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Telephone Answering Service

The TAS Industry Helps People Communicate

Move beyond a Mindset of Answering Calls to Facilitating Interactions

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

This year has been a challenging one no matter how we look at it. Our status quo as an industry—to whatever degree we ever had a status quo—has been shaken. Everything seems to have changed. Our response has been as it always has been, to adapt, to adjust, and to accelerate into a new tomorrow.

To do this, we re-examined our staffing, from hiring to training, from scheduling to supervising. We’ve sent people home to work, whether for the short-term or for the conceivable future. And we fine-tuned our sales and marketing efforts to redefine success in an unfamiliar environment where all the rules have changed. Coupled with this, of course, is morphing how we must manage our answering service and our staff in a way that’s consistent with these new ways of doing business.

It’s also an appropriate time to look at the why of telephone answering service.

It’s easy to think of ourselves as being in business to answer telephone calls for our clients. Though true, it’s also a limited perspective. A more insightful view is to think of ourselves as being in business to help people communicate. This may use the telephone, or it may tap other communication channels. Don’t lose sight of this. 

People today communicate through email, text messaging, and social media. They also increasingly visit websites to solve problems, place orders, and safely and securely connect. None of these involve the telephone, which is an essential and predominant channel in our industry and much of what we do.

Yet when we reimagine ourselves as facilitating interaction instead of just answering calls, we open a door to new possibilities. We then become a telephone answering service that processes emails, handles text messaging, and monitors social media for our clients. We’re connected to their websites for text chat and assisted browsing opportunities. And, yes, we also answer the telephone.

This is our future, and our future is here.

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

A Lifetime of Industry Related Writing

Article Repository Consolidates Industry Resources  

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I published my first article in 1982. It was about pagers. Remember them? 

It was also the hardest piece I’ve ever written, but it set me on a journey for a lifetime of writing. Over the years I authored a couple thousand articles, some of which have been forever lost, but most are still available online. And I’ve written even more blog posts. That’s millions of words.

I write a lot about the telephone answering service and call center industries. Each year I publish twelve columns for TAS Trader and another six each for Connections Magazine, AnswerStat, and Medical Call Center News. That’s thirty new pieces of industry related content each year, with over 500 in total. 

You can go to the respective publication websites to read these articles, but now they’re all compiled into one convenient repository at peterdehaanpublishing.com/peter-lyle-dehaan-articles for easy access. Please bookmark this page for future reference.

The articles are also grouped by category. This allows you to quickly drill down to your area of interest: answering service, call center, and healthcare call center. They are also cross indexed by specific topics. There are 100 articles about telephone answering service, 200 addressing the call center industry, and nearly 200 covering healthcare call centers. In addition, I have posted 130 business related articles and over 600 about writing and publishing

Now, for the first time ever, these are accessible for you at one location. Altogether I’ve posted more than 1,400 articles that I’ve written over the years.

In addition to them being online, I will compile and update the best, most relevant articles for upcoming books. With a dozen book title ideas in mind, I’m already working on the first one. The working title is Customer Service Success Stories. I’ll let you know when it’s available. 

My next title will cover the telephone answering service industry. I think I’ll call it The Best of TAS Trader. I can’t wait to share it with 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

Streamlining Your Answering Service, Summary

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Roundup of Articles on Fine-tuning Your TAS Processes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Over the past several months we have addressed several ways to optimize your telephone answering service and help position you to increase your efficacy and enhance the service you provide to clients. 

Here’s a recap:

1. Optimize Your Sales

How long does it take your staff to respond to a sales inquiry? Now make it faster.

2. Optimize Client Onboarding

Once a client signs up for service, how long does it take you to set up their account and begin answering calls? Do they find this acceptable or frustrating?

3. Optimize Customer Service

How long does it take you to acknowledge and correct a customer service issue? Do you ever lose clients because of it?

4. Optimize Agent Hiring

Do you measure your hiring process in terms of weeks, days, or hours? How often do you lose a promising employee because you didn’t react quickly enough?

5. Optimize Operational Processes

What does your policies and procedures manual look like in your answering service? If you don’t have a manual, how’s that working for you?

6. Optimize Agent Training

What steps can you do to make your agent training more efficient and more effective?

