-year improvement. Both the answering service and their clients benefit.

Last, though this may offend some, I truly hope it serves as motivation: the only ones who lose in the Award of Excellence programs are those that don’t participate.

May this year be the year your answering service’s quality becomes the best it’s ever been. Participating in an Award of Excellence program can help you get there.

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 Power of No

Learning to Say No Opens the Door to Yes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

http://www.peterlyledehaan.com/By nature I like to help people. I enjoy diving into exciting projects. And I relish variety. As a result, I tend to say “yes” to opportunities that come my way. And the more I say “yes,” the busier I get. Eventually my commitments overwhelm me and keep me from what’s most important.

Because of this, I’m learning to say “no.” This opens the time to focus on what matters most. I encourage you to do the same.

In the answering service industry, we’re beset with continuous interruptions that demand our attention. We want to keep staff happy and retain clients. We handle the day-to-day fires but neglect the year-over-year needs of our business.

We need to say “no” more often. Then we’ll have room to say “yes.” Here are some ideas of what we might need to say “yes” to.

power of noMaximize Profit

Regardless of why you’re in the answering service industry, you need to earn a profit to stay in business. There are two ways to increase profit. One is to reduce costs, and the other is to increase revenue. Though you can increase revenue by selling more, the faster way is to make sure each client is profitable. That means selective rate increases. Do it every month.

Improve Quality

As a service business, quality is essential. If quality is poor—or even average—it’s harder to retain clients and to land new ones. This makes it difficult to turn a profit, as well as develop staff and grow the business. It’s hard to say if you should pursue quality first and then profit or profit and then quality. They’re interdependent.

Develop Staff

Having a reliable team to run your business and optimize it is key. Too often we hope a great team will just come about, but that seldom happens. Most of the time we need to groom staff, preparing them for the roles we envision. Therefore, be proactive in employee development.

Grow Your Business

A benefit of the telephone answering service industry is monthly reoccurring revenue. However, no client stays on service forever. Clients eventually cancel. This happens every month. That means replacing departing clients with new ones, which means sales and marketing. At a minimum, you need to keep even. Ideally you should grow. A shrinking client base is a symptom of a much greater problem, one that should have been addressed earlier.

Saying “no” to things that aren’t critical provides the space and time to say “yes” to those things that are. Pick the essential items your answering service needs most to survive, and say “yes” to them before agreeing to any other opportunities.

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.

Scheduling Answering Service Staff for Holidays

When Historical Data Can’t Predict Call Traffic, We Need to Guess

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderLast week we celebrated Independence Day in the United States. With it happening on a Wednesday, it threw a lot of people off. Me included. When July Fourth occurs on a weekend, there’s little impact on normal business activity. And when it falls on a Monday or Friday, it gives us a three-day weekend. Last year it was on Tuesday, which caused many companies to declare Monday as a day off, giving people a four-day weekend. I suppose the same could apply if it fell on a Thursday.

But what to do when it’s on a Wednesday? Some people viewed the whole week as a holiday week, while others viewed it as business as normal except for Wednesday, when they took the day off. And I talked to many people who saw this as an opportunity for a five-day weekend.

These various interpretations trickled down to expectations placed on answering services and affected their call traffic. Many schedulers wondered what to do. Normally historical information can project future trends, but with the holiday falling on a Wednesday, there wasn’t a historical model to follow, since I believe the last time July 4 occurred on a Wednesday was in 2012. And even if you have historical data from 2012, how relevant is it six years later in 2018?

Though we like to use data to determine our scheduling needs, sometimes it’s not possible. The best we can do is guess. When this occurs we realize that scheduling staff for an answering service is sometimes more art than science.

This also reminds us to appreciate our staff, for when our traffic projections fail us, and we make our staff busier than we want, it falls on them to bail us out. And they almost always do.

If your staff worked harder than usual last week, remember to thank them, and recognize their efforts. And if your schedule was right on target and caused no surprises, thank them anyway. They deserve it.

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

Welcome to Summer

Be Intentional to Make the Most Out of the Summer Season

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderEven though summer hasn’t officially begun, for most of us in the United States it effectively started after Memorial Day. It feels like summer, and I, for one, act like it’s summer. Though it’s been a while, here’s what I recall summer meaning in the answering service business.

More Traffic

With summer comes an increase in call traffic. As clients scale back their hours of operations to embrace a summer schedule and send more calls our way because of staff vacations, call traffic picks up. That means we need to schedule more agents, which we’ve already hired and trained. And for answering services with usage-based rates, this means a nice increase in revenue.

Increased Vacation Requests

Our staff, of course, also thinks about vacation during the summer more so than other times of the year. Often they wish to coordinate their vacation with their spouse’s and their kids’ summer vacation from school. And for those without constraints dictating a vacation schedule, summer seems to be the normal time to take one anyway. Ironically, this increased demand for vacation comes when we’re busier and need our staff in the office taking calls.

Fewer Sales

During the summer, sales can drop. Leads decrease and many that do come in are planning for the fall. Many businesses limit changes during the summer, putting off decisions until after Labor Day (in the United States) when a normal schedule reemerges.

Delayed Decisions

For me, I viewed summer is the time to catch up on projects but not to start new initiatives. I held those for the fall. I also strived to work less. Though I never succeeded in getting down to a forty-hour work week, for some reason I could get a little bit closer in the summer. I guess there were too many other things begging for my time.

