Tag Archives: Peter L DeHaan

Managing Remote Operators

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

For years, some answering service owners have pursued remote operator stations, while others have avoided them with staunch opposition. For the TAS, the benefits of remote operators are many, including running multiple offices from one system, tapping into new labor markets, and hiring qualified but homebound staff.

For employees, the advantages also abound. They include saving money on clothes and eliminating commute time and transportation costs. Of benefit to both are scheduling flexibility, staffing split shifts and short shifts, as well as quickly filling open shifts and responding to traffic spikes.

I embrace the technological aspects of remote operator stations, marveling at how much things have changed since I first talked about the concept at the 1994 ATSI convention. Challenging, costly, and slow back then, connecting a remove operator station today is easy.

Often overlooked, though, are the challenges of managing a distributed workforce. It’s hard, and some management styles don’t work well over distance. There’s nothing wrong with “management by walking around,” and many use it successfully. But that technique doesn’t translate well to staff you can’t see and who can’t see you.

I admire managers who successfully oversee staff at multiple locations, yet at the same time I respect managers who decline to try, knowing it’s not their strength. However, before I let those managers off the hook, I’d like to point out that managing staff at different places is really no different than managing staff on different shifts and during times you’re not in the office. Take what works for third shift and apply it to remote operators – things should work out okay.

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.

Retaining Customers and Pursuing Prospects

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Although the number varies with who’s doing the telling, it’s many times more costly to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. The sad reality is, though, no one at the giant megacorporations gets this – or at least their actions belie that they do.

For years, I’ve been trying to get a lower rate from my local phone company, practically begging them to give me a reason to stick around. As soon as I had a viable alternative, I switched providers and cancelled my service.

For the first time in twenty-four years, they asked me, “What can we do to keep you as a customer?” Sorry, too late.

A week later I received an email from them. It seems they pre-approved me for a special rate, a deal they wouldn’t consider giving me as a customer but will if I’m a prospect. They offered me a “triple play,” a package with phone, Internet, and satellite for about what they were charging me for just phone and Internet before.

If existing customers were treated with a bit more respect, the sales and marketing folks wouldn’t be under as much pressure to make up for the lost revenue from defecting customers. But instead, they do things backwards, taking customers for granted and offering sweet deals to prospects.

Although rampant at large corporations, this situation isn’t unique to them. Smaller companies can fall prey to this as well. Does this scenario have any implications at 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.

The Internet and Your TAS

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Today, harnessing the power of the Internet should be a goal of every telephone answering service. When used properly, the Internet can save time, generate revenue, increase communication, obtain and retain clients, and bolster the bottom line.

Here are some items to consider. You are likely already doing most of these, but there may be one or two items to address:

Website: At its most basic level, a website functions as an online brochure for your answering service. A yellow-page ad is limited to annual changes, but website updates can occur as often as needed. Additionally, a website can be dynamic or even interactive.
Your website can provide information for your clients, such as FAQs (frequently asked questions), service literature and instructions, and contact information (direct phone numbers and email addresses) for key staff and departments.
Is your website up to date? Is it all it can be?

Email: Email – for all staff – aids intra-company communications, such as new account notices, agent schedules, and customer service initiatives. Email is also a great marketing tool.

Blog: Connect to and interact with clients using a blog, while a closed blog can facilitate intracompany communication, especially for a distributed workforce.
Social Media: There are more social media options than anyone has time to handle, but tap one or two primary ones – Facebook and Twitter, for instance – to interact with clients, recruit employees, and support staff.

Video: Posting videos online is another great way to promote your TAS. These can be sales focused or informational. Either way, this is one more way to attract prospects and keep clients. Post videos on your website, YouTube, or another video sharing site.

The Internet contributes to the success of today’s TAS. Don’t miss these opportunities to better market services, serve clients, save money, support staff, and generate revenue.

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.

Call Distribution Priority: Should You Be Fair or Pragmatic?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Call me an idealist. I think life should be fair. This applies to answering calls. According to my perspective, call distribution needs to be fair, too. Everyone should have an equal chance of being answered quickly – or at least subjected to the same length of hold time if they need to wait. The call queue in my perfect world would be classless: first in, first out. That, however, is utopian; answering services exist in the real world and face real issues.

If your answering service follows my ideal of fair, I applaud you. If you don’t, I understand. Here are some reasons you might want to forget about being fair and be pragmatic instead.

