Categories
Telephone Answering Service

8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Running a Telephone Answering Service

Don’t Let the Day-to-Day Pressures of Running Your TAS Push Aside What Matters More

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Running a telephone answering service is a challenging proposition. It seems there’s always too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Therefore, it’s understandable when the day ends before you complete your to-do-list. But that’s not justification for making these common TAS mistakes.

1. Training Shortfalls

It’s critical to get new hires answering calls and productive as soon as possible. Yet too often the temptation is to rush through training. Don’t do this. It’s short sighted. Instead provide thorough agent training to ensure they’re ready to handle client calls efficiently and professionally.

2. Inconsistent Processes

Review your standard operating procedures (SOP). Efficiency requires consistent handling and processing of client calls. Every deviation is a chance for an error to occur. Having standard processes in place helps ensure consistency and accuracy in the way calls are handled.

3. Overlooking Basic Agent Skills

Don’t forget the importance of call etiquette and customer service skills. It’s the foundation for providing a good service and having satisfied callers. This starts with standard communication skills and proper call etiquette. This is an essential step to provide a positive experience for callers.

4. Aversion to Technology

Another common mistake is overlooking the importance of technology. This doesn’t mean you need the latest, leading-edge tools in your answering service. But don’t skimp in this area either.

Keep abreast of the latest developments to determine the right time to invest in technology. With the right infrastructure in place, you’ll increase agent efficiency and enhance customer service outcomes.

This will provide a better overall service experience.

5. Ignoring Data

Answering service platforms are known for all the statistics they produce. It’s easy to let all the numbers and quantitative output overwhelm you. Yet the other extreme is spending too much time dwelling on these statistics.

It is essential, however, to monitor and analyze call data. There are three areas to address: agent metrics, client results, and overall system performance. Don’t neglect any of these areas.

Use the data to make informed decisions to improve outcomes.

6. Withholding Feedback

Ensure that your agents know how they’re doing. Most of them want to do their job well and are looking for ways to improve. And if they don’t want to improve, why are you employing them?

Give them regular feedback on their performance. This includes both quantitative results and qualitative coaching. By providing ongoing feedback and coaching you will improve staff performance and enhance service quality.

7. Not Prioritizing the Client

The function of a telephone answering service is to answer calls. Therefore, it’s easy to focus on the calls that come into your operation.

While you don’t want to overlook these callers, remember that it’s ultimately your clients you must keep happy. Focus on them.

Yes, this starts with keeping their customers happy when they call and serving them with excellence. But, as you delight clients’ customers when they call, it’s possible to overlook your clients in the process.

8. No Contingency Plans

A final consideration is to plan for the unexpected. Have a backup plan in place to address unexpected events such as technical problems, staffing shortages, weather issues, natural disasters, local emergencies, and pandemics.

Not having an adequate response during a crisis will damage your reputation, frustrate clients, and not serve your clients’ customers.

Conclusion

Though these eight common TAS mistakes may seem like a formidable list of items to deal with—amid the day-to-day challenges of running your operation—it’s essential to make time to address them,

A failure to do so will damage your bottom line and jeopardize the long-term viability of your telephone answering service. Your job—and the jobs of everyone who works there—are at stake.

Address these common TAS mistakes, and you’ll see much of the rest fall into place.

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
Call Center

7 Tips to Conduct Engaging Customer Surveys

Incorporate Best Practices into Your Customer Survey Process

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Do you survey your customers or clients? Should you do a customer survey? And if you already have a survey process in place, do the results meet your needs? Or should it be overhauled or even retired?

Regardless of where you are on the survey continuum, don’t rollout a customer survey without first determining if it’s necessary, ascertaining what you hope to accomplish, and having a well thought out plan.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Here are seven tips to conduct engaging surveys:

1. Determine Your Why

Decide what you want your customer survey to accomplish. Never do one until you know why you’re doing it. The worst reasons to do a survey are because everyone else is or because you think you’re supposed to. If it doesn’t make good business sense, don’t do it.

