Although there are exceptions, most TAS owners want to grow their business. (Even those who want to keep the operation at its present size need to add new accounts to make up for cancellations.) To grow your TAS, there are but two ways: through sales and marketing or through acquisition.
Sales and Marketing
allows for controlled expansion at a steady and manageable rate, without taxing staff or infrastructure. This requires no extra stress or additional work, and other projects aren’t put on hold.
provides a nice jump in size all at once. A team spirit develops as the staff pulls together to integrate the new accounts or another location into an existing operation. The effort is intense, and then things return to normal.
Considering which method best fits your goals is a great place to start. However, don’t overlook your own strengths. I always desired the methodical predictability of the sales and marketing approach, yet I had trouble finding the right sales staff and managing them to succeed.
What I was good at was acquisitions: the pursuit of the deal, the negotiation, and the integration afterwards.
Both growth options are legitimate considerations, but don’t do what everyone else is doing; pick the option that works best for you and your staff.
As I announced last month, TAS Trader begins its sixth year with a new look to meet readers’ changing needs. With more people reading emails on their smartphones than not, the old PDF format of TAS Trader has been retired in favor of this new mobile-friendly version, ideal for smartphone and portable devices, while also working well on computers.
Also, our archives have already been converted to this new format, so you can read them online, forward them to others, and print them out. Additionally, each issue has a comment section for you to add to the discussion.
As TAS Trader wraps up its fifth year, many changes have occurred since our launch in early 2009. As an industry, we’ve seen a great deal of consolidation.
Although it’s just a guess, I suspect the number of telephone answering services in the United States now stands at about 50 percent of what it was then. Of course, the average size of those that remain has grown a lot. Sensing opportunity, new players have entered the industry, too.
The vendors that serve us have undergone changes as well: consolidation, diversification, strategic partnerships, and entering or exiting the industry. Overall, this is good for the industry.
However, the biggest change has been technology: VoIP, hosted service, ubiquitous Internet connectivity, remote operators, distributed call centers (my favorite oxymoron), off-the-shelf hardware, software apps, fiber rings, handheld devices, and smartphones.
Ah, smartphones and handheld devices.
I started TAS Trader as an e-publication with two formatting goals: make it easy to read on a computer screen and make it easy to print for those who like a hard copy. In 2009, our 11″ x 8½” PDF-formatted layout made a lot of sense.
But in 2013, the tipping point came, with more people now reading email on smartphones and handheld devices than on computer screens. This means our trusty format is no longer serving the majority of readers.
Starting in January 2014, our once innovative version of TAS Trader will retire. Taking its place is an email version, designed for mobile users while still being easy to read on a computer screen or print out.
We’ve already converted our archives to this new format, which you can read, forward, and print. Plus, like text documents, they are easier to search and will aid in SEO (search engine optimization).
The best news is you won’t need to do anything to receive the new version of TAS Trader. It will arrive via email just as it always does, and copies will be available online just like always. For all the things that are changing, some things remain the same.
Happy holidays! And we’ll see you January 14 with TAS Trader 2.0!
Though some people have a wait-and-see attitude toward the Affordable Care Act (ACA), most hold polarized views, either loving it or hating it. Many business owners and managers, including telephone answering services, are wary.
They see the ACA as one more item pressuring their business’s viability and threatening their future.
While this may be true, there is another facet of the ACA that’s good news for the TAS industry. The fact that many businesses are struggling to deal with the cost implications of the ACA signals opportunities for companies that provide outsourced services.
This includes telephone answering services.
As companies strategize how to deal with the ACA by not hiring new employees, asking existing ones to do more, increasing hours of current staff, and tapping part-time workers, pressure builds within their organization. Eventually, something has to give.
TASs are in a great position to relieve some of that pressure for these companies: taking overflow calls during the day; covering the phones during vacations, absences, and even breaks; and handling after-hours calls.
In addition, TASs can also process email and respond to social media interactions for companies with overworked and stretched staff.
Although telephone answering services must deal with the ACA just like everyone else, they are also in a position to help other companies deal with some of the pain the ACA causes.
When using the Internet, it’s critical to be aware of the risks. You don’t want to take a naive approach toward security on your telephone answering service’s computers. Computer security is a complex issue, deserving serious attention.
At the risk of oversimplification, here are some simple guidelines to follow:
Use anti-virus protection on each computer that accesses the Internet or is on a network with other computers.
Apply all critical updates for Microsoft Windows and Office products. Hackers target these programs because of their popularity and nearly universal presence.
Install and configure a firewall to protect computers that access the Internet.
Practice safe computing. Don’t open unexpected attachments; have a healthy skepticism with unsolicited warnings. Viruses and malware often use these ploys as a way to sneak unto a computer.
Use common sense. If something is too good to be true, it generally is; if something seems too risky, it probably is. Don’t believe everything you see online.
There is much more to these basic recommendations – and there are other issues to consider – but you can start by covering these essential items first and then build on them.
The future of your TAS and the security of your clients’ data are at stake. Don’t take any chances.
For years, some answering service owners have pursued remote operator stations, while others have avoided them with staunch opposition. For the TAS, the benefits of remote operators are many, including running multiple offices from one system, tapping into new labor markets, and hiring qualified but homebound staff.
For employees, the advantages also abound. They include saving money on clothes and eliminating commute time and transportation costs. Of benefit to both are scheduling flexibility, staffing split shifts and short shifts, as well as quickly filling open shifts and responding to traffic spikes.
I embrace the technological aspects of remote operator stations, marveling at how much things have changed since I first talked about the concept at the 1994 ATSI convention. Challenging, costly, and slow back then, connecting a remove operator station today is easy.