7. Optimize Billing

How many steps are involved in producing invoices? How much time do you take between billing cut off and sending invoices? The longer it takes, the more you hamper cash flow.

8. Optimize Collections

What is your average days payable (also known as days payable outstanding)? Seek to collect more of what’s owed to you faster.

9. Optimize Accounts Payable

How quickly do you turn around invoices? Seek to pay faster to win your vendor’s appreciation and build a buffer for times of tight cash flow.

10. Optimize Tech Support

Is the technical aspect of running your answering service a strength or weakness? Regardless of your answer, look for ways to make tech support better.

11. Optimize Admin

When it comes to overhead effectiveness, look for what you can eliminate, delegate, or streamline. Make sure everything you do counts.

Pick the item on this list that deserves the most attention and will produce the biggest positive change for your answering service. Then pursue it. Once you have one item done, pick another one to work on. Work through this list until you have streamlined your entire answering service.

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

Streamlining Accounts Payable

Discover Why You May Not Want to Follow Conventional Wisdom for Payables

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The standard business advice when it comes to accounts payable is to delay payment as long as possible, even beyond the stated due date—assuming you can get away with it. This benefits cash flow, making more money available for day-to-day operations. This may be shrewd business, but it’s not good business. 

Although lengthening payables may make sense from a money standpoint, it may not be the best overall strategy. Here’s why:

Build A Buffer

A business that mails payables at the 30-day mark or pushes payments beyond that, say perhaps to 45 days, has no cushion when cash flow gets tight and there’s not enough money in their account to pay all the invoices that are one month old. 

A business that pays invoices quickly, perhaps in one week, benefits by establishing a buffer for those times when they can’t pay as quickly. After all, what vendor would care—or even notice—if they received your payment in ten days as opposed to the usual seven? Having a policy of paying invoices quickly whenever possible, builds a buffer for those times when remitting payment suffers a bit of a delay.

Act Ethically

Some businesses readily agree to their vendors’ terms of service, such as net 30, knowing they have no intention of ever following through. Yes, they will pay, but it will happen when they want to and not according to the agreement they committed to with their vendors. This is not an ethical policy. Stop doing it.

Reduce Needless Interruptions

When a business pays invoices late, even by a couple days, they receive collection calls. Each call about a late or missed payment is an interruption to the person receiving the call. Now multiply this by every vendor you work with. That’s a lot of employee time spent dealing with an avoidable problem, and it diverts them from work that’s more important and more profitable.

Become A Preferred Customer

Whenever I have a special promotion who do I contact first? It’s those who pay their bills quickly, followed by those who pay within 30 days. I never consider customers who pay late and cause me extra time chasing down the payments that they committed to make. In short, becoming a preferred customer has rewards, while those who pay late end up on a different list.

Summary

Of all my optimize articles, this may be the least acceptable. I get that. But consider your accounts payable policy and how that affects your vendors and your staff. Granted, you can’t immediately go from paying in 45 days to paying the day the invoice arrives. But you can move in that direction. First, take steps to make sure all vendors are paid within the timeframe they expect and that you agreed to.

Next, consider incrementally shortening your payables cycle one day at a time. Keep working on it until you can pay every invoice quickly. The ultimate accounts payable streamlining will occur when you can pay every invoice on the day it arrives. Your vendors will appreciate it, and your staff will respect you for 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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Streamline Technology in Your Answering Service

Don’t Overlook the Technical Support Component of Optimizing Your TAS

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In our final article on streamlining your telephone answering service, we’ll look at the technical side of things. For many services, the technology that runs it remains the least favorite aspect of the business. It’s necessary, but it’s not enjoyed.

By streamlining the technical aspects, answering services can remove some of the pain and uncertainty of maintaining a platform and its supporting components.

Hosted Solutions

The easiest way to streamline the technical aspects of running your answering service is to outsource it. Tap a hosted services provider to supply your technology needs from a distance. Not only does this give you added flexibility for remote agent stations, it also moves the tech-support aspect from your purview to theirs.

Backup Power

Making provisions to power your equipment during a power loss is essential for premise-based systems, but it’s also important for cloud-based solutions since some gear remains on site. Most backup power solutions will automatically switch over if utility power becomes unreliable. Resist the temptation to save a little bit of money with a manual transfer switch.

