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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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Telephone Answering Service Valuation Methodology

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Determining an appropriate valuation for a telephone answering service (TAS) looms as a challenging task, one that many outside the industry don’t fully appreciate. This paper details TAS distinctives and explains how to best determine the value of a TAS.

EBITDA

A common valuation method for most businesses is to use a multiple of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). This general approach can be adapted to apply in most situations, but it fails to appreciate the nuances inherent in the telephone answering service industry.

When it comes to determining the value of a TAS, the EBITDA approach often falls short, underestimating the true worth of the answering service.

Multiple of Monthly Billing

An alternate telephone answering service valuation methodology, which has proven itself over time, is a multiple of monthly billing. Most TAS business sales are to others in the industry or to investment groups that understand the industry. In this case, call center valuation knowledge doesn’t apply and leads potential purchasers astray, undervaluing the property.

Answering Service vs Call Center

By definition, a TAS is arguably a subset of the call center industry. But the TAS industry is substantially different. It also predates the call center industry, which started circa 1980, whereas the answering service industry first emerged in the 1920s.

While EBITDA works as an effective evaluation tool for call centers, this methodology doesn’t translate nicely to answering services. An outsourced call center typically has a small number of large clients, whereas a TAS has a large number of small clients.

Client Cancellations

If a call center loses just one client, their whole operation plunges into disarray and their future viability is questionable—unless they can replace that one client in short order.

When in answering service, however, loses one client the impact on the bottom line is negligible and usually not even noticed.

Given this dynamic, EBITDA works well for call center valuations, where the business’s future viability is unknown, even questionable. Even those call centers that attempt to lock in clients with long-term contracts, still lack the confidence of those clients remaining with them should they become determined to leave. Given this reality, outsourced call centers typically sell for a low multiple of their EBITDA.

Contrast this to a TAS with their high number of low priced clients. From a financial perspective, the TAS operation becomes a numbers game. The astute business manager knows how long an average client will continue using their services. Some will stay longer, and some will be shorter, but the average is a number they can confidently rely on hitting, month after month, year after year. They also know the average monthly billing for a typical client.

Low Volatility

What this means is answering services have a predictable and measurable volatility that is both small and understood. When a client cancels service, which happens every month, their marketing department and sales team has scores or even hundreds of realistic prospects in its sales funnel.

This means that another client will soon take the place of the one that just cancelled service. This isn’t hard to do with a monthly cost of using a TAS starting at just shy of $100, with a $200 to $300 range being common.

Given these dynamics, EBITDA calculations underprice answering services, with a multiple monthly billing being a much more realistic and actionable figure. Yes, you can valuate a TAS using EBITDA and back into a reasonable approximation of its value. But doing this requires adjustments and assumptions, which takes too much effort to be practical. And it still often undervalues the property.

That’s why most in the TAS industry have persisted in using a multiple of monthly billing to guide their initial telephone answering service valuation efforts. It has worked, and it continues to work.

Adjusting the Multiple

Just as with the EBITDA valuation methodology, the multiple of monthly billing approach determines the multiple based on other business factors. A well-run optimized TAS will command a higher multiple of monthly billing then a poorly run, mismanaged, or ignored operation.

Given this, however, is that some answering service buyers purchase only the client base. This renders all other valuation factors as largely irrelevant. For them, the monthly billing is the only thing that matters.

Others purchase the entire operation, either to run independently or to merge into one of their existing answering services.

A Seller’s Market

The TAS industry is currently experiencing a seller’s market. It’s been in this mode for several decades. Based on what I hear from buyers and sellers is that sales often occur for a monthly billing multiple in the mid to high teens. And selling at over twenty times monthly billing isn’t unheard of.

Sellers, of course, are pleased with the payout, yet buyers continue to willingly make acquisitions under these conditions. They do this to pursue an economy of scale, which only the bigger players can fully realize. This has resulted in a decades long TAS industry consolidation.