Here are some possible reasons why you should have a customer survey: To improve the level of customer service, to reduce customer churn, or to close more sales. But don’t try to achieve all three objectives with one survey. Pick one.

2. Fine Tune Your Focus

Next, you need to narrow your focus. Don’t expect one customer survey will meet the needs of every department throughout your organization. Thinking that you can conduct one survey to give useful information to your service department and your sales department and your marketing department is folly. Again, pick one.

3. Assign Responsibility

Based on your survey’s why and focus, assign it to the department that will most benefit from the results. Then pick a person in that department to champion it. They may or may not be the person to design and implement the customer survey, but they do need to ensure it moves forward.

4. Design with Intention

In planning your customer survey, be intentional with its design.

In preparation, take as many surveys as you can from other companies to see what you like and don’t like. Common survey issues are ones that are too long or too short. Other pet peeves include forcing users to explain their answer or not providing the option to leave a comment. Posting a time estimate for the survey helps increase participation; displaying a status bar increases the completion rate. Both are nice touches.

5. Test and Retest

With the design of the customer survey complete, it’s time to test it. The survey designer should test it thoroughly before asking for more input. Next, have employees in the sponsoring department test it. Then solicit input from the rest of your company. Last, invite select customers to go through the beta version.

After each round of testing, implement the recommended changes that support your objectives. But don’t implement every suggestion. Just do the ones that make sense.

6. Rollout Your Survey

At this point, you’re ready to publish your survey. But don’t blast it to every potential recipient, through all possible channels all at once. Instead do a soft launch. This way, if there are errors or oversights, you have a chance to fix them before everyone experiences the problem.

7. Iterate and Repeat

If you have a rolling survey that continues to collect data over time, periodically look at it to see if it needs tweaking but do this only after waiting a sufficient time and gathering enough data to do a thorough analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.

And if your customer survey is a one-shot endeavor, look at what went well and what didn’t. This can inform the next time you launch the survey, because—unless you really bungled it—you’ll want to do it again.

Conclusion

When done properly, customer surveys can provide valuable data and critical feedback to inform decision making. To achieve the best results, apply these tips to your design and implementation process.

Happy surveying!

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

When Should You Enter Writing Contests?

Participating in writing contests can offer 6 key benefits

I used to enter writing contests, but I haven’t done so lately. Writing contests are fun when you win, and I had a few wins early on. Interestingly, as I’ve improved as a writer, my success rate has dropped to zero. Hence I’m now less motivated. Plus, I’m now a lot busier writing other things.

Nevertheless, don’t automatically dismiss writing contests. Here are six reasons you should consider submitting content to a writing contest:

1) If Deadlines Help You Write: I always write with more intention when I have a due date. However, I’m also a disciplined writer and would be writing anyway, just perhaps not with as much purpose. However, other writers need a deadline to produce content. If submitting to a contest helps you write, then that presents a sufficient reason to do so.

2) If Your Submission Can be Repurposed: Everything I write nowadays can work in multiple situations. That way if the first contest or publication falls through, I have a second source to consider. That way none of my work is ever wasted.

3) If There is No Submission Fee: Some contests carry submission fees; others, don’t. Sometimes the fee is small; other times, not so small. I have submitted it to both kinds. Going forward I will never pay to enter a contest unless it meets the next criteria.

4) If the Pay-to-Play Contest Provides Value: I understand that some contests will give you feedback on your work. I’ve never encountered those contests, but I hear they exist. Receiving professional feedback may be worth the cost of submission, even if you don’t win. But you might be better off to skip the contest and just pay someone for his or her opinion.

5) If You Want to Expand Your Bio: Being able to say you won a contest looks impressive in your author’s bio. However, most people have never heard of that particular writing contest so winning it carries little prestige, even to people in the industry.

6) If You Need to Learn How to Deal with Rejection: Face it. Most people who enter writing contests don’t win. It hurts to hear “No,” but it’s a reality of being a writer. Each time we hear a “no” toughens us up a bit more and prepares us to do this writing thing for the long haul. Plus, as they say in sales, “Each ‘no’ brings you one step closer to ‘yes.’”

