The March 2012 Issue of TAS Trader

Stuck Like Glue

By Donna West

Let’s face it, we all want our clients to “stick to us like glue” – but in this time of bottom-line worries and competitive advertising, how do we make ourselves “sticky”?

We work at it, that’s how. We don’t panic, we develop a plan, and we work that plan. We all know the value of proactive customer service, which I prefer to call it “touching.” How often do you reach out to touch your current clients? How much do you budget for customer retention? (Is that a “gotcha”?) Do you consciously budget anything for staying in touch with your clients? Chances are that isn’t even on your radar, but it should be. We know it takes a lot less money to keep a client than to acquire a new one, but it will take some money and real determination to make it a part of your everyday marketing strategy.

First, review how you touch your clients today. In our industry we “touch” them whenever we deliver the messages we take for them. Or do we? As technology has advanced, messages are delivered electronically more often than not. Between faxing, texting, and email, we don’t regularly talk to our clients. Even emergency messages often go to on-call staff rather than the decision makers of the company. This leaves those decision makers vulnerable to the next high-pressure salesperson that promises them lower rates. They haven’t been building a relationship with you, so even if your service is flawless, they aren’t feeling the stickiness. True, we do touch them every month when we send the bill, but that isn’t exactly a positive “sticky” experience!

Of course, there is another “touch” – the one you make when you reach out after making a mistake. Mistakes happen, so what do you do to turn them into positive experiences? First of all, honestly acknowledge them. If you see that you have made an error, contact your client before they contact you. It can be as simple as sending an email advising the client that you will be following up on the error with the agent who made it. Promise you will get back to them after investigating what happened. (Just be sure that you do!)

When a client calls you with a complaint, investigate it quickly and report back to them. Small mistakes will probably just require a sincere apology. If it is the second or third error to have recently occurred, however, you may want to put a courtesy credit on their bill, or send them a coupon for a credit so they know they can subtract twenty-five dollars from their payment. Having them do it makes more of an impression, one that will “stick.”

When a mistake is made, be creative by using a little humor. Purchase some padded mailers and some travel-size aspirin – or fill some tiny pill bottles with M&Ms – and send a note that says, “We’re sorry we caused you a headache!” For bigger ”wounds,” consider sending a small first-aid kit, a mug filled with candy, a box of cookies, a fruit basket, or one of our favorites, an edible arrangement. If you practice proactive customer service and positively touch your clients regularly, you will build a solid relationship that will see you though the occasional error and competing pressure from other vendors.

Donna West is the president of Business Calls (www.businesscalls.biz), a company that produces client newsletters for the telephone answering service industry. She is also the president of Focus Telecommunications, and has served on several industry boards.

[Stuck Like Glue is a four part series in the March, April, May, and June 2012 issues of TAS Trader.]

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2012 NAEO Conference Recap

The 2012 National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) Conference took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 19-22. NAEO, one of the largest user groups in the telephone answering service industry, had many members in attendance to learn and to share their success using the Infinity system and other Amtelco products.

Amtelco participated in the preconference activities by presenting an Amtelco University (AU) session that covered tips and tricks to maximize efficiency and increase profits. Amtelco also welcomed all of the attendees to a reception on Monday evening.

Kevin Beale, Amtelco’s vice president for R & D Software, shared recent developments designed to add new services and to increase profits for call centers. It was so exciting that there was even an Elvis sighting during the presentation!

Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning featured in-depth technical presentations, including “The Real Nuts and Bolts of Infinity” presented by Greg Beale, Amtelco’s director of customer service, and Jody Laluzerne, customer service supervisor. Much excitement was generated by these Amtelco sessions, and the Amtelco demo room was filled with activity as attendees sought more information and were treated to one-on-one demonstrations.

How to Survive as a Couple in Business

By Zelda Greenberg

Today 80 percent of businesses – including telephone answering services – are family-owned. Many couples desire to work together, even though it means overcoming various obstacles and challenges that face business owners. If you’re already in business together, what can you do to improve your company, both financially and emotionally? How can married couples and families thrive in business together?

Set Clear Goals: Every business should have a written business plan. In the beginning it might be only a couple of pages. A business plan is always a work in progress. Continue to tweak the plan as your company grows. There are specific items a plan must convey to avoid future conflict among married couples. First, the plan should state the overall goals that you want to accomplish. Perhaps you want to grow your company from a local to a statewide or national company. Perhaps you dream of passing the business to your children and retiring early. Ask each other how you plan to communicate with clients. What will you do to advertise and market your goods or services?