Often overlooked, though, are the challenges of managing a distributed workforce. It’s hard, and some management styles don’t work well over distance.
There’s nothing wrong with “management by walking around,” and many use it successfully. But that technique doesn’t translate well to staff you can’t see and who can’t see you.
I admire managers who successfully oversee staff at multiple locations, yet at the same time I respect managers who decline to try, knowing it’s not their strength.
However, before I let those managers off the hook, I’d like to point out that managing staff at different places is really no different than managing staff on different shifts and during times you’re not in the office.
Take what works for third shift and apply it to remote operators – things should work out okay.
Although the number varies with who’s doing the telling, it’s many times more costly to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one. The sad reality is, though, no one at the giant mega corporations gets this – or at least their actions belie that they do.
For years, I’ve been trying to get a lower rate from my local phone company, practically begging them to give me a reason to stick around. As soon as I had a viable alternative, I switched providers and cancelled my service.
For the first time in twenty-four years, they asked me, “What can we do to keep you as a customer?” Sorry, too late.
A week later I received an email from them. It seems they pre-approved me for a special rate, a deal they wouldn’t consider giving me as a customer but will if I’m a prospect.
They offered me a “triple play,” a package with phone, internet, and satellite for about what they were charging me for just phone and internet before.
If existing customers were treated with a bit more respect, the sales and marketing folks wouldn’t be under as much pressure to make up for the lost revenue from defecting customers. But instead, they do things backwards, taking customers for granted and offering sweet deals to prospects.
Although rampant at large corporations, this situation isn’t unique to them. Smaller companies can fall prey to this as well. Does this scenario have any implications at your answering service?
Today, harnessing the power of the Internet should be a goal of every telephone answering service. When used properly, the Internet can save time, generate revenue, increase communication, obtain and retain clients, and bolster the bottom line.
Here are some items to consider. You are likely already doing most of these, but there may be one or two items to address:
At its most basic level, a website functions as an online brochure for your answering service. A yellow-page ad is limited to annual changes, but website updates can occur as often as needed. Additionally, a website can be dynamic or even interactive.
Your website can provide information for your clients, such as FAQs (frequently asked questions), service literature and instructions, and contact information (direct phone numbers and email addresses) for key staff and departments.
Is your website up to date? Is it all it can be?
Email – for all staff – aids intra-company communications, such as new account notices, agent schedules, and customer service initiatives. Email is also a great marketing tool.
Connect to and interact with clients using a blog, while a closed blog can facilitate intracompany communication, especially for a distributed workforce.
There are more social media options than anyone has time to handle, but tap one or two primary ones – Facebook and Twitter, for instance – to interact with clients, recruit employees, and support staff.
Posting videos online is another great way to promote your TAS. These can be sales focused or informational. Either way, this is one more way to attract prospects and keep clients. Post videos on your website, YouTube, or another video sharing site.
The Internet contributes to the success of today’s TAS. Don’t miss these opportunities to better market services, serve clients, save money, support staff, and generate revenue.
Call me an idealist. I think life should be fair. This applies to answering calls. According to my perspective, call distribution needs to be fair, too. Everyone should have an equal chance of being answered quickly – or at least subjected to the same length of hold time if they need to wait.
The call queue in my perfect world would be classless: first in, first out. That, however, is utopian; answering services exist in the real world and face real issues.
If your answering service follows my ideal of fair, I applaud you. If you don’t, I understand. Here are some reasons you might want to forget about being fair and be pragmatic instead.
The speed and efficiency at which you handle your business lines (main number, sales lines, check-in accounts, and customer service) form your callers’ perception of the level of service provided to their callers.
It’s this perception that attracts new business and retains existing clients; it may be one of your best marketing initiatives, and it has a direct effect on profitability.
Equality aside, certain account groups are more important than others.
The determining factors vary: client profession, caller urgency, dollar value of the call to the client, type of service provided, or your answering service’s specialty – that is, if your focus is medical, give those clients priority and work in the commercial accounts around them.
This results from a natural reaction to the squeaky wheel syndrome. In theory, giving a higher priority to chronic complainers and demanding clients would seem to mitigate their criticisms about service.
While this seems clever, it’s actually self-defeating to reward clients who complain. In addition, these may be your worst clients in terms of how they treat operators or hassle your customer service and support staff.
In fact, consider giving them the lowest priority. After all, they’re going to complain anyway. Plus, when you factor in their drain on customer service resources, they’re probably your least profitable clients. If they cancel, you may be better off.
The Net Result
For each account you elevate in priority, you effectively demote another. This occurs whether or not you actually make a programming change to that account. After all, only half of your clients can receive an above-average response time – and the other half will statistically experience below-average results.
What if you assigned call distribution priority based on the profitability of each account?
Here’s the logic: At a busy time, some callers are going to hang up; it’s inevitable. Which call would you prefer to lose, a call that will bill $2.25 a minute or one worth only $0.49 a minute?
It’s as if someone is holding out both hands, with a dollar bill in one and a quarter in the other. If you can take the money from only one hand, which will you choose? The dollar, of course! The same should apply to answering calls: Grab the profitable ones first; don’t let them get away.
When properly staffed, some callers will hang up before you can help them. It’s a fact. So if you’re going to lose some calls, wouldn’t you prefer to miss the least profitable ones?
Implementing call distribution priority based on profitability will allow you to earn more money by doing the same amount of work.
And it you want to fine-tune this strategy even more, find out who the slow payers and chronic complainers are. Even if they’re profitable on paper, they have less value because they harm cash flow and overuse support resources.