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