Why Do Some Answering Services Grow While Others Struggle?
5 Key Contributors to Answering Service Success
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Over 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.
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.
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Getting Chat Service Right
By Kate Zabriskie
Providing exceptional service via chat involves more than simply choosing a technology platform. Chat is a distinct communication channel with its own set of rules. Organizations that implement a chat system need to prepare their service representatives to use it effectively.
Follow these seven steps for successful chatting.
Step One: Determine who on your team is well suited to serve customers online. Chat service providers should type fast and accurately and have a good grasp of spelling and grammar.
Step Two: Identify some rules to guide chats. You should know the answers before your reps start typing.
- How many chats should an agent handle at once? (In the beginning, nobody should attempt more than one, and even experienced agents shouldn’t divide their attention among more than three.)
- What topics can and can’t be addressed via chat? Depending on the industry, regulations may limit what reps can and can’t say.
- When will you move customers to a different mode of communication if chat isn’t appropriate?
Step Three: It’s important to think about what messaging looks like before rolling out the chat platform.
- How should a chat start if a customer has already shared information?
- What words and phrases align with your brand?
- What words and phrases should providers avoid?
- How should representatives address angry or frustrated customers? In what way should greetings differ?
To gain insight, visits sites that use chat. Think about each experience: what you liked, what you didn’t, how you felt, and so forth.
Step Four: Be prepared for the obvious. Reps should know how to handle the top twenty or thirty customer requests without having to reference a lot of documentation. Consistency is essential. This is especially true when it comes to the basics. Use roleplaying that addresses common inquiries.
Step Five: Determine the extent to which you wish to use canned responses. Pre-written text has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, it’s quick and has been proofread. Yet canned text can sound canned. Furthermore, representatives sometimes choose pre-written responses that don’t address a customer’s situation.
Canned text should sound conversational. It’s supposed to be a dialogue. One way to help maintain a conversational tone is to keep your text short. Long sentences usually produce an unnatural feel.
A good place to source potential pre-written responses is from your reps’ actual chats. Some people have a natural gift for chat. Why not tap their strengths and skills?
Step Six: Learn from your failures and successes. As with any service interaction, chat can go well, or it can go poorly. The key is monitoring, course correcting, and standardizing success.
Regularly review chats. The more methodically you evaluate your chats, the quicker you will capitalize on what works and eliminate what doesn’t.
Step Seven: Chat training is not a one-and-done activity. Needs change, technology evolves, and staff turns over. Ideally, focus on one or two best practices a week, evaluate pre-written text twice a year, and spot check transcripts daily.
Chat is no longer a novelty, and more customers expect their service providers to offer it. No matter where you are in the chat-implementation process, there’s always room to improve the way you connect through a keyboard.
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. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.
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Quotes for the Month
“That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” -Henry David Thoreau
“Knowledge is love and light and vision.” -Helen Keller
“A grenade fell onto a kitchen floor in France and resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.” -unknown