Telephone Answering Service

Call Distribution Priority: Should You Be Fair or Pragmatic?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

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

Company Lines

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

Account Types

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

Chronic Complainers

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

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

The Net Result

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

An Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Telephone Answering Service

The Amtelco-Telescan Merger

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

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

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

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

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

Peter: Any specific new product initiatives yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telephone Answering Service

Hopper and Campbell Contribute to Tom Hopkins’ Book

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Telephone Answering Service

TAS Trader Readers Speak Out

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

Here are some of the details of what we learned:

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

This is some phenomenal support and wonderful affirmation!

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

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

1)   Guest columnists

2)   Articles from the greater call center industry

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

4)   Profiles of answering services

5)   TAS association news and information

This is where you come in:

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

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

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

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.

Telephone Answering Service

Scam Alert: Buyer Beware

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Telephone Answering Service

Become an “EAS” – an Email Answering Service

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In my December column in Connections Magazine, I said, “Everything you currently do with phone calls, you need to apply to email. Answer email, screen email, route email, add value to email, prioritize email, and escalate email.” I’d like to delve into that a bit more, specifically as it relates to telephone answering services.

First, consider that, for most of your clients, you answer their main lines. Extending that to email, you can answer their main email addresses, such as those beginning with info@, sales@, and so forth. Because these are not specific individuals’ email addresses, companies usually assign someone to check these generic email accounts. However, doing so tends to take a low priority. Sometimes several days or even weeks go by without these being checked. I am aware of a situation where a company’s main email went almost a year without it being checked.

As a solution, you can offer an “email answering service.” Clients can forward or redirect these generic email addresses to your TAS. Your agents receive the messages and delete the spam, forward the routine email to the appropriate person or department, and reply to basic questions. If something qualifies as an “emergency,” you escalate it as appropriate, just as you would with a phone call. If it is an order, you enter it into their order entry system; if they want literature, you fulfill it, etc. Since everyone with email is overrun with it, and since most everyone has email, the overall possibilities for your client base are vast. Properly executed and marketed, it could be a completely new business line for you – EAS (email answering service)!

Also, specific email addresses, such as a customer service email, could be (and should be) redirected to you when your clients forward their lines in the evening. It seems like common sense, but I imagine that those who actually make provisions for their customer service email after hours are rare.

As far as individual employee email addresses, just like with employees’ direct lines, there is not as much call for your involvement. However, there is still opportunity, such as for a busy CEO. You can screen email, delete the spam, reply to basic questions, forward routine email to an assistant, and prioritize the rest.

As an example, on the TAS Trader website, my posted email is, while the one I personally give out is different. Presently, they end up in the same place, but the potential is there for someone to screen all emails, deleting the spam, forwarding sales inquiries directly to Valerie, our media rep, and forwarding the rest to me for my personal attention.

While any organization could do these things themselves, they might be better served to hire you to do it, just as they do for their phone lines. This means that your TAS could become an EAS, too!

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.

Telephone Answering Service

See Your Name in TAS Trader

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

The Basics

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

The Key

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

Avoid Hyperbole

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

Use the Third Person

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

Proof Your Work

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

Expect to Be Edited

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


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

Submit It

Once it’s ready, just email a Word file of your news or article. Then look for it in an upcoming issue!

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.

Telephone Answering Service

Seasonal Traffic Opportunities

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As a publisher, December is a slower time of the year for me. It’s not that I have less work to do, but I have fewer interruptions in the form of ancillary email messages and phone calls. Conversely, for most answering services, the winter holidays present the opposite scenario, with the days leading up to Christmas being busier – and for some services, significantly busier. The amount of increase in December call volume varies by region and client mix. While some answering services see little change in call volume during the winter months, most see an increase.

In cases where the increase is moderate, it is handled using existing staff, with operators working more hours and additional shifts or former operators being pulled in from other departments. The goal is to not increase the employee count if possible and to avoid having to let people go when the holiday rush is over.

For answering services with a greater influx of calls – such as those that also do some order taking – existing staff is often inadequate to cover the projected traffic. In these instances, temporary staff is needed. Although hiring temporary holiday staff – be it directly or indirectly through a staffing agency – is daunting and draining, there is an upside. These short-term workers give the answering service an opportunity to evaluate their skill and effectiveness, picking out the best for possible permanent status come January. This may be the ultimate agent-screening tool, one that produces the best possible evaluation.

Regardless of which category your answering services fits into – whether you see a slight increase, a moderate bump, or a big jump – one thing can be expected: January should be a slower month, requiring fewer hours on the schedule. Moreover, this year things are compounded by worries over the economy and wonderings of how much longer the recession will last.

With this as the backdrop, I offer the following considerations for January:

  • Staff morale will become an even bigger issue. In December, the goal was to keep staff motivated amid an increase in calls, complaints, and fatigue, whereas in January, the need is to keep morale up in the face of reduced hours, fewer shifts, and possible terminations for temporary staff or even layoffs for permanent staff. Even though things have slowed down, morale is still an issue that can’t be overlooked.
  • Slower times are a great opportunity to renew quality initiatives and provide additional training. Side-by-side coaching and silent monitoring can once again be given the attention and priority they deserve.
  • When hours need to be cut, the weaker staff should bear the brunt of it. Some operators may not have what it takes to provide the quality service that you seek, while others might have given up trying and are merely coasting. Terminating the obviously weaker agents sends a powerful message to stronger agents that their good work is noticed and appreciated.

A slower January is not a time for either fear or relaxing but a time of opportunity; don’t miss it.

