Categories
Call Center

Embrace SaaS Flexibility

Tap Internet Provided Services to Maximize Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is a subscription service that provides software solutions from a centrally located host. It also goes by other names, with some vendors making distinctions between various offerings. For our purposes, however, we’ll look at the concept generically.

SaaS offers several benefits not found in traditional premise-based call center solutions.

Affordable

SaaS is a subscription service, usually paid monthly, often in proportion to usage or configuration. As a monthly expense it shows up on your operation’s income statement. The SaaS provider handles all support and maintenance.

This contrasts to a premise-based system that’s installed at your call center. This system requires that you purchase it, install it, and maintain it. The purchase price appears on your balance sheet. The distinction between income statement and balance sheet is significant from a financial and tax perspective.

Scalable

When you buy a system, you make a guess at the size of the system you need. This includes the number of stations, ports, and options. The result is that you may pay per capacity you never use or find yourself under resourced and needing to buy more.

With SaaS you can make quick adjustments as needed to scale up to handle additional traffic or cut back to save money.

Portable

Moving an installed system from one location to another is a time-consuming, expensive task. It involves downtime, which inconveniences callers. With SaaS moving is easy. All you need is a quality internet connection and a device (usually a computer) to connect to it. This is ideal if you need to react quickly to changing situations such as a pandemic, manmade catastrophe, or natural disaster.

Current

When you buy and install a premise-based system, you quickly find using a platform that’s not running the latest version of software or you find yourself buying periodic updates. With SaaS this is never an issue. The provider keeps their hosted solution on the latest version, and all you need to do is login to access it.

Summary

Using a SaaS solution for your call center provides many advantages. It is affordable, scalable, and portable. It’s always up to date. Though you may have a business case or strategic purpose for purchasing, installing, and maintaining a premise-based system in your call center, don’t accept this as the default solution.

Give SaaS thoughtful consideration.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Check out Sticky Customer Service for practical insights into how to provide great customer service (and what to avoid).

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Contest Conundrum

I have paid to enter some contests. It’s okay when you win, but it’s a double hit when you don’t.

Contest Fees

I’ve paid from $1 to $20 to enter contests, and each time they gave a compelling reason why I needed to compensate them to consider my work. And each time I’ve felt duped afterward.

Going forward, the only reason I would pay to enter a contest was if I was going to receive feedback on my submission. So far, I’ve never seen this offered in the contests I’ve considered.

Beware Bogus Contests

Also, be aware there are some bogus contests, whose only purpose is to make money for the contest owner through the submission fees they charge. Research contests carefully and steer clear if you have concerns.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Avoid Big Word Syndrome

Selecting the right word is important for writers. In fact, aside from using the correct punctuation to frame those words, it is the only thing. This may seem shocking but at the most basic level, all we do as writers are figure out what word comes next. Then we insert punctuation for clarity. The words we choose are what matters most.

A sloppy writer will grab the first word that comes to mind; a diligent writer makes sure it is the right word, while a perfectionist agonizes over every selection. To aid in finding the right words, a dictionary is their constant companion.

When I started writing, I was more often diligent than sloppy. Unfortunately, my diligence soon assumed the wrong focus. I thought using bigger words made my writing better, that sending readers to the dictionary, scratching their heads, was a good thing. This, I reasoned, would surely earn their respect for my command of the English language and my soaring intellect. I was delusional on both counts.

I was writing to impress, not communicate. I fell victim to big word syndrome.

If a big word is the best word, then use it. However, if a smaller word works just as well, grab it, and if shorter fits better, it’s a win for everyone. (I suppose an exception might be high-level academic work and scholarly reviews but only if your goal is to impress others.)

When I read my past work, even from a few years ago, I often shudder at my fascination with big word syndrome. I’m getting better at it, but I’m a work in progress as I strive to improve.

As writers aren’t this the case for all of us? We are a work in progress, determined to get better.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Tips to Deal with Angry Callers

Prepare How to Best Handle Abusive Callers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

People today, it seems, are more demanding and less tolerant than they once were. They want immediate answers and have little patience to wait. And this unfortunate trend may be even more pronounced when speaking to someone over the telephone. This is the reality of angry callers that our medical call centers must deal with.