Industry Size

The actual size of the TAS industry is hard to pin down with any degree of accuracy, yet when I researched my MBA thesis in 1998 the estimated size of the industry was 10,000 answering services, which soon decreased to 5,000 by the time I did my PhD dissertation a couple of years later. I now estimate the number of services to be one tenth of that number, probably lower.

This is not to suggest the industry is shrinking. It is not.

The demand for answering service is great and appears to be larger than ever in terms of overall sales. It’s merely that the number of services has decreased.

Future Outlook

This means that those providers who want to grow through acquisition—which is much faster and often easier than growing via sales and marketing—have fewer viable services to select from.

This is the main factor in driving up monthly billing multiples and keeping them there. I expect this dynamic to continue for the foreseeable future.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Celebrate the Telephone

The TAS Industry Centers on a Readily Understood, Universal, and Reliable Technology

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Telephone answering services handle thousands of telephone calls every day. The majority are incoming calls that come from clients’ customers and prospects. The rest are outgoing calls made for clients. With the continual use of the telephone at work, it’s easy to dismiss it as commonplace, even boring. But let’s not overlook the all-critical role the telephone plays in our every-day work. 

In fact, let’s take a moment to celebrate the telephone as the essential star that it is. Let’s pause to applaud the telephone:

It’s Understood

Everyone knows how to use a telephone. Even those who prefer not to call someone and seek alternative means whenever possible still possess the knowledge of how to call a telephone number to talk to someone. 

The telephone is the best understood communication option, used by more people than any other alternative. The phone is also the easiest to use and requires little technical expertise and minimal training.

It’s Universal

The telephone is also ubiquitous. Though not all residences have a hard-wired telephone sitting in their homes, as they once did, virtually all businesses do. 

And most everyone carries around a telephone in their pocket. They may even have two.

Reliable

Email make get blocked, end up in spam, or be accidentally deleted. Text messages can suffer from delay or non-delivery. 

Not so with a telephone. A phone call goes through most every time. And in those rare cases when it doesn’t, the caller immediately knows by receiving a busy signal or a recording alerting them of a problem.

Conclusion

It may seem silly to celebrate the telephone, but without it we wouldn’t be in business. Though it’s easy to overlook the telephone for its always-available, always-working nature, let’s take a moment to appreciate it is the essential element and central icon that it is.

We exist because of the telephone.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Conduct a Year-End Review

To Know Where You’re Headed You Must First Determine Where You Are

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Year end is an especially busy time at most telephone answering services, but that’s not an excuse to focus strictly on the present and stop thinking about the future. In fact, December is an ideal time to give some thought to where you are and to what lies ahead so that you can prepare for next year. It starts when you conduct a year end review.

If you don’t know where you are, it’s impossible to get to where you want to be. Take some time now to evaluate your current situation. This will form the basis to move forward with intentionality next year. Here are some things to assess.

Staff

Let’s start your year end review with a look at the backbone of your answering service, your employees. They make you shine, but they can also produce problems, affecting your clients, the schedule, and overall profitability. In short, they can make or break your business. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Telephone Staff: Do you have enough frontline employees to answer phone calls? Don’t worry (too much) if your answer is no; you’re in good company. This fact, however, provides you with an opportunity for improvement.
  • Staffing Model: Do you have a centralized workforce, a distributed one, or a hybrid plan? What elements of this works for you? Which ones do not? What needs to change?
  • Turnover Rate: Do you struggle to achieve an acceptable turnover rate? Regardless of where you’re at now, what steps do you need to take to lower it?
  • Operator Quality: Are you producing the quality service you aspire to offer and that your clients expect? Can you quantify your answer, or is it wishful thinking?
  • Non-Operations Staff: Do you have adequate management and support personnel? In addition to operations, look at accounting, sales, marketing, and technical roles, as well as administration. Consider your strongest areas and weakest. How can you keep your top employees? How can you best help those who struggle?
  • Yourself: Do you have adequate time to address what’s most essential for your answering service’s long-term viability? Or do you spend too much time putting out fires and handling day-to-day minutia? What steps can you take to be the leader your answering service needs?

