Tips for Running a Successful Answering Service
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
For all my adult life writing was something I did, but it meant nothing more. Then about eight years ago I began to take writing more seriously, wondering if it might be my next career. (It is, but it’s a part-time career. No worries, I will continue to publish TAS Trader and Connections Magazine.)
My first step as a writer was to attend a writing conference to learn more about the industry. Now my goal is to attend two conferences a year. Then I begin to study the craft of writing: reading blogs, listening to podcasts, subscribing to magazines, and buying books. Next I joined a couple of critique groups, where we mutually help each other improve. And, since I’ve actually been writing for several decades and been a publisher for fifteen years, I started blogging about writing to give back to the writing community.
A couple years ago I decided to branch into fiction. Though I could have learned by the school of hard knocks, I decided to jumpstart my efforts by hiring people to guide and instruct me: coaches, developmental editors, and teachers. And I outsource things too: book cover design, copy editing, and proofreading. It would be foolish to try to do these myself.
What’s this have to do with running an answering service? Plenty.
Attend Conferences: I’m shocked that I continue to talk to TAS owners and managers who have never been to an industry event. They claim they can’t afford it. I say they can’t afford not to. Conferences provide a great way to network and learn. I think everyone should attend at least one conference a year—and not just owners but key employees, too.
Give Back: I receive the most when I help others, when I freely share what I know. Peter’s Law of Reciprocity states, “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t… so politely and tactfully learn what it is. Conversely, everyone you meet doesn’t know everything you do…so be willing to graciously share whatever you can when you are asked.” When you give, you receive.
Hire Outside Help: It makes no sense to spend a lot of time trying to figure out something by trial and error when you can pay someone to teach you. When I bought Connections Magazine from Steve Michaels in 2001, I hired a $200-an-hour magazine publishing consultant to point me in the right direction. Best decision ever.
Tap Outsourcers: You can outsource every aspect of running a telephone answering service, including operations. While I know of no one who has outsourced everything, many successful TASs have outsourced specific aspects of their business, such as sales, marketing, billing, collections, technical, and even management. If someone else can do it better or for less, it’s foolish to keep it in house.
Whether it’s writing a book or running an answering service, be intentional about improving and invest in learning. It’s the only way to go.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader. Check out his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.
Seeking Acquisitions: Reputable TAS, in business since 1967 and still owned by the founding family, seeks a small TAS acquisition in the USA. Ideally, you’re billing under $50k per month. Smaller is better. We’ll treat you right, and your employees and customers. Let’s talk. Contact Doug at 888-693-7935 or email@example.com.
7 Tips to Overhaul Your Customer Service
Learn what to do when you realize you’re not as great as you’d like
By Kate Zabriskie
What’s going on when your customer service falls short of your ideal? Usually, a few things. Typically, there’s an organizational mindset misalignment, a lack of commitment from the top, an absence of recognition for giving great service, or a combination of all three.
Consider these seven tips to turn things around:
- Start by thinking about your purpose. What is it that your organization does? Articulate your purpose. Everyone needs to understand your core reason for existing and how the actions he or she takes relate in supporting that mission.
- Next, think about your processes and how customers interact with you. Do you have your customers’ best interests at heart? If not, what changes can you make to remedy those shortcomings? This step has an added benefit. When your organization’s and your customers’ goals are in harmony, you will have happier customers. Furthermore, it is less likely your people will find themselves dealing with the unhappy, disappointed, or disgruntled.
- Model what you want to see. People work for people. If you supervise others, they are watching and learning from you. If you are disengaged, they probably are too. On the other hand, if you embody the spirit of service, you probably see elements of yourself in their performance.
- Teach your staff what to do and how to do it. You can’t expect people to deliver great service if they don’t know how. Furthermore, you can’t expect them to care if no one at the top does. Take employee development seriously. This means being a champion for training, participating in education, and coaching for new skills after the fact. Eventually, your people will be able to do more, make better choices, and solve problems more imaginatively.
- Hire for service skills. The next time you have an opening, think about what makes someone great at service in your organization and seek those attributes. Don’t settle. You’ll be sorry later.
- Even if you have no budget, you can reward employees for giving great service. Start with a sincere “Thank you.” Heartfelt appreciation can work wonders.
- Finally, put on your continuous-improvement hat. Systematically evaluate where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going.
None of these steps is necessarily hard. The trick is to take them. To win the service game, you have to be in it. What will you do better today?
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised.
Telephone Answering Service News
Spectrum Prism II Begins Beta Testing: The Telescan division of Amtelco has begun installation and field-testing of Prism II at beta sites. Prism II is the next-generation telephony switch for the Telescan Spectrum system. It provides a soft-switching solution. The benefits for call centers include: increased call handling capacity without added hardware, improved backup and recovery options, real-time monitoring and activity logs, enhanced audio quality, and faster call setup. The new Prism II is an entirely software-based switch built around Asterisk, a widely used open-source framework for building communications solutions. For more information contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Send us your TAS articles and news for consideration in the next issue.
Quotes for the Month
“The real index of civilization is when people are kinder than they need to be.” -Louis de Bernieres
“He who lives little, changes little.” -Anatole France
“A thief fell and broke his leg in wet cement. He became a hardened criminal.” -unknown