Here are some strategies to address this troubling issue:

Tips For Management

Determining an appropriate response to angry callers starts with call center leadership. Implement these ideas for your call center or organization to support your frontline people when they encounter a difficult phone call:

Have a Plan

Develop a written strategy for how agents should best respond to and deal with angry callers. This goes beyond well-sounding platitudes and should offer practical, actionable steps. This includes recommendations for how agents should react to volatile callers and the options you recommend for them to deal with the aftermath.

Communicate the Plan

Share your strategy with your staff. Teach it during their initial training, reinforce it in ongoing instruction, and make it readily available to all parties: your frontline staff, your supervisors, and your managers.

Support Your Staff

Let your staff know that you care how they are treated. The off-repeated adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t always true. Sometimes callers are wrong, unreasonable, or mean. Let your agents know that you have their back.

Offer Options

In most instances, when an agent hangs up from one phone call, there’s another one waiting in queue. The goal, in normal situations, is for the agent to immediately go to the next call. But after an extremely difficult interaction, they may not be at their best to assist the next caller right away.

Give them options to take in extreme cases. Else they risk turning one bad call into a string of bad calls. One idea is allowing them to take themselves out of rotation for a moment to regain their composure. Extreme cases may warrant taking an early break. Just place appropriate guidelines on when these steps are applicable.

Tips For Agents

I hope your call center has provided instruction and tools to help you deal with angry callers who won’t calm down. Always follow their policy.

But if you’re in a position without the needed direction, here are some ideas you can use to better cope with abusive callers. Exercise care, however, to use these sparingly, especially as you move down the list.

Also, your organization may have given you variations on these techniques, so follow their processes. And don’t be alarmed if your call center prohibits one or more of these options, particularly the last one. Know that they have a good reason for doing so. Respect it and follow their wishes.

Lower Your Voice

It’s in our nature to raise our voice in response to someone who raises theirs. This just escalates the situation. Instead do the opposite. Talk more softly. They’re apt to do the same. And even if they don’t, it will calm you.

Take Five

Sometimes a five-second respite at the conclusion of a phone call can help. Close your eyes, inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and quiet your emotions. Do a shoulder roll to release tension.

Press Hold

When a caller escalates out of control, place them on hold under the guise of needing to check something. Maybe you actually do, and you’ll be able to accomplish it more effectively if they aren’t venting their anger in the process. But even if you don’t need to check something, use this time to refocus yourself. Hopefully, they’ll calm down a bit as well. Just make sure you politely and patiently explain to them that you will place them on hold before pressing that button.

Pass Off the Call

Do you have a supervisor or manager who can help you deal with difficult callers? Sometimes your coworker sitting next to you can serve as an ad hoc “supervisor” to take a difficult caller that you’re not connecting with. Of course, be willing to do the same when they have a difficult conversation of their own.

Know That It’s Not Personal

Most angry callers are mad at your organization, and they take it out on you as its representative. Know that their frustration isn’t personally directed at you. This understanding puts a buffer between their emotions and your self-esteem. Though this is easier to say than to do, acknowledging that their anger isn’t personal may help you take an emotional step back from a volatile situation.

But Sometimes It Is Personal

Sometimes, however, an angry caller becomes abusive and attacks you personally. They may call you a name, question your intelligence, or worse. These direct attacks sting. It becomes personal. You can’t separate yourself from their emotion because they just verbally assaulted you.

If this occurs and none of the above options help, you’re justified in telling the caller that their behavior is inappropriate. Explain that you want to help, but until they calm down you won’t be able to. If they persist, warn them that you’ll need to disconnect their call. If they don’t soften their demeanor, hang up on them.

Conclusion

Though you can do little to change how abusive callers treat you, you do have control over how you respond. Follow these ideas to help you successfully move forward.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.

Learn more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

What’s the Difference Between a Category and a Tag on Your WordPress Blog?

Part 5 in the continuing series on using WordPress for blogging: a platform-building, book-selling tool.

WordPress categories and tags are confusing. They seem to do the same thing and offer similar results.

WordPress Category

A category is like a file cabinet drawer for your posts where you place related content. Categories are general groupings of broad topics. Our site (or blog) should have at least three categories (else, why bother) but no more than perhaps eight (else, it’s too hard to find things).