Vendors

Your software and equipment provider is a critical element of your operation’s success. Leading vendors strive to enhance their offerings every year, providing new capabilities and value-added opportunities.

Look at your annual expenses to use their products. This includes one-time charges, ongoing costs, and leases. Is the vendor easy to work with? Do they provide you with what you need to achieve your goals? How is their tech support?

And if your vendor isn’t providing what you need or keeping pace with the industry, consider what you can do to help them achieve the results you want. Work with them, not against them. Changing vendors is the last thing anyone wants to do, so your first goal should be to make the best of what you have.

Industry Developments

Here are some common answering service industry trends to consider:

  • Consolidation: The industry continues to consolidate. This produces an opportunity to sell. It also provides niche markets that nimble, smaller players can capture.
  • Competition: At the same time, the remaining operations encounter increased competition in a national and even international marketplace. How can you make your service stand out?
  • Labor Market: Coupled with these two items is that most services have recently experienced an unprecedented challenge in hiring qualified employees and keeping them. Successfully addressing this dilemma could provide the biggest boost to your operation.
  • Technology: The next consideration is technology, which allows you to do more and to do it more easily, but it comes at the cost of a greater investment, coupled with increased configuration complexities.

What else would you add to this list of industry trends?

Marketplace Opportunities

You compete in a national market, but you exist in a local one. What can you do to rise above other providers around the country? What can you do to distinguish yourself in your local marketplace?

Financial Situation

For the final element of your year end review, look at the money side of your answering service. Two common items to address are increasing the money coming in and decreasing the money going out. Another item is access to capital, along with building up reserve fund.

Moving Forward

Don’t attempt to tackle this lengthy list of a year end review all at once. Work on it over time, adding to it and fine-tuning it as you go. As you move toward the completion of this effort, a strategy to move forward will emerge.

Use this as your plan for next year. May it be your best one yet.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Get More Clients

Discover the Key Characteristics to Close More Sales

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the August issue of TAS Trader, we talked about identifying where your clients are located and adjusting your market strategy accordingly. But marketing is only half of a successful sales and marketing initiative. The other half is closing sales.

Though much has been written, and will continue to be written, about making sales, a few basic, yet key, characteristics are the foundation for sales success. Sadly, too many organizations fail to address these essential elements and can’t figure out why the latest can’t-miss initiative isn’t producing the results they want.

What follows are common sense characteristics, yet too many organizations overlook them as they pursue other strategies.

Respond Fast

The first key is to react quickly. Gone is the time when the next business day or within 24 hours is good enough. Though some services have a one-hour response goal, even this falls short in today’s market where perspective clients seek instant results. Studies abound about response rate efficacy, but the bottom line is the faster you respond to an inquiry, the more likely you are to close a sale.

And to be clear, I’m not talking about the time from when a sales rep gets the lead to when they make the first contact, I’m talking about from when a client clicks a link or submits a request to when they are interacting with a sales professional. 

Strive to make this as fast as possible. The goal is to close the sale before your competition responds.

Follow Up

The second key is ongoing interaction. Most people pursue easy solutions and desire to achieve the best results with the least amount of effort. Salespeople are no different in this regard.

It’s true that many sales close on the first interaction, which tapers off with each subsequent follow-up effort. Yet collectively contacts two through ten (or more) produce a substantial number of sales as well. 

It’s just that most salespeople don’t know this because they don’t follow up with their leads. They seek the low hanging fruit of that initial contact and write off the prospects who don’t readily say “yes.”

Be Intentional

The next key is to ensure each contact has a purpose. Don’t call a prospect to “touch base” or see if they’re ready to begin service. Instead, be deliberate with each contact, be it by phone, email, or text. Make sure each interaction moves the sales process forward.