Automated Backups

You backup your database and hope you will never need it, but when you do, it better be current. Manually backing up information is not only time-consuming, but it’s also prone to human error and oversight. Of course, for hosted solutions, your vendor will manage all your backups for you.

Shared Responsibility

Too often the technical aspects of running an answering service fall to one person. This becomes a week area should that lone individual be unavailable. Therefore, have multiple people oversee this important responsibility. Don’t leave it on the shoulders of one person.

Clear Procedures

Document all technical processes in clear step-by-step instructions so that anyone on your staff can follow them. Be sure to post this information where your staff will need it, not filed away where it’s hard to find.

Service Agreements

Foregoing vendor service agreements and managing your technology in-house is one potential way to save money. But allowing your vendor to do this for you will likely save time and minimize service interruptions. Make sure your staff knows how to contact vendors and when to do so. Again, for cloud-based solutions tech-support is part of the package.

Action Plan

Take steps to streamline the technology that runs your answering service and the tech-support behind it. Doing so will minimize any anxiety you may feel over keeping your service up and running. 

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

Streamline Your Answering Service Administration

Streamline Your Answering Service Administration

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In past issues, we looked at streamlining various aspects of telephone answering services: sales, client onboarding, and customer service, agent hiring and training, billing and collections, and processes and procedures. Now we turn our attention to upper management: the admin function.

Every role in every business carries a bit of fluff, some more than others. This includes upper management, also known as administration. Here are three areas to look at when it comes to streamlining your answering service’s admin function:

1. What Can You Eliminate?

What admin tasks fall short in producing a tangible benefit for your service? These include activities that once held value but no longer do, as well as work that never did contribute to overall business success. Especially scrutinize projects which are done because they’re enjoyable, and duties pursued because they seem essential. Analyze each one.

Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen if no one did this chore? If the answer is nothing or if there’s a risk of investing in an inconsequential amount of time at some point in the future, then cut that activity.

2. What Can You Streamline?

Of the remaining tasks, consider how to make each one of them more efficient. This includes removing steps that don’t significantly contribute to the outcome, as well as cutting the number of people involved in the project. Each resource removed from the undertaking will serve to make it easier to do and less time-consuming. This frees up energy and staff for other activities of greater importance.

3. What Can You Delegate?

For those items that past the first screen—the ones considered essential to your service’s profitability, viability, or effectiveness— and are appropriately streamlined, consider who should handle them. You may not be the right person for the job. It could be you’re overqualified to manage it, that your time is too valuable to devote to it, or that someone else is better suited to the task.

Look to delegate what you can. This will not only lighten your load, but it will also empower people on your team. Most will jump at a chance to oversee a higher-level responsibility at your answering service. And if someone claims they’re too busy to do your delegated assignment, challenge them to look at what existing tasks they can eliminate or delegate to others.

Act Now

To realize the benefits of streamlining admin functions requires a bit of effort to get there. If you think you’re too busy to do this, you’ve just confirmed how essential this optimization project is.

Start with doing a time study of everything you do for at least a week. Yes, it’s a hassle, but the information is invaluable. And, as a bonus, many people who keep a time log find it automatically makes them more efficient because they don’t want to document their inefficiencies or poor time investments.

Summary

Once you determine how you spend your time, ask how important each task is to your answering service’s overall well-being. Look to cut non-essential work. Then streamline what remains. And last, delegate what you can.

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

Moving Toward a New Normal for Telephone Answering Services

We Should Assume We’ll Never Return to Business as Usual

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As the telephone answering service industry responded to an unexpected, pandemic-induced spike in call traffic coupled with some workers reluctant to come to the office, changes occurred out of necessity. Many services looked to address this two-pronged threat by pursuing a work-at-home model, either as their first test of remote workers or as a fuller embrace of the concept.

This increased focus on remote staff is not likely a temporary solution until things return to normal. Instead, we should view it as a new normal. Even when a reprieve from the coronavirus crisis happens, many predict a second wave to occur—possibly this fall—which could be even more intense. And a few wonder if we’ll see a seasonal reoccurrence each year.

Here are the key things to consider in your plans:

Technical Logistics

The first step in allowing staff to work from home is the technical aspect of getting them connected. This starts with a stable internet connection and adequate computer resources in each home. Consider the glitches and challenges that occurred when doing this. Address them now instead of waiting for the next wave to hit.