Each post needs one—and only one—category. Just as you wouldn’t try to put one piece of paper in two folders, don’t assign one post to two categories. (I understand using multiple categories for one post can mess up search engine optimization, and no one wants that.)

Last, never default to “uncategorized.” That’s just lazy and doesn’t help anyone.

Word Press Tag

Think of a tag as a cross-reference tool. Tags can be a subset of a category (like a folder in a file cabinet), transcend categories (like an index), or both. Regardless, their purpose is to link related content. Every post needs at least one tag and can have more, but don’t go crazy. One or two is great, three is okay but definitely stop at six.

In determining tags, consider reoccurring themes or words in your posts. Unlike categories, you don’t need to limit the number of tags you use, but do seek tags you will reuse. A tag used only once accomplishes nothing.

Also, a tag is not the same as a keyword. Keywords are used (or more correctly, were used) to indicate main topics within a post, whereas tags link related posts.

(In case you’re wondering, I wrote many posts on this blog before I understood the difference between tags and keywords, so I have many tags used only once; I will remove or consolidate them – when I have time.)

This blog has seven categories and 231 tags (though once I redo the tags, it will be closer to 50). This post is in the category of “Tips” and has three tags: “blogging,” SEO” and “WordPress.”

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Benefits of Writing Short Stories

The main benefit of writing short stories before writing a novel is to identify and learn how to fix problems with our writing style and voice. And every writer has them.

Here are some other benefits:

  • Short story experience will help us edit and polish our longer works more effectively, before sending them off to a professional editor.
  • A novel’s chapters are often like short stories, with a beginning hook, page-turning middle, and satisfying end. So short story experience will help us in deciding chapter breaks, as well as starting chapters with more punch and ending them with more flare.
  • Short stories about characters in our novel will help us understand their backstory and then we can write, rewrite, and edit them more convincingly. (I wrote a couple of short stories about a sidekick in my novel, and she’s the one my beta readers most connect with.)
  • We can use short stories as a lead magnet to build our mailing list and to share with fans between novels. And this is even more compelling if the short stories are about our novel’s characters.
  • We can submit a short story to an anthology, which will give us a writing credit prior to publishing our novel.
  • Short stories give us an opportunity to experiment and try new things.

For those who write nonfiction, the same rationale applies to writing articles, blog posts, editorials, and so forth. In both cases, the goal is to start small and work up to longer pieces.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Does Your TAS Do More Than Take Calls?

Answering Services Should Seek to Diversify Their Service Offerings

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I’ve often encouraged telephone answering services to expand their service offerings. One option is to become a multichannel provider. A wise approach that aligns with the core mission of facilitating client communications is to handle additional channels.

This can include email processing, text services, web-based chat interaction, and social media monitoring.

Some answering services have moved in this direction with varying degrees of success. Others have contemplated it but are yet to act.

Another camp is those that have resisted offering other communication channels. I get that. Pursuing what is different presents challenges and is scary.

Yet it’s important for any business—including answering services—to diversify their service offerings to better prepare for the future. Whatever your perspective of this multichannel strategy, here are some ideas to help you move forward and realize success.

Select One Channel

Don’t pursue a multichannel strategy by diving into every opportunity at once. Strategically select one option and resist the urge—no matter how tempting—to let another channel distract your attention.

Which channel are you most comfortable pursuing? Though this is a good place to start your deliberation, don’t stop at this point.

Next, evaluate the strength of your existing staff. Which channel best connects with their inherent skill set?

Third, check with your vendor to see which option they can best and most easily provide through your current system. You’ll want to integrate this new channel in with your existing answering service platform.

A last step, which could also be your first one, is to check with your existing client base and gauge their interest for each channel option.

Ideally, you should select the channel that your existing staff has the skills to address, will work on your current platform, and you can market to your established client base.

Proceed With Care

Once you’ve selected a second communication channel to pursue, plan carefully before you proceed. Don’t announce this new service and solicit customers expecting to figure it out as you go. Train your staff. Test your platform. Anticipate potential problems and adjust as needed.

Do all this before you sign your first client to this new channel.

Market the Channel

Once you’ve done all the needed preparation, now is the time to promote this new service. Start with your existing client base. Perhaps even handpick clients who will be predisposed to work with you and help you fine tune your offering.