Learn the steps they plan to take to make their decision. Do they need someone to sign-off on their recommendation? Do they need to research something? They might need to look at their budget. Ask them how you can help them move the process forward. 

Another option is to contact them with additional information. This might not even be material that relates to your answering service or them using it. If you find something that may relate to their business or could be of interest to them, that’s a great reason to contact them. 

The point is that each follow-up contact should move them closer to deciding to use your service.

Don’t Stop Until You Get a Decision

The fourth key is persistence. Too many salespeople give up too soon. Know that some people are deliberate in making changes and need time to process it. Don’t risk writing them off just as they’re getting ready to say “yes.”

Continue following up with prospects until there’s no more reason to do so. 

The most obvious reason is that they sign up to use your answering service. Another reason is that they tell you to stop contacting them; respect that. And if they’ve gone with one of your competitors, ask their permission to follow up with them at a certain point to see how things are going. 

A timely call could turn a “no” into a “yes.”

Summary

A foundation for sales success is to respond fast, follow-up, be intentional, and don’t stop. Few salespeople do this, so implementing these four basic skills will put you ahead of most people. And along the way you’ll close more sales.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Where Are Your Clients Located?

Align Sales and Marketing Strategy with Client Geographic Distribution

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Since you can target online ads to specific markets, conduct a geographic analysis of where your customers are located. Let the results inform future ad targeting. 

Here are some considerations:

Local Market

Though there’s no longer a technical reason to go with a local answering service, some businesses prefer to work with nearby vendors. Their reasons for doing so vary, but the main factor in your favor is that their preference to buy local gives you an automatic advantage over everyone else who’s marketing to them from a distant location. Use this fact to your advantage when targeting your local market.

Highly Reached Markets

Is there another state or city where you already have a lot of clients? Explore the reasons why this is the case. Look for ways to capitalize on these reasons in future online marketing initiatives. Another benefit is that when it comes to closing the sale, some prospects will be impressed if you can list other businesses in their area that you already serve.

Under Reached Markets

Now consider other states or regions where you have few customers or none. Is there a reason for this? Let this explanation inform your decision about targeting these areas. Maybe you never marketed to that area. Or perhaps you did, but the results disappointed you. If so, see the next item.

Conduct a Test

Your current geographic distribution of clients is a culmination of past factors. This may not be indicative of future success. Therefore, some periodic wide-scale testing is in order. 

Conduct an online ad campaign targeting your ideal client, but don’t specify any geographic area. Then look at the results. 

If you receive a greater click through rate in a particular geographic market, this area may be positively predisposed—for whatever reason—to be interested in switching answering services at this time. It doesn’t matter why; not really. The key is that your message resonates with them right now. So target that area. Continue to do so for as long as you see results.

Time Zone Targeting

I once mused about having an answering service with 25 percent of my client base in each major US time zone. This, I reasoned, would smooth out each day’s traffic peaks and valleys that occur when most all clients are on the same schedule. Now, with geographic online ad targeting its feasible and practical to pursue this specific time zone mix—assuming you see reason a to do so.

Conclusion 

Answering service sales and marketing tactics change over time. A current marketing favorite is online advertising. But this is only half of the equation. The other half is the sales part.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Answering Service Marketing, Then and Now

Sales and Marketing Tactics Change, but the Need to Close Sales Doesn’t

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the early days of the telephone answering service industry, most all clients were local. This was because a physical off premise extension of the customers’ phone line needed to be installed in the answering service. If the client wasn’t local to the answering service’s office, this was cost-prohibitively expensive. 

This meant that hiring an answering service was a local buy. And the only effective competition—if any—was another local provider. My things have changed.

Then came along call forwarding, local DID numbers, toll-free numbers, and toll-free DID numbers. These provided the potential for every answering service across the country to compete with every other answering service. Even so, the marketing focus of most answering services remained on their local city. 

A subsequent advancement came with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which completely opened the market. This made every answering service with this technology a competitor to every other service in the country. 