Company Lines: The speed and efficiency at which you handle your business lines (main number, sales lines, check-in accounts, and customer service) form your callers’ perception of the level of service provided to their callers. It’s this perception that attracts new business and retains existing clients; it may be one of your best marketing initiatives, and it has a direct effect on profitability.

Account Types: Equality aside, certain account groups are more important than others. The determining factors vary: client profession, caller urgency, dollar value of the call to the client, type of service provided, or your answering service’s specialty – that is, if your focus is medical, give those clients priority and work in the commercial accounts around them.

Chronic Complainers: This results from a natural reaction to the squeaky wheel syndrome. In theory, giving a higher priority to chronic complainers and demanding clients would seem to mitigate their criticisms about service. While this seems clever, it’s actually self-defeating to reward clients who complain. Plus, these may be your worst clients in terms of how they treat operators or hassle your customer service and support staff.

In fact, consider giving them the lowest priority. After all, they’re going to complain anyway. Plus, when you factor in their drain on customer service resources, they’re probably your least profitable clients. If they cancel, you may be better off.

The Net Result: For each account you elevate in priority, you effectively demote another. This occurs whether or not you actually make a programming change to that account. After all, only half of your clients can receive an above-average response time – and the other half will statistically experience below-average results.

An Alternative: What if you assigned call distribution priority based on the profitability of each account?

Here’s the logic: At a busy time, some callers are going to hang up; it’s inevitable. Which call would you prefer to lose, a call that will bill $2.25 a minute or one worth only $0.49 a minute? It’s as if someone is holding out both hands, with a dollar bill in one and a quarter in the other. If you can take the money from only one hand, which will you choose? The dollar, of course! The same should apply to answering calls: Grab the profitable ones first; don’t let them get away.

When properly staffed, some callers will hang up before you can help them. It’s a fact. So if you’re going to lose some calls, wouldn’t you prefer to miss the least profitable ones?

Implementing call distribution priority based on profitability will allow you to earn more money by doing the same amount of work.

And it you want to fine-tune this strategy even more, find out who the slow payers and chronic complainers are. Even if they’re profitable on paper, they have less value because they harm cash flow and overuse support resources.

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 Amtelco-Telescan Merger

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As with any merger, the Amtelco-Telescan merger raises natural and expected questions among stakeholders. I had an opportunity to discuss some of these with Bernie Torvik, vice chairman of Amtelco, and Roger Young, president of the Telescan Division of Amtelco. Here is what they had to share:

Peter: Congratulations on the merger of Amtelco and Telescan. I’m sure you’re very excited. What synergies and opportunities do you see as a result?

Roger: Thank you, Peter. We’re very excited about the new partnership between Telescan and Amtelco. While current plans are to operate both entities pretty much on a “business as usual” basis, we are excited about future opportunities to bring to both Telescan and Amtelco owners new revenue-producing features. Having access to expanded development and support resources should benefit all of the customers in the future.

Peter: Both Amtelco and Telescan have some products that are platform independent. Will these be cross-marketed to each company’s respective customers?

Bernie: Both Telescan and Amtelco have been developing platform-independent applications. We are evaluating how these products would best be marketed. Having a partnership rather than a competitive relationship will allow us to be more efficient and productive in producing new applications, which can serve both platforms and be integrated more tightly if warranted.

Peter: Any specific new product initiatives yet?

Roger: Among many possibilities, one idea is new products for mobile platforms. Both companies have already delivered solutions for Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 8. We see a rapidly growing opportunity not only for secure delivery but also for enhanced interaction with the mobile client.

Peter: Amtelco and Telescan both enjoy the support of their respective user groups, NAEO and TUNe. Do you expect any changes in how these groups function?

Bernie: NAEO and TUNe are both vibrant, effective, independent user groups. It will be up to the leadership of these groups to explore whether some combining of resources might benefit their members. Telescan/Amtelco looks forward to working with both groups regardless of how they may determine to structure themselves. In any event, we would anticipate that all members will continue to thrive and get the considerable benefits that come from an association of users.

Peter: Telescan will remain in St. Louis and become a division of Amtelco. What practical implications does that have for Telescan customers?

Roger: Our most important short-term goal is to assure our Telescan customers that their investment is safe and that any future changes will be in their best interests. We were fortunate to be able to retain all of the Telescan employees, who will continue to operate from the existing St. Louis location under the same leaders. Patty Anderson will continue to work with her customers and work with Amtelco territory reps to insure that Telescan customers are aware of all of the potential options available to them as they become available.