After you’ve added the service to all your existing clients who are interested in it, begin a proactive sales and marketing campaign to solicit new business specifically for this channel. As a bonus, you can cross sell them on your voice channel.

Master This Channel

As you gain success in the second channel, resist the urge to add another one too quickly. Excel at this channel before you consider diversifying further into a third one. Don’t rush it. But don’t coast either.

Repeat When Ready

Once you’ve achieved operational and financial success on your second channel, you’re ready to replicate the process with a third one. You may desire to expand quickly and repeat your success.

But it may also be wise to take a strategic pause to settle into a new rhythm of offering two channels before you proceed to add a third. Just be sure not to remain there too long.

Multichannel Success

Keep moving forward to diversify your service offerings and become a multichannel provider. Your future will thank you.

Learn more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Business

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

A Personal Note to Frontline Customer Service Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Anyone who’s worked in a support role knows how difficult it can be. Yes, some customers—hopefully most—are easy to work with and appreciative of your responses. They may even thank you for your help. Celebrate each one of these wins and use them to shape your outlook for the day.

Yet other customers, hopefully a minority, are challenging. They’re agitated before they even reach you, and if you don’t provide the answers they seek, their ire escalates. Even though you aren’t the cause of the problem that prompted them to contact you, they dump their frustration on you anyway, sometimes erupting into a personal attack. This isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it happens.

First, know that everyone who contacts you makes a choice in how they treat you. They can choose to interact with you in a respectful and humane way. Or they can choose to let their emotions control the words they say and how they speak to you. This is on them, not you. This explanation doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it helps us better understand it.

Next, your responses to these difficult customers can defuse the situation or worsen it. Just as their decision of how to treat you is within their control, your reaction to them is within yours. 

Here are some tips to defuse difficult customer service situations.

Remain Calm

It’s hard to maintain your composure amid confrontation. Yet this is key to successfully dealing with challenging people. Don’t mirror their unruly behavior and reflect their negativity. Instead, counter their inappropriate conduct with an appropriate response.

If your interaction is over the phone, don’t forget to breathe. This will help you relax. It also releases tension. Remember to smile. A smile on your face will ease helpful words out of your mouth. Some reps place a small mirror on their desk to remind them to smile. Callers will hear your smile. Also be professional, treating them as you would want them to treat you. 

Though not as critical when you’re not on the phone, these tips to breathe, smile, and be professional also apply to online interactions, such as text chat, email, and social media.

Pause

If you feel emotion building up inside of you that might cause you to say something that’s not helpful, pause. If you’re on the phone, you can ask them to hold while you “look something up.” The same applies to chat. You can also introduce a pause into email and social media support without the customer even knowing it. 

When receiving an emotion-filled email, I make myself wait an hour before responding, sometimes even waiting until the next day. My delayed communication is always more constructive than what I would have typed at first.

Regardless of how you pause a customer interaction, the purpose is for you to refocus your attention on producing a positive outcome and to ensure you don’t respond negatively and escalate the situation.

End Positively

Regardless of the customer service outcome, make sure you conclude it positively. You can thank the customer for contacting you—even if you don’t want to say so. Or end by telling them to enjoy the rest of their day. 

This accomplishes two things. 

For the customer, it may cause them to rethink what just happened, hopefully putting their day on a different trajectory. 

For you, it helps set the tone for your next customer interaction. It signals to your mind and body that the difficult interaction is over, and it’s time to embrace the next one with a fresh outlook.

Take a Break

Sometimes after you complete a negative customer service interaction, you need time to move past it. This makes sure you don’t carry the unpleasant situation you just endured into your next call. 

You may need to take a break. 

Most employers understand this and allow their customer service reps the latitude to take this step as needed. This action, however, should be rare and not the norm. If your employer doesn’t allow this, then do what you can to interject a short pause into your workflow after a difficult call.

Customer Service Success Tip

Work to make every customer interaction produce a positive outcome. Celebrate your successes. Learn how to better deal with difficult customers. Don’t let one rude customer ruin your day.

Working in customer service has many rewarding moments. Don’t lose sight of them.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books and posts.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author Podcast

It seems people are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. They want to grow their audience and build their platform in order to sell their books (or whatever other product or service they have to offer).