Marketing that Worked Then

Some of the common marketing efforts when the focus was on the local community included yellow page ads, local print advertising, direct mail, direct sales (cold calling, lead follow-up, or both), networking, word-of-mouth, and referrals. 

Of course, individual results varied, but most answering services found success in one or more of these strategies. These techniques worked then when the focus was on the local market, but they don’t work so well now, especially when pursuing a broad geographic area.

Marketing that Works Now

When casting a net over a wider geographic region, the common go-to solution is online advertising. The ability to target ads to specific areas and prospects is an attractive option, especially when contrasted to yesterday’s broadcast marketing solutions.

Running effective online marketing campaigns is a skill people best learn through doing. Expect to make some mistakes and lose money in the initial stages, but with practice and intention you can run successful online advertising campaigns.

Closing Leads

The goal of marketing is to find prospects, that is, leads. The goal of sales is to close these leads. For an answering service to grow, it must excel in both aspects of the sales and marketing equation. Just as you track online marketing effectiveness by the number of clicks, you track sales effectiveness by the number of closed deals.

Generating leads is just the first step. Closing leads is essential to have an effective sales and marketing campaign. 

In the next issue will look at online ad targeting strategies.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Is It Time to Rethink Your TAS for the Long Term?

Apply Your Experiences of the Past Year to Chart Your Future Course

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Throughout my career, at both the businesses I’ve managed and the ones I’ve owned, I’ve sought incremental improvements, making small ongoing tweaks on a regular basis. By fine-tuning processes and paradigms over time, I made the operation better without subjecting employees to deal with substantial change.

Yet there are times that require significant correction. As an industry, we are at one of those crossroads. Here are four areas that warrant strategic contemplation.

Location

Since its inception, nearly a century ago, the telephone answering service industry has operated out of a singular location. Although the concept of remote operator has been an option since the late 80s, only within the past decade has the promise of a distributed workforce become a viable consideration.

With few exceptions, answering service owners and managers hold a firm perspective on which setting—centrally located or geographically dispersed—is the best. Most, understandably, prefer a centralized workforce.

Now, however, is an ideal time to push aside this proven, preferred way of doing business to at least consider the alternative. This distributed model can work out of dispersed offices, from employ’s homes, or a combination of both. The centralized location, and all its associated cost, can become relegated to history.

Platform

For the past decade or so, answering services have had two platform configurations to choose from: on premise or offsite, also known as SaaS (software as a service). Both have their advantages, as well as their drawbacks. There is no one universally right answer, but there is a right answer for your service and what you want to accomplish.

Take a serious look at the strengths and weaknesses of your current platform configuration. Contrast this to the opposite situation and see which one is the better strategic move for the long-term. Consider stability, flexibility, cost, and future potential. There is much to contemplate.

Staffing

Relating to location and platform type is the staffing paradigm you want to pursue. Many managers desire to see their staff at work each day, or at least be able to work some of their shifts at the main answering service location. This requires all employees to live within driving distance of the service.

This requirement, however, limits your labor pool. What if agents could do all their work remotely? What if you could fully train them at a distance? Then your potential labor pool expands geographically, as well as allowing you to consider nontraditional workers, such as the homebound but otherwise qualified employee.

Management

Make no mistake, it’s hard for most to manage a distributed workforce. What worked well in person seldom translates to a dispersed team working from multiple locations. This may be the hardest transition of the four to make. It requires learning, implementing, and mastering the ability to manage from a distance. Most will find it challenging, but it may prove a necessary pursuit.

Conclusion

The last year has given us significant glimpses or actual experience that touches on each of these four areas. With this as the historical background and an unknown future ahead, now is the time to think strategically and make these wide-ranging, future-facilitating changes to your telephone answering service.

Prepare now to better deal with whatever the future throws at us. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, you’ll be glad you planned for it today.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

How Well Do You Work from Home?