Your experiences at your answering service may differ from mine. Or they may hold true for you today as much as they did for me then. Regardless be intentional about the summer season. What opportunities does it provide, either personally or for your answering service? Decide which opportunities to pursue and move toward them. Whatever they are, and however much progress you make, it should leave you better prepared to slide into fall in three months.

Have a great summer!

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.

Tips for Selling Shoes and Answering Service

Mishandling Leads Will Result in Lost Sales

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter L DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderOver a decade ago, in my article “I Want To Buy Some Shoes,” I used my experience buying a pair of sneakers to talk about the TAS industry. Now, I’ll do it again. With my wife serving as my accomplice, she guided me into the inner workings of that dreaded place called the mall.

Ignoring Leads

Tips for Selling Shoes and Answering ServiceThe first place was a small storefront, empty of shoppers, but with a staff of two. We had to brush by them to reach the tennis shoe display. They continued their rapt conversation with each other and ignored us.

The same thing happens at too many answering services. Their marketing campaign brings in the leads, but the salespeople ignore them. Then they complain about their low commission checks. And before you assure yourself that this doesn’t occur at your TAS, submit an inquiry, and see what happens.

Mismanaging Leads

The second store was larger and busier. There the employees helped some customers, but not us. Unable to get assistance, we left.

A second problem answering services face is mismanaging leads. Yes, lead management is a balancing act, but it’s a balance to pursue. Otherwise viable leads leave and go someplace else.

Distracted Lead Follow Up

I browsed the third store until I found a couple pairs I wanted to try. We failed in making eye contact with anyone to get assistance. Frustrated, my wife marched to the cash register and asked for help. One person obliged. He was a personable young man who worked to move us from prospect to buyer, but I must have taken too long to decide. He moved to another customer. Though I was close to making a purchase, we left instead.

Leads never come at a controllable pace. But wise salespeople manage them well and don’t let one lead distract them from others.

Judging Leads

At the fourth store, employees scurried around trying to help customers. As we waited our turn, a young man hustled toward the stockroom. “What cha need?” he asked. I pointed to a shoe on display. He nodded. “Size?” I answered. Before the storeroom door could swing closed he was back, almost tossing me a box of shoes. They weren’t comfortable, and I looked for another pair. The next time he brushed by, he said, “What cha think?” I shook my head, but before I could point to another pair, he said “Thanks for stopping by.” Then he sped off. That’s when I realized we were the oldest people in this store catering to teens and Millennials. True, most of the styles didn’t appeal to me, but some would have worked.

If only he hadn’t dismissed me as a nonviable buyer. How often do your salespeople do that?

Attending to Leads

Though the staff on the floor at the fifth store was busy helping other customers, they acknowledged our presence. Before long someone emerged from the stockroom to help. Though she wasn’t polished in sales or particularly knowledgeable about shoes, she gave us her full attention. She worked with us until we found a pair that fit and I liked. With patience, she waited as I pondered my decision. I bought them, even though they cost more than I wanted to pay. Notice that it wasn’t her product knowledge that sold me; it was her attentiveness.

Now my remaining objective was to escape the mall before I had a panic attack.

Being attentive to leads, helpful, and patient is the best way to move prospects into buyers. This is true in any industry, whether selling shoes or selling answering services.

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.

Are You an Answering Service or a Call Center?

Though serving clients is the goal, what we call ourselves does matter

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderAsking if you’re an answering service or a call center isn’t a matter of semantics, it’s a matter of perception. And since perceptions drive behaviors, this is an important discussion to have.

First, let’s cover some definitions to establish our discussion’s foundation. In simplest form, a call center is a centralized place (at least conceptually) that processes telephone calls. With this perspective, a telephone answering service is a call center. However, a more practical understanding of an answering service is that it’s a company that takes messages for other businesses.

Historical Answering Service Strategy

Most all telephone answering services started out with message taking as their primary function, especially those that are more than a couple of decades old. Some TASs have held onto this mindset, pursuing an answering service model of taking messages and processing them according to client instructions. They don’t want to branch out and offer other types of communication services. Or maybe they tried to expand, but it didn’t work out, so they committed to sticking with what they knew.

Diversified Answering Service Strategy

Are You an Answering Service or a Call Center?However, other answering services diversified beyond this traditional understanding of answering services. They branched out to offer more services that relate to the telephone, and even more so, other forms of communications. This includes email, text, web chat, and social media. The distinction between answering service and call center blurs. For most, however, much of their business resides under the classical understanding of an answering service.

No Longer an Answering Service Strategy

Conversely, other answering services were so successful with their diversification efforts, that they more resemble a call center then an answering service. In fact, some have so embraced their diversification that they either sold their answering service client base or segregated them to a separate operation. In function, they have become a call center.

What’s Your Brand?

In considering these three categories, I’ve seen providers of answering services that refer to themselves as call centers. I’ve also seen operations that offer call center services but still call themselves answering services. Some choose a label to show what they were, and others opt for a brand that foretells what they want to be. Of course, others adopt a name consistent with what they are now.

Regardless if you call yourself an answering service or a call center, it forms your self-perception. This reflects on what you do, the clients you serve, and how you brand and market yourself.

What do you want to be, an answering service or a call center?