Writing contests have value, but only pursue them if they make sense for you and your situation.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Receiving Feedback

One thing that has most helped me improve as a writer is receiving feedback from others. It is critical.

This feedback has mostly come from critique groups but also from beta readers and paid professionals. This last category is costly but invaluable.

Regardless of the source, the key is figuring out which feedback to apply, which to adapt, and which to dismiss. Don’t blindly follow every recommendation. Each piece of feedback is nothing more than one person’s opinion, and that opinion may not be right for your vision of your work.

Our mission as writers is to figure out the difference between good and not so good feedback and handle it appropriately.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Before You Write a Novel, Start With Something Shorter

Write short stories to master the art of fiction writing

May is short story month. I share this news in advance so you can consider how you want to celebrate. You might want to spend the month reading short stories or perhaps focus on writing a few. But regardless, give short stories some consideration in the month of May. Doing so will inform your other writing, whether you write fiction or not.

I know many beginning writers who sit down to write a novel. They have a vision and enthusiasm, but not much else. They start writing but soon give up in frustration. And for the few who do finish, their story isn’t that good.

I’ve often heard that novelists write several bad novels before penning a good one. Those first books serve as training for them to learn what works and doesn’t, to find their voice, and to hone their craft. They need to figure out plot and structure and story arc and character development and dialogue and a slew of other things. And they write several practice books to get there.

Why not write several practice short stories instead?

I took that path. In fact, I focused on flash fiction: short stories with fewer than one thousand words. I experimented with a first-person and third person, present tense and past tense. I even wrote a second-person, present-tense short story—something I’d hate doing for an entire book.

Using short stories, I fine-tuned my dialogue. I worked on intriguing titles, strong openings, and satisfying closes. I practiced “show, don’t tell” and worked on word choice.

I did all this in preparation to one day write a novel. You see, I didn’t want to waste several novels practicing. I used my short stories for that. I got feedback from critique groups, hired tutors, and studied.

Then one day I wrote a piece of flash fiction. It started out as 900 words. But I liked the premise and added to it to produce a 2,500-word short story. I fell in love with the characters and wanted to write more. I did write more, a lot more. By the time I finished my story arc I had a 28,000-word novella. But it needed more. Next, I added two secondary story arcs and the length grew to 46,000 words, enough for a short novel and about perfect for the YA (young adult) genre.

So my 800-word piece of flash fiction grew into a 46,000-word novel.

But the story isn’t over.

Last year, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a 49,000-word sequel. Then I mapped out a series. I’m ready to start writing books three and four.

Writing short stories prepared me to write novels. And writing fiction helps me write better nonfiction and memoir.

To celebrate the short story. May is short story month. It even has its own Twitter account: @ShortStoryMonth, which often uses the hashtag #shortreads.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Search and Replace Trite Phrases in Your Writing

Avoid using “it was,” “that was,” and “this was”—among other things

I hired a developmental editor to give me big-picture feedback on my novel. Though her comments overall encouraged me, I have several things to work on and fix.

One was that I used the innocuous phrase “it was” too often. How often? It popped up 126 times, which was an average of once for every 365 words. Interestingly I discovered I used it in spurts, with the phrase being absent in some chapters and plentiful in others.

As I set about to fix the problem, I realized I could simply replace “it was” with “that was” or “this was,” but doing so solved one problem by creating another. I would need to find and replace those phrases, too. While “that was” occurred only twenty-one times, “this was” showed up fifty-six times, for a total of 203 instances for all three.

  • The ideal correction involved replacing these trite phrases with a more powerful verb.
  • If that solution alluded me, a secondary option was replacing “it,” “that,” or this” with the noun they referenced or a suitable alternative.
  • A few times I couldn’t find replacement wording that would convey the same meaning without ballooning the sentence in size or structure, so I left it as is.
  • Last was dialogue. I reasoned I could often retain these phrases in speech because that’s how people usually talk. Even so, I did clean up some of the conversations in my story, too.

While I could have slavishly reworked every occurrence of these offending phrases, I felt inclined to leave some in to maintain the flow or clarity of the story.