Your business plan should cover all the necessary factors that go into making a company successful: sales, marketing, operations, technical issues, and finances. Then it’s time to sit down together to determine a budget. Discuss how much money you will need to accomplish all the goals you have placed in the business plan.

Delegate Responsibilities: Your business plan must state the different responsibilities needed to run your business. Together, you should determine who is best to accomplish each of the responsibilities. Is your spouse better at finances? Let the stronger one be in charge of fiscal responsibilities. The spouse who is in charge of the financials should also be responsible for government reporting and all functions relating to accounting. Who will handle sales and customer service? Once a job function is designated to someone, trust each other to make the right decisions. As the company grows, make sure the appropriate person continues to handle his or her responsibilities. Check back with one another on a regular basis.

Communicate Effectively: Everyone has a different style of learning. Your spouse might hear you but need a little time to process what was said. Learn how each other functions and be patient. Whenever you have a disagreement, never voice those concerns in front of others; go behind closed doors to discuss the issues. Nobody likes being told what to do by his or her spouse. Avoid acting or appearing as if you are the boss. Let each person voice his or her opinion and, if needed, go back to your written business plan as a reference.

Drop Your Egos at the Door: There is no room for power plays in a family-run business. Create and maintain a harmonious environment for yourself and your staff. Your harmony, or lack thereof, can make a huge difference in sales, customer service, and productivity. You must be united to succeed. Customers, employees, vendors, and suppliers should observe you working together. A bickering couple creates tension and makes the office environment toxic.

Hold Weekly Meetings: These are meetings held at the office, not at home. This is the time to discuss expenses, profit-and-loss statements, goals, and issues you have or might encounter. Nothing should be combative or argumentative. All communication should be constructive and aligned with carrying out the goals of the business.

Trust Your Board of Advisors: Creating an outside board of advisors is extremely beneficial for finding solutions and discovering opportunities. Your advisory board should be comprised of trusted professionals with different areas of business expertise. They will provide a sounding board for any issues or challenges that your business might face. Meet with them as a group quarterly or individually, as necessary. A good mix would include a CPA, an attorney, a banker, a marketing expert, and someone who has retired from your industry.

Check with your Chamber of Commerce to see what programs they may have. Many chambers have formal groups that meet and act as advisors. There are also private companies that have programs designed specifically for executives to get together in non-competing industries. Formal or informal – it doesn’t matter how you get together; what is essential is that you have a group of trusted professionals that will give you honest feedback.

Remember that, at the end of the day, you’ll be going home together. Try to keep things in perspective – leave your work at the office. Your goal is to maintain a work-life balance: a successful and happy business and marriage.

News

Professional Teledata Welcomes Leah Sundin as Marketing Coordinator
Professional Teledata has appointed Leah Sundin as their new marketing coordinator. Ms. Sundin brings five years of marketing experience with her to Professional Teledata. Leah will lead the efforts of the sales and marketing department to implement innovative strategies to better familiarize existing and potential clients with the vast array of products and services Professional Teledata has to offer. “Leah Sundin brings vitality and perspective to this position that fits perfectly with our vision for the future at Professional Teledata,” said Pat Kalik, president of Professional Teledata. “Her experience and expertise make her the perfect person to serve as our marketing coordinator.”

Intelligent Series Now Includes Demo Web-Scripting
Amtelco has added “demo Web-scripting” (Web-scripting in “test-drive” mode) to the Intelligent Series (IS). This will enable Amtelco IS Web-scripting customers to give online demonstrations of the Intelligent Series call flow and operator screens to clients and prospects. President Tom Curtin said, “The Intelligent Series Web-scripting is a perfect fit and will help Amtelco Intelligent Series users sell more of their services to more customers. The demo mode of Web-scripting is the way to make that first impression a great impression with potential customers.” The demo Web-scripting mode is available free to all of the current users of the IS Web-scripting software.

Startel Corporation Announces New Western Area Sales Manager
Startel Corporation announced Chuck Tonne as their new western area sales manager. Chuck will report to Bill Lane, president and CEO. He will be based in Arizona, focusing on formulating solutions for existing clients and prospects in the western United States. Chuck has extensive industry experience working for a variety of value-added resellers, selling PBX, ACD, IVR, VoIP, and voicemail products. His background aligns well with Startel’s portfolio and strategic direction. “I am extremely excited to be representing Startel,” Chuck stated. “I look forward to strategizing with our clients as to how they can optimize their business platforms by utilizing Startel’s robust suite of products.”

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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.