This makes sense. Look at the recent surge of interest in audiobooks, with people who “read” books by listening to a recording. They do this during their commute to and from work, as they exercise, or when they attend to projects around the house. They have become voracious “readers” without ever opening a book or turning on their e-reader.

Podcasting extends the audiobook mindset. A podcast simply becomes another audio expression for these folks to consume.

Here are some of the benefits of author podcasts:

Another Channel to Reach Readers

A natural communication channel for writers is the written word. Blogging connects nicely with that. Readers read books; readers read blogs. It makes sense, a lot of sense. However readers who listen to books won’t likely read a blog, but they will likely listen to a podcast. With podcasting, writers have two ways to reach their audience.

Another Means to Connect with Readers

When we read a book or blog post we use the sense of sight to see the words. When we listen to a book or a podcast we use the sense of sound. With audio, we use voice inflections, interject emphasis, and add timing to each sentence as we speak. These benefits of audio all allow us a better means to connect with our audience.

Another Creative Outlet For Authors

Writing is a creative art; so is speaking. Both communicate but in different ways. Both provide creative outlets, but which tap different aspects of our creativity.

A Fun Break From Writing

No matter how much we like to write, we all need to take a break. After all, once we spend a full day working on our book, do we really want to spend another hour writing a blog post? Not likely, but spending that hour on podcasting provides a nice alternative to writing. Then we can return to writing with a refreshed perspective.

Given these great benefits, you might be ready to jump on the podcasting bandwagon. Not so fast. First, you need to consider whether podcasting is right for you. Next week I’ll look at my experience with podcasting, which should provide some more insight into this intriguing communication option.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Categories
Writing and Publishing

How to Make Your Writing Easier to Read

The Hemingway Editor Guides Authors in Improving Readability

A friend recently turned me on to the Hemingway Editor, a nifty online tool to assist writers in improving our work. The website says, “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.”

It’s simple to use. Go to the website and paste some writing into the text window. The software analyzes the writing and reports on what it finds:

Grade Level: The Hemingway Editor uses a standard readability algorithm to assess the U.S. grade level. It goes as low as a fifth grade and says the average American reads at grade ten.

Stats: Hemingway reports on the number of paragraphs, sentences, words, and characters, as well as the time it takes to read the text.

The Number of Hard Sentences: Each sentence that is hard to read is highlighted in tan.

The number of Very Hard Sentences: More critical than hard to read sentences are very hard sentences, which are color-coded as reddish-brown.

Phrases with Simpler Alternatives: I often type “implement” when “use” is a better choice. Hemmingway points these out in violet. Hover over the violet word or phrase and Hemmingway will show you the preferred alternative.

Number of Adverbs: While we don’t need to remove all adverbs, Hemmingway will point them all out and tell us the maximum acceptable number for our piece. Adverbs are in light blue.

The number of Passive Sentences: Once the king of passive sentences, I trained myself away from them. Still, they pop up and Hemmingway points out the passive voice in pale green horror.

Armed with this color-coded input it is easy to visually see where to make changes to increase our work’s readability. The adverbs and simpler alternatives are quick to fix.

In general, the hard and very hard sentences are correctable by rewriting complex and compound sentences into shorter, simpler sentences. That leaves a passive voice, which takes some practice to reword. The good news is that having some adverbs and passive sentences are okay.

We can edit in the Hemmingway window, which updates its analysis in real-time. As we make changes, the grade level decreases, meaning the piece is more readable. Also, the various highlighted colors disappear. While editing it to become colorless may make for rather bland, fifth grade-level reading, less color is preferred.

Using the Hemmingway Editor is a quick, easy, and fun way to improve our writing readability.

The Hemmingway Editor results for the above text are:

  • Grade Level: 8
  • Stats: 14 paragraphs, 31 sentences, and 426 words. The reading time is 1:42.
  • Hard Sentences: 7
  • Very Hard Sentences: 3
  • Phrases with Simpler Alternatives: 5
  • Adverbs: 1
  • Passive Voice: 2, having 6 is acceptable

I’m tempted to edit this post in Hemmingway to make it more readable, but I think I’ll leave it as is so you can see the unedited version.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.