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.

Telephone Answering Service

Movie Review: The Bells Are Ringing

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Although I frequently write movie reviews, this is the first to appear in a trade publication. However, given that the setting for this Broadway musical-turned-movie is a telephone answering service, the justification can be easily made.

In The Bells Are Ringing, Judy Holliday reprises her Tony Award-winning role as Ella Peterson, a telephone answering service operator, in Vincente Minnelli’s musical comedy. Ella can’t keep from eavesdropping on her client’s calls, compulsively going overboard to help them out. She does this by sharing tidbits of information she hears from other clients. Initially everybody benefits, so her involvement doesn’t cause too much of a problem, but when she goes incognito to meet and help her problem-plagued clients, things begin to go awry.

One of them, playwright Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin), becomes enamored when he actually meets Elle (who adopts a concocted alias), and she falls in love with him. Unfortunately, Jeffery doesn’t realize who she is, since when she calls him from the answering service, she adopts the voice of an old woman so she can mother him. He buys into the rouse completely by affectionately calling her “Mom.”

Holliday and Martin have great on-screen chemistry, the musical score is superb, and the dancing enjoyable. The production is so delightful that the fact it is a musical (which I generally don’t care for) doesn’t get in the way or detract in the least.

Jean Stapleton (aka “Edith Bunker”) plays the role of Sue, the owner of the answering service, which is cleverly called “Susansaphone.” The answering service has a diverse group of clients, one of which is actually a bookie whose messages are coded to sound like record orders. Of course, the police, who also suspect Susansaphone of being a front for another age-old profession, isn’t far behind this enterprising crook.

The movie begins and ends with creative and compelling commercials for Susansaphone. Sadly, this was the final film appearance of the talented Judy Holliday before her premature death.

Although released in 1960, the movie still has great appeal to anyone working in the telephone answering service industry – even more so if they used or remember the quintessential cord board.

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.

Telephone Answering Service

Make Your Billing Strategy Work for You

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

There are likely as many billing plans as there are telephone answering services. It seems that everyone has his or her own idea of the right way to bill clients, with each answering service viewing its method as superior. Yet privately, they comprehend its shortcomings. In reality, there is no perfect billing philosophy and no single right way to charge clients. Successful billing requires that TAS owners understand their selected rate structure and operate the answering service that enables them to capitalize on their billing structure’s strengths and weaknesses.

Here are some typical TAS billing plans:

Flat Rate

Every client is billed the same fixed rate every month. Though not used much anymore, it was common when client expectations were uniform and call-processing systems were manual.

Advantages: Bills are easy to generate, explain, and understand; all revenue is fixed, and clients know exactly what to expect and can budget accordingly.

Disadvantages: It is not fair – essentially half of the clients are profitable, subsidizing the other half who are not. It also attracts high-volume (unprofitable) accounts while discouraging low-volume (profitable) ones.

Possible abuses: Revenue stays the same regardless if work is done; therefore, there is no direct financial incentive to answer calls.

Strategy: Seek low volume accounts; streamline and automate high volume accounts.

Modified Flat Rate

Each client pays a flat rate, but that rate differs from client to client based on his or her historical usage.

Advantages: There are the same benefits as with flat-rate billing, and the disparity between profitable and unprofitable clients will be largely eliminated.

Disadvantages: Knowing what to bill a new client is hard, it neglects seasonal fluctuations, and you must continually review client traffic for changes in usage.

Possible abuses: The initial rate might be set too high or too low for new clients. Failure to lower rates if usage drops significantly will result in overbilling.

Strategy: Analyze client profitability in each billing cycle by calculating client revenue per minute. Clients with a pattern of low revenue per minute (unprofitable) may need their rate increased or their account streamlined and automated.

Unit Billing

Tracks and bills units of work, such as calls answered and calls made; some services charge an additional unit if a message is taken. There is usually a base rate that includes an allowance of units, with excess units being billed additionally.

Advantages: More work can be tracked and billed; high volume and active accounts pay more.

Disadvantages: Not all units of work require an equal amount of time and effort.

Possible abuses: Performing unnecessary units of work under the guise of being thorough, such as double dispatching.

Strategy: Count every measurable unit of work. Automate time-consuming processes.

Time Billing

The time operators spend working for the client is tracked and billed. As with the unit billing, there is generally a monthly rate that includes a block of time; excess usage is billed separately.

Advantages: Billing will directly reflect the amount of time spent for that client.

Disadvantages: Billing complaints are harder to resolve.

Possible abuses: Talkative operators inflate bills.

Strategy: Provide the client with the services they need, coach operators to be thorough yet efficient, and make sure that all time is tracked and billed.

Tiered Time Billing

Agent time is billed the same way as time billing; any system time or automated activity is also billed but at a lower rate. System time includes non-operator activity, such as automated dispatching, call screening, IVR, voicemail, patching, and conferencing.

Advantages: All of the benefits of minute billing; automated activity also produces income.

Disadvantages: There are more items to track; not all systems provide adequate statistics.

Possible abuses: Same as for time billing.

Strategy: Be sure to track and bill all appropriate time elements.

Other items to be considered for any billing method are ancillary charges (fax, email delivery, and on-call schedules), pass-through charges (local, long-distance, and toll-free costs), or surcharges (holiday fees). Other issues are the length of the billing cycle (monthly versus twenty-eight days), late fees, and discounts for early payment.

Regardless of which method you implement, be sure you know its strengths and weaknesses, follow it ethically, and pursue it strategically. With the right approach, any of these methods can be successful.

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.