Remote Management

Last month I gave tips on managing a distributed workforce. Look at what went well and what could’ve gone better. Work to fix the aspects that didn’t go so well.

HR and Legal Considerations

Aside from the technical and management issues are the human resources considerations and legal aspects of having a staff work from home, even from another state. Update your employee handbook and procedural manuals to reflect this. Review your insurance coverage to make sure it addresses a distributed, home-based workforce. Consult with a labor attorney in your state to make sure you have the needed protection and adequate recourses in the event an off-site employee goes rogue.

Platform

If you have a premise-based system, consider moving to the cloud. This will best facilitate remote staff and provide maximum flexibility. In addition, an off-premise solution removes equipment from your building, which brings up the next point.

Facility

As staff moves off-site, you require less space in your building. And if everyone works from home, you no longer need a physical office. If you lease this means you can scale back or cut your rent. If you own the building, you can either sell it or lease unused space to other businesses.

Sales and Marketing

Consider how much of your sales and marketing occurs online versus how much results from in-person meetings. Going forward expect that more local prospects will want to avoid physical interaction with your sales team. Strive to reach the point where all sales and marketing efforts occur from a distance.

Business Support Functions

Though much of the work-at-home focus so far has been on answering service operators, explore how you can extend that concept to non-operational staff. What if everyone had to work from home? Could you pull it off?

Stay Connected

As you send more of your staff home to work, consider what steps you can take to stay connected with each other, and engaged in work. What can you do to counter feelings of isolation? Seek creative ways to maintain morale, effectiveness, and efficiency when physical, in-person interaction doesn’t exist or must be minimized. Consider conference calls, video meetings, and online interaction opportunities—both formal and informal.

Conclusion

Though it’s possible we will soon return to normal, making these preparations unnecessary, it’s an unlikely outcome. Instead, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

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

Tips to Manage a Remote Workforce

With More Reasons to Have Operators Work at Home Comes the Need to Better Oversee Them

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-remote workforce

Around the world, many jurisdictions have enacted stay-at-home mandates to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Other areas are pursuing a “stay home, stay safe” recommendation. This scenario hits answering services doubly hard. First, as clients respond by revamping their business models, they turn to their answering service for additional help, giving them more work and expecting a wider scope of outcomes. But as answering services strive to take more calls, they may struggle to do so with reduced staffing levels. 

The solution is allowing answering service operators to work from home. For some services, this may be a new consideration, while for others they may now pursue remote staff with more diligence. Few answering services have a 100 percent home-based staff. Yet at this time everyone can see the benefits of working from home.

Here are some tips for successfully managing a distributed workforce, such as when most everyone works from home.

Develop a Remote Perspective

Broadcasting a message to all staff that “there are donuts in the break room” sends a strong message to off-site staff that they don’t matter—or you forgot about them, which you probably did. In all your interactions, put your remote staff first. Figure out ways to effectively communicate with off-site employees. Everything that works for remote staff, will work for local staff too. 

Put All Communications Online

Convert physical bulletin boards to virtual bulletin boards. Move from physical inboxes to electronic inboxes. This may be an email, or it may be something else. 

Put all necessary paperwork online, making it equally and as easily accessible for all staff, regardless of location. The same applies to submit paperwork. Don’t make your remote staff jump through hoops that don’t apply to local staff.

Stay Connected

It’s easy to interact with office-based staff. This can be as simple as a wave or a head nod when you walk through the operations room. But you can’t do this with remote staff. Figure out how to offer the same courtesies to your staff working in their homes. You might want to periodically have a video call with them or set up online group meetings that they can attend. These don’t need to belong or complicated interactions. In fact, simple and shorter are better. Aim for quantity over quality.

Update Your Policies and Procedures

A fourth consideration is to review your written policies and operations procedures. Make sure they apply equally to local and remote staff. Then once you have reworded them to be inclusive, post them online, and provide them to each employee electronically. If they need to sign that they received these updates, digitize that process as well. Eliminate the preference for, and the need for, all printed materials.

Conclusion

Taking these steps will help your remote staff be as successful—and as happy—as your local staff. It will also combat the us-versus-them mentality that often occurs among employees who don’t work at the primary location.