Empower Employees to Excel Regardless of Where Their Office Is

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We are now approaching one year since many businesses sent employees home to work. Though some staff have returned to the office, either all the time or on select days, many workers continue to toil from their homes. Some have set up fully functional workspaces, while others persist with cobbled together solutions that mostly work, most of the time. These workers—or the company that employs them—persist in this mode, hoping to return to their office accoutrements any day. Until this occurs, their customers suffer through less-than-satisfactory outcomes.

When businesses first decided to, or were forced to, send workers home, many sent out Covid-19 response emails to their customers and stakeholders. These were both unhelpful and repetitive, providing little useful information. The essential message was for us to lower our expectations because their employees were working from their homes.

One email I received, however, delighted me. This company said their employees had always worked from their homes, so I could expect the same high quality of service and responsiveness I’d always enjoyed. As far as they were concerned, it was business as usual.

This business-as-usual message should have come from every organization, whether accomplished at having home-based employees or pursuing working from home as a new initiative. Yet I still hear companies apologize for their poor service and delayed responses because their staff struggles with the limitations of their home-based offices. 

On the onset of this development to send staff home, I offered tolerance for a week, even a month, as employees adjusted their perspectives and equipped their offices to provide full-functional support in all they did. Yet for them to remain mired in this mindset eleven months later is unacceptable.

Although some jobs require face-to-face interaction, most work occurs at a distance using the telephone, email, and video. Office location shouldn’t matter. And it certainly shouldn’t be an issue after all this time.

Though we hope that employees who once worked in an office will soon be able to return, the wise approach is to proceed as if this might never happen. 

If you’re working from home, look at your office configuration. Is there anything you can’t do or can’t do as well from home as you could in your office? What do you need to do to correct that? Don’t let the limitations of your home-based office affect your staff or clients any longer.

And if you have employees working from home, are they fully functional or partially provisioned? What do you need to do to close that gap? What must you do to ensure their location isn’t an issue?

It shouldn’t matter to your stakeholders where you work from. They deserve the same quality of service and responsiveness whether you’re at home or in the office.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Rethinking Remote Operators

What Was Once Optional Is Now Required

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The potential to have remote operators work off-site from the main answering service location goes back to the 1990s, when I made a presentation about this topic at the ATSI convention. I covered the two key aspects of having a distributed workforce. One was the technology to make it happen and the other was managing a dispersed staff.

The technology aspect of remote work was, at best, convoluted, not nearly as stable as being on site, and it involved a great deal of planning. It required having a data connection and an audio connection. Both had to work well to answer calls. Technology has changed much since then, with remote access being as simple and as flexible as a good internet connection.

The management concerns, however, remain unchanged. It’s still challenging to manage and supervise remotely located employees. Yes, we now have more tools to tap into to do this, but the human difficulties of managing someone we can’t see is still fraught with problems.

Given the risks associated with not having staff conveniently working in one place has caused many answering service owners and managers to dismiss remote operators as an option. In other cases, the inability to find and retain a local workforce has driven other answering services to embrace remote operators as a requirement.

Until recently, most who have pursued off premise employees have done so out of necessity, not principle. This has changed.

With lockdowns, restrictions, and limitations placed on most people across the United States and around the world, allowing staff to work from home has become the only way for them to answer client calls. For many it was go remote or go out of business.

Some who have gone down this path have celebrated the flexibility and embraced it as a new business model, perhaps one even superior to what it replaced: a centralized answering service operation. Other industry leaders, however, look at remote operators as a necessary solution that they one day hope to retreat from. They long for the days of walking into their operation room and seeing all their staff in one place, busy working.

Though returning to a centralized operation may one day be possible, we must consider that we may never be able to fully revert to this traditional operational model. We should, therefore, learn to embrace having remote operators for the long-term, whether it’s our preference or our only option.

And even if this current crisis abates to where we can again safely gather in an office, with cubicles not quite six feet apart and staff unable to wear masks, history could repeat itself with another pandemic forcing us to send people home to work.

Though having remote operators was once optional, it’s now a necessity, both for the short-term and for future flexibility.

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.