The January 2011 Issue of TAS Trader

Utopia Is a Moving Target

By Susan Kirkpatrick

If you remember the days of cord boards and paper messaging, you watched firsthand as putting pen to paper to write a message morphed into placing your fingers on the home row on the keyboard to put legible characters on a screen and produce a masterpiece of a message. But it didn’t stop there.

That message could be transmitted over the air to pagers and over phone lines to fax machines. Some answering services had integrated voicemail and the ability to relay messages to voicemail. We could automatically notify a client that there was a message waiting and the client could check in and listen to a summary of the call – all without operator interaction. What a world it was! This was Utopia. Who could ask for anything more?

The expectation level of the customer and your willingness to provide quality service has brought about continual advancements in messaging. And now, meeting the challenges of today’s client expectations requires a further break from the traditional message form.
Even in its best days, the paperless message form on the video monitor was merely a nice and neat “While You Were Out” pad. While messages were electronically stored, retrieved, and printed at will, from the top to the bottom of the form, it was still just one message containing valuable bits of information.

With the development of scripted forms and scripted messages, each entry on the message form has been transformed into data – valuable, mineable data. Today’s scripted messages are “intelligent” – containing appointment and on-call schedule information, database lookups, and automated dispatch actions. All of this is possible with little or no operator interaction or even the necessity for operators to “read the screen.”

Case in point: I recently had to order more propane for my home. I looked up the phone number of the propane company on their Web site. I called the company and placed the order; the call took about three minutes. But since I went to the propane company’s Web site to get their phone number, why wasn’t there a “Fill It Up” button on the page for me to click? It would have been more convenient for me and less costly for them. Simply put, Web-scripting tools make possible the convergence of Web presence and call handling.

Web scripting is the ability to tie a client’s Web presence together with their TAS data. A Web-based call-scripting tool can turn a situation such as my propane order into an opportunity for your TAS to branch out with a new service offering that mines existing information to yield a mother lode of new revenue.

In the example of the propane client, a Web-scripting interface would allow information to be sent to the TAS, and this information could then be processed the same way data from an incoming call is handled. In essence, all data from calls or from information posted by a Web script could be funneled through the answering service’s data processing logic for the particular client.

Additional logic can be used to determine whether data should be saved to an external database for further processing, dispatched immediately, batched to be faxed, or emailed to the client later.

With today’s Web-scripting tools designed specifically for the TAS industry, the propane company’s after-hours answering service could easily provide the propane company with a hyperlink to a Web-enabled, intelligent call script. During the day, this Web-enabled script could simply auto-email the results to the proper department at the propane company.

With Web scripting, you can now expand your revenue stream. You are involved 24/7 with your clients, and you increase your profitability by leveraging existing expenses without increasing operator time.

To move from the present into the future, you need to let go of the idea that you are just an answering service. You don’t just take messages; you make the most of opportunities. For example:

•    You don’t take messages for HVAC companies; you acquire sales leads.
•    You don’t take messages for apartment communities; you are the first contact with future tenants.
•    You don’t take messages for medical groups; you are the first responder, connecting with patients, initiating consultations, and relaying pertinent information for them.

Let’s leave the past and present methodologies; it’s time to take advantage of tools that are available right now and start providing more “opportunities.” The more opportunities you take advantage of, the more value you provide to your customer base and the more money you make.

I’ve seen many answering services gravitate to Web scripting for a variety of uses, such as service companies, insurance companies, apartment communities, and funeral homes. Web-scripting innovations also are being used as client-sharing tools, providing solutions for a TAS of any size to manage major inbound/outbound campaigns that previously were reserved for large call centers.

Utopia has shifted again. Are you shifting with it?

Susan Kirkpatrick is the lead trainer for Amtelco.

Become an “EAS” – an Email Answering Service

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, publisher of TAS TraderIn my December column in Connections Magazine, I said, “Everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email.” I’d like to delve into that a bit more, specifically as it relates to telephone answering services.

First, consider that, for most of your clients, you answer their main lines. Extending that to email, you can answer their main email addresses, such as those beginning with info@, sales@, and so forth. Because these are not specific individuals’ email addresses, companies usually assign someone to check these generic email accounts. However, doing so tends to take a low priority. Sometimes several days or even weeks go by without these being checked. I am aware of a situation where a company’s main email went almost a year without it being checked.

As a solution, you can offer an “email answering service.” Clients can forward or redirect these generic email addresses to your TAS. Your agents receive the messages and delete the spam, forward the routine email to the appropriate person or department, and reply to basic questions. If something qualifies as an “emergency,” you escalate it as appropriate, just as you would with a phone call. If it is an order, you enter it into their order entry system; if they want literature, you fulfill it, etc. Since everyone with email is overrun with it, and since most everyone has email, the overall possibilities for your client base are vast. Properly executed and marketed, it could be a completely new business line for you – EAS (email answering service)!