When you do this “stay home, stay safe” becomes “go remote, go to work.”

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 to Optimize Your TAS Processes

Two Tips to Streamline Your Answering Service’s Procedures

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

optimize your TAS-Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last year I shared several articles about finetuning the processes in your telephone answering service. The three key areas are streamlining sales, streamlining client onboarding, and streamlining customer service. Beyond that, we looked at fine-tuning billing and collections, agent hiring, and agent training.

In all cases, the goal of optimizing these areas in your TAS is to achieve the same—or better—results more effectively. To realize this goal, however, doesn’t mean working harder. It means working smarter.

To optimize any of these processes, we look at two areas: the number of steps required and the time they take.

Reduce the Number of Steps

As time passes, any process becomes more complicated. The initial steps required in the process remain, while new ones join them. As a result, most of our processes become bloated over time. Even though some of these steps are no longer required to achieve the desired outcome, or have a negligible impact on the result, we and our staff persist in doing them because we always have.

We must scrutinize every process and ask if each step remains relevant. Too often what was once important no longer is. Identify those tasks and cull them. For each step consider the impact if you eliminate it. If it doesn’t warrant its continued existence, cut it out and show your staff why it’s no longer relevant. They may initially resist this change, but once they realize it will make their jobs easier, they’ll quickly embrace the streamlined process.

Shorten the Amount of Time

Removing the number of steps required to complete a task should automatically make it faster. Now look for other delays you can remove from the process. Does one person arbitrarily delay completing a task that’s part of an overall process? Since they must do it anyway, why not do it right away? 

Another opportunity to shorten how long a process takes is to look for areas you can automate. Why wait for a person to do something that a computer can do automatically? Tap technology whenever possible.

Next realize that some things don’t have to proceed in a linear manner, with some tasks or even paths allowing simultaneous execution. For example, when a client signs up for service, one person will need to program the account, while another person will set up billing. It may seem orderly to do one and then the other, but both actions can occur at the same time.

Conclusion

Like any business, an answering service thrives on processes. This ensures that work proceeds in a smooth and organized manner, producing the desired outcome. However, these processes often swell over time, becoming inefficient and unwieldy. 

Look for ways to remove steps and shorten the time it takes to complete them. This will result in achieving better outcomes and realizing the desired results faster.

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

Should You List Major Accounts on Your TAS Website?

Balance the Need to Protect Your Client List with Your Desire to Close Sales

Peter Lyle DeHaan-your client

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When telephone answering services overhaul their websites or seek to tweak its content, many services wonder if they should post a partial list of some of their major accounts. Some answering services do this, and I have mixed feelings about the practice. 

Pros and Cons

On one hand, listing major accounts gives credibility to your organization and the services you provide. It lets prospects know that larger companies, who they respect, have already investigated your services and picked you. What a great endorsement.

However, posting your major accounts also tells your competitors who your main clients are. This gives other services the opportunity to contact your accounts and try to steal their business from you. In an industry noted for its high client churn rates, is it worth the risk of giving competitors a head start on poaching some of your most valued clients? Of course, the counterargument is that if you provide great service and high value, you’re not in danger of losing them anyway. 

Display Logos

Some services who list major accounts will just display client logos. These images, especially of well-known companies, provide immediate credibility to your prospects, without opening you to too much risk exposure. The larger the company, the more this is true. Visually this affords much greater impact than merely listing the company name. 

A related issue is whether to link the logo or company name to your client’s website. Though your client might appreciate the link for SEO purposes, it accomplishes little else.

Post Testimonials

Another approach is to ask for and post testimonials. Some services will list the organization and the person’s full name and title. This is almost an invitation to your competitors to approach these clients. That’s why I prefer not to do this. Instead don’t share the person’s last name, and maybe not even the company name. Instead, give the industry they’re in. This would produce a testimonial tag such as “Julie B, director of communications at a major hospital network in the northeast United States.”

References Available

A third option is to post nothing online. Instead, note that references are available upon request. This goes a long way to protect your client list from poaching, while still providing an extra push to help close the sale.

Summary

Before you post your major accounts online for the whole world to see, consider the downside to doing so, what you want to accomplish, and if there’s a better way to reach that goal. It’s hard work to land a new answering service account, so make sure you do everything to hold onto them once they sign up.

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.