Peter: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Bernie and Roger: Just to repeat that we’re all excited by the new partnership and look forward to helping to build a bright future for all of our current and future customers. Thank you for the opportunity to share some of our thoughts with members of the TAS industry.

Peter: Thank you for your time; I wish you both the best.

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.

Hopper and Campbell Contribute to Tom Hopkins’ Book

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Jamey Hopper and Darlene Campbell both contributed to the recently released book, In It to Win It: The World’s Leading Experts Reveal Their Top Strategies for Winning in Business & Life. In addition to Campbell and Hopper, the book features Tom Hopkins and other experts sharing their insights. Hopkins opens the book by reminding us that “everyone is in sales” and then sharing his pointers to be successful when selling.

Darlene Campbell’s contribution is “The Difference Between Marketing and Sales: Clinching the Deal.” In it she recounts lessons learned from her days at toy maker Mattel. She would later apply these insights when she founded her own company, which is now known as Information Communications Group. She desired to create a “culture of success” in her business, fully implementing it when she rebranded her company in 2002. Her chapter concludes with several rules for rebranding, reminding us that “customer service isn’t a department” and to always include the wow factor in our sales efforts.

Jamey Hopper’s contribution for In It to Win It is entitled “Eight Steps to Building an Outstanding Team Which Provides World-Class Customer Service.” Jamey opens with something we all love to read about, an inspiring telephone answering service story, this one an example of superlative service. Building on the books Good to Great by Jim Collins and Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish, Jamey shares the eight steps he took to change his company, Dexcomm, from good to great and provide superlative service. These steps, he asserts, can be used by any organization “to provide world-class customer service.” Always striving to improve, he ends with this astute advice: “Once you discover the state of mind of your employees and customers, it is time to begin anew the process of building your company.”

In addition to Tom, Darlene, and Jamey, twenty-two other successful people share their stories, covering everything from sales to leadership to success, both in business and life.

In It to Win It was released earlier this year and is published by Celebrity Press; it can be purchased through their website and on Amazon. It is available in hardcover and Kindle.

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.

TAS Trader Readers Speak Out

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last month, we surveyed TAS Trader subscribers. We were pleased and encouraged by the high response rate, as well as the positive and insightful feedback. The bottom line is that TAS Trader is well-received, well-read, and enjoys much support.

Here are some of the details of what we learned:

  • 90 percent read every issue or a majority of the issues
  • 90 percent read it on their computer; 10 percent print it out and then read it. Plus, 13 percent save an electronic copy for future reference; 8 percent save a printed copy
  • 95 percent read the articles; 76 percent read the news; 48 percent read the classified ads
  • 100 percent preferred or had no opinion about it being formatted in landscape mode; no one disliked it in landscape mode.
  • 66 percent visit TAStrader.com; 50 percent go there to read articles
  • 60 percent felt that the current length was ideal; 17 percent would like to see more content

This is some phenomenal support and wonderful affirmation!

When asked about different ways of providing TAS Trader (such as in portrait mode, using a magazine reader, an email text message, or on a mobile device), none of the options suggested received more than 15 percent interest.

Lastly, when asked what type of content readers would like to see added to TAS Trader, the top five responses were:

1)   Guest columnists

2)   Articles from the greater call center industry

3)   News, such as acquisitions, moves, promotions, and new employees

4)   Profiles of answering services

5)   TAS association news and information

This is where you come in:

  • If you would like to submit a guest column or share your company news, please email it to peter@tastrader.com.
  • If you would like to have your answering service profiled in TAS Trader, please let me know. (If you require someone to write your profile, we can recommend a freelance writer who can interview you and write one for a nominal cost.)

TAS Trader is “by the TAS Industry…for the TAS Industry.” Your ideas and submissions make TAS Trader possible.

Thank you for your loyal support and for making us a success.

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.

Scam Alert: Buyer Beware

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

The telephone answering service industry is a wonderful and close-knit community. Tales abound of one service going the extra mile to help another – even direct competitors providing aid in times of crises. With that as the general tenor of the industry, it is surprising and hurtful when a scam is perpetrated on our members by a fringe player. Such is the case with this fraud alert. The gist is that the same accounts were sold – or partially sold – to several different buyers. Here is what was reported:

It was a small answering service in a remote area. The sellers reached out to TAS owners, offering to sell their client list. The asking price was a reasonable amount, neither too high nor too low. Things appeared to be in order, with proper documentation and an attention to details. Negotiations progressed as expected, with specifics being worked out and stipulations agreed to. As things drew towards a conclusion, a few red flags began to emerge. However, the risk was relatively low, and everything else was proceeding as expected. For the trusting buyers, with time and emotion invested into the purchase, it was easy to overlook these minor warning signs.