Also, specific email addresses, such as a customer service email, could be (and should be) redirected to you when your clients forward their lines in the evening. It seems like common sense, but I imagine that those who actually make provisions for their customer service email after hours are rare.

As far as individual employee email addresses, just like with employees’ direct lines, there is not as much call for your involvement. However, there is still opportunity, such as for a busy CEO. You can screen email, delete the spam, reply to basic questions, forward routine email to an assistant, and prioritize the rest.

As an example, on the Connections Magazine Web site, my posted email is dehaan@connectionsmagazine.com, while the one I personally give out is peter@connectionsmagazine.com. Presently, they end up in the same place, but the potential is there for someone to screen all dehaan@connectionsmagazine.com emails, deleting the spam, forwarding sales inquiries directly to Valerie, our media rep, and forwarding the rest to me for my personal attention.

While any organization could do these things themselves, they might be better served to hire you to do it, just as they do for their phone lines. This means that your TAS could become an EAS, too!

News

Kelly Goodwin Promoted to MedCom VP Operations
MedCom Professional Services, Inc., of Levittown, Pennsylvania, announced the promotion of Kelly Goodwin to vice president of operations. For twenty-two years, Kelly has been contributing to the success of MedCom. She initially joined the company in 1988 at the age of sixteen as a customer service agent.

Throughout her career at MedCom, Kelly has exhibited excellent customer service, programming, and managerial skills. She has demonstrated initiative and a desire to manage the business.

While an undergraduate at Temple University, Kelly maintained a full-time position at MedCom, working as the company’s database administrator, designing, programming, and maintaining customer database information. Kelly helped develop and deploy scripting and templates, standardizing customer information available to agents and increasing the company’s efficiency and productivity. Kelly also played a key role in alpha and beta testing the precursor to MedCom’s call center platform, the Startel CMC system.

Upon graduation, Kelly was promoted to operations manager, assuming additional responsibilities for managing the daily operations of MedCom and the company’s three office locations in Levittown, Allentown, and New Holland, Pennsylvania. Kelly supervised client interaction, account management, human resources, and scheduling. Since 2001, Kelly has been instrumental in developing and maintaining benchmarking and certification standards for agents, dispatchers, and supervisors within the telephone answering service industry.

Kelly has been active in industry associations, including SNUG and ATSI. Under her leadership, the company has earned several national awards, including the 2007 and 2009 top score nominations in the ATSI Award of Excellence and the 2010 top score in the CAM-X Award of Excellence programs. Kelly is married with two children and resides in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

AnswerNet Becomes PCI Compliant
AnswerNet completed certification for Level 1 PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, known as PCI) compliance. This certification ensures highly secure payment processing and offers peace of mind by protecting information. “PCI compliance significantly reduces the risk of fraud and theft, which in turn can save our clients thousands of dollars in lost revenue and time,” said AnswerNet’s Gary A. Pudles. “Achieving PCI compliance is an important part of our continuing investment in and commitment to our network security infrastructure. Our customers and their clients should never have to spend one moment being concerned about the security of their data when working with AnswerNet.”

PInnacle Web Portal V3 from Professional Teledata
Professional Teledata released Version 3 of its PInnacle Web Portal into beta testing, the result of a combined effort between the Professional Teledata engineering department and the PInnacle Users Group Web Committee. This new release, which is provided to all PInnacle sites as part of their support contracts, includes many new features. “The engineering staff at Professional Teledata worked very closely with the PInnacle Users Group Web Committee, and I think the results speak for themselves,” said Jim Graham, vice president of Professional Teledata. “We have been able to put together some great features that have been very well received.”

Toggle Recording Provides PCI Compliance on Amtelco Infinity
Amtelco’s new toggle recording Infinity integration response element is used to add an action to a call script to stop or start call recording for PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance. It can be used to stop recording before credit card information is given and to resume recording afterwards. The toggle recording feature is available with Amtelco’s Infinity Telephone Agent and Soft Agent software-based call center systems. The toggle recording action works with Amtelco’s Unity Logger or Soft Agent voice logger. The PCI establishes security requirements for processing credit card information. Any business that processes credit card transactions must comply with these security requirements.

OEO Annual Meeting February 7-8
OnviSource and the OnviSource Equipment Owners (OEO) association members will gather at Harrah’s in Las Vegas, February 7-8 for their annual meeting. Attendees will be treated to hands-on vendor training and educational presentations requested by members. OEO users and OnviSource staff will share in joint presentations to feature products and highlight benefits for telephone answering services. There will also be a rapid-fire Q & A session, roundtable discussions, and presentations, including guest speaker JoAnn Fussell (Voicelink), Alan Heimann (Tempest Interactive Media), and Betty Mahalik (certified business coach). “There’s something for everyone at this event,” said OEO executive director Dan L’Heureux.

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

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About Peter DeHaan

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