In the end I left “it was” in twelve times; “that was,” three times; and “this was,” four times. This reduced my total number of offenses from 203 down to only nineteen, a 94 percent reduction.

Now my next task is to develop a habit were I don’t use “it was,” “that was,” or “this was” in the first place. While I long ago put my writing on a “low-that” diet, I suspect this new skill will take a bit longer to develop.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

When We Should and Shouldn’t Self-Publish

Writers need to balance the considerations of self-publishing and traditional publishing

There is much debate in the writing community about going with a traditional publisher versus self-publishing. Neither is a panacea. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Considerations include career objectives, time investments, speed to publishing, potential revenue, and personal goals. Though I am pursuing a traditional publishing deal, I will also self-publish (indie-publish) other works.

The key is to know when it’s the right time to self-publish.

Here’s When You Shouldn’t Self-Publish:

  • Publishers Reject Your Book: It’s an unwise reaction to self-publish your book just because a couple of publishers said “no.” Some well-known books and classics were rejected scores of times, but their authors didn’t give up and kept trying new avenues. And I’m sure they continued to work on improving their book in the process.
  • Agents Won’t Sign You: The same thing applies to agents. Agents only make money when they sell books, so if they don’t think they can sell your book, they won’t take you on as a client. Not being able to land an agent may be the worst reason to self-publish because you’re probably not ready.
  • You’re Tired of Hearing “No”: Rejection is a part of writing. It’s often a sign that you or your book isn’t ready. Self-publishing prematurely will just give more people a reason to reject your book.
  • You’re Weary of Waiting: Traditional publishing takes time and requires patience. Being impatient with long production times is not (usually) a sound reason to self-publish.

Here’s When You Should Consider Self-Publishing:

  • You’ve Written The Best Book Possible: When your book is the best it can be you might want to consider self-publishing it. This means you have carefully edited and proofed it, you’ve received feedback from others, and you’ve hired people to make it shine.
  • Your Book Has Been Professionally Edited: There are three types of editing and you need a different editor for each type. Usually, you need to hire these people. If someone gives you free editing, you often get what you pay for. First, there’s a development edit (the big picture stuff), copy-editing (sentence structure, flow, and word choice), and proofreading (grammar, punctuation, and typos). 
  • You, Will, Invest In Your Book: In addition to hiring editors, you will need to pay for a front cover design. Since “a book is judged by its cover,” don’t skimp on this. Other considerations include the book jacket, the interior layout, and file conversion. Each one cost and your book will look “off” if you try to do these yourself.
  • You Are Ready to Market Your Book: Successful self-publishing requires marketing. While traditional publishers will also expect you to help promote your book, when you self-publish, it all falls to you.

Consider both of these lists before you self-publish your next book.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Do Your Part Before You Ask Others For Help; There is No Easy Button

Too many novice writers don’t invest in the craft and expect seasoned authors to give them an easy button to publication

I post on this blog, send out a writing newsletter, and speak at conferences because I want to give back to the writing community, to share with others what I have learned over the years. By helping others the best that I can, I help myself. As I give, I also grow as a writer.

Though I can’t help everyone who asks and my time is limited, I do give a higher priority to those who are part of my writing community, those who journey with me to become better writers and share our words with others. These are the folks who put in the hard work to improve as writers, study the craft, and learn about the industry. They are worthy of receiving help. Not everyone is.

Recently a friend asked me and some others to review her manuscript. This is a big ask, and I had misgivings. As far as I know, my friend isn’t part of a writing group, doesn’t attend writing conferences, fails to write regularly, and neglects to study writing and the industry. Instead, she seeks those who have put in the hard work for help so she can skip doing the hard work herself. She’s hoping for an “easy button” to turn her rough draft into a publishable book.

And I’m not too excited about helping with this. I prefer to invest what time I have into writers who are putting forth the effort to improve. Too often I’ve tried to help people who asked for advice but weren’t ready to hear it. They lacked the basic tools to receive, consider, and apply my input.