Then the sellers asked for money in advance. They were even accommodating in agreeing to receive a percentage in advance and the balance once the transfer was complete. Several TAS owners acquiesced, dispatching the agreed upon advance payment. As it turned out, the buyer who acted quickest did end up with the accounts, but the others did not fare so well. The first indication of malfeasance surfaced when the new owner begin receiving calls from the other “buyers,” effectively demanding, “Why are you answering my accounts that I just bought?”

As far as the buyer who actually ended up with the accounts, the saga has not been pleasant for him either. Though he has the accounts, he can’t bill most of them for six months, because unbeknownst to him, they had paid for their service six months in advance.

How could this have been avoided? First, great care must be taken if any monies are to be paid in advance. Had each buyer made an on-site visit to hand the money over, he or she would have been able to see that there were no accounts to purchase. Another simple step would be to ask around. The TAS community is small, and no one operates in a vacuum. Surely, someone would have known about the seller’s reputation and business ethics.

Unfortunately, this scam alert doesn’t apply just to buying accounts. Similar swindles have also occurred regarding used equipment sales.

Though the TAS industry is a great one and friendships abound, it behooves everyone to remember, “Buyer beware!”

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.

Become an “EAS” – an Email Answering Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In 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 TAS Trader website, my posted email is dehaan@tastrader.com, while the one I personally give out is different. Presently, they end up in the same place, but the potential is there for someone to screen all dehaan@tastrader.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!

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.

See Your Name in TAS Trader

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

The tag line for TAS Trader is “By the TAS Industry…For the TAS Industry.” This means that we want our content to come from people who are part of the telephone answering service industry. Usually we are able to meet that goal, but not always. To fully reach this objective, we need your help; let us share your TAS news and articles with the industry. Here’s how to make that happen:

The Basics: First, there are two options: news and articles. News items are up to 110 words in length and are ideal to announce mergers and acquisitions, significant business milestones (such as twenty-five, forty, fifty, sixty, and seventy-five years in business), new hires and promotions, expansions, new locations, and so forth. Articles are 300 to 700 words long and are a great way to share your ideas, opinions, successes, or “learning opportunities” you’ve encountered along the way. Sometimes, a news item will become an article. Such is the case with this month’s lead article, LaVergne’s TeleMessaging Celebrates Fifty Years; it was just too interesting for a short news item.

The Key: Write about what you know. The result will be an interesting and informative piece that will resonate with readers. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a writer. We can tweak your work; our goal is to make you look good! Although we prefer organized submissions, with complete sentences and proper punctuation, we can work with whatever you provide. The key is that you need to submit it.

Avoid Hyperbole: The more spectacular the language in your writing, the less believable it becomes. Words such as “leveraged,” “solutions,” “unique,” “revolutionary,” “leading,” “cutting-edge,” and “world-class” are overused – avoid them. Exaggerated copy, unsubstantiated claims, and self-promotion push readers away instead of drawing them in. When hyperbole obscures the message, communication doesn’t take place.

Use the Third Person: Writing objectively in the third person gives your piece increased integrity and greater trustworthiness; it is more credible. First-person content is never acceptable in news items – it comes across as self-serving, bragging, or unnecessarily introspective. Writing in the third person generally works best for articles too. The exceptions are firsthand commentaries, how-to pieces, and experiential accounts, which are best written in the first person.

Proof Your Work: Spell-check and proofread your writing. It is nearly impossible to catch your own mistakes; you know what you intended to write, so that is how you read it. Ask someone else to proof it. We will go over it too, which leads to…

Expect to Be Edited: Even the most experienced writers have their work edited. This can be for many reasons. A common one is length, another is style, and a third is content suitability. Sometimes a piece is given a different slant to increase interest.

Timing: If you desire your news to be in a specific issue, get it in on time; sooner is always better. The lead-time for TAS Trader is longer than you might imagine, so follow the due dates and read our submission guidelines.

Submit It: Once it’s ready, just email a Word file of your news or article to info@tastrader.com. Then look for it in an upcoming issue!

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.