They wanted an easy button, but in writing, there is no easy button.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

We Need to Balance Formal Education with On-The-Job Training

While a college degree in writing has value, it is not a requirement for a rewarding career

Last week I talked about the appropriateness of hiring others to help us with our writing journeys. This has been a reoccurring theme in my career as a writer and my vocation as a publisher.

When it comes to written communications, I am self-educated: I am a self-taught writer, a self-taught editor, and a self-taught publisher. It’s not that I eschew formal education—I do have advanced degrees, after all—it’s just that they don’t happen to be in the field of communication.

I took one freshman writing class and one freshman literature class, both required in my engineering curriculum. That was it. I never suspected I’d end up working as a publisher, editor, and writer. Being an author was not part of my career plan.

Since I am decidedly finished with college I am left to design my own writing course, one propelled by real-world needs and bathed in actual application. This pursuit is both practical and effective. It includes:

Magazines: I subscribe to magazines about writing and publishing. These periodicals arrive with predicted regularity and feed me practical advice in bite-sized chunks. I look forward to each one.

Books: I also tap books for extended focus on particular topics. Though these are helpful, I have bought more writing books then I have read. Some are boring, and for others, it seems the authors are more concerned with impressing us than educating. Maybe it’s just me. Nevertheless, some writing books are most helpful.

Podcasts: Listening to others discuss writing is my go-to method of learning. I consume several hours of podcasts each week, listening to them while driving, doing mindless work around the house, and during lunch. They fuel me and give perspective.

Writing Groups: Being part of a writing community is a great resource, not only for learning but also for support and encouragement.

Online Courses: I also take advantage of online learning opportunities in the form of webinars and classes. The pinpoint focus of each allows me to pick topics of immediate, practical application.

Conferences: My goal is to attend two writing conferences a year. (This year will be three.) I look for those that provide value and are within driving distance (no airfare), and local (no hotels) is ideal.

Best of all, my educational path has no tests, finals, or grades. The only studying I do is actually applying what I’ve learned. I’m pursuing a self-directed writing education.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Why Should You Pay Others to Help You Improve as a Writer?

When you want to advance as an author, the cost-effective solution is to hire outside help

Tip #7 in my post “10 Tips to Improve as a Writer” is to not be afraid to pay for help. As a financially frugal person, this was a hard lesson for me to learn. When I entered the publishing industry in 2001, by purchasing Connections Magazine from its founder, I approached my new business with entrepreneurial zeal and no publishing knowledge.

One of the first things I did was pay an established industry consultant to point me in the right direction. At $200 an hour, I had to make every minute count. Though expensive, his advice was golden, helping me to avoid costly errors and dodge common traps. It was one of the best investments I could have made.

To save money, though, I did all the editing myself. This was a mistake. Every issue had errors. In one column I lauded my designer as a “creative genesis” instead of a “creative genius.” Another time I contrasted a shotgun to a riffle, not a rifle. Readers who knew me would laugh at my errors. To ease my embarrassment I hired an editor to do proofreading and copyediting. Though I still do all the substantive edits (macro editing, as I call it), I defer the minutia of details to someone who is able to pick out typos and knows grammar and punctuation.

Though I’ve learned much in this area and now do my own proofreading for online content, I would never print something without the seasoned eye of a professional proofreader first reviewing each word and scrutinizing every sentence.

I have also paid people to provide an assessment of some of my books. Sometimes this is to point out a weakness in the work or identify writing habits I need to correct. Other times the goal is simply to answer the question, “Is this work viable?” and if not, “What do I need to do to fix it?”

Most recently I hired a former college writing professor to provide feedback on my fiction work, starting with short stories. With ease and confidence, he answers questions that have perplexed me and caused my writing peers to equivocate. He confirms what I do well and shows where I can improve. His tutelage is invaluable.

Whenever I hire someone to help me with my writing, I view it as designing my own, personal writing course, one to provide direct, tangible assistance in the area where I need it most. This saves me from the trial-and-error discovery of what works and what doesn’t. This keeps me from wasting time and helps me to get better faster.

Yes, nothing can replace the lessons learned when we just sit down and write, but seeking professional help when we need it, makes our time spent writing less frustrating and so much more effective.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. 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 Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.