Categories
Writing and Publishing

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

technology plan

Here are the lessons learned from a computer fiasco I had, years ago:

  • Have a technology plan, but be flexible. [I had a plan but wasn’t flexible with it—until I was forced to. I doggedly stuck to the plan, even when it was inadvisable to do so]
  • Multiple data backups were imperative. I used three methods, and keep several historical versions, spanning six months.
  • Having backup hardware is essential. During this ordeal, I was using both my backup desktop computer and my laptop to handle critical items and not fall too far behind.
  • Having a help desk to call for emergencies is critical.
  • If a computer begins displaying flaky problems, it’s likely telling you something—make sure you are listening.
Categories
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.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Article Submission Tips

article submission tips

Here are the key article submission tips on submitting an article to a publication.

Know the Publication or Website

Read their past content. As you do, envision if your idea is a good fit. If not, don’t force it. Seek a different topic or a different outlet.

Look for Submission Guidelines

Find their submission guidelines on their website. If they don’t have them posted, they may not be open to receive unsolicited submissions. If you can’t find their guidelines online and still want to pursue publication with that periodical, go ahead and ask them, but you may not get a response.

Write the Best Possible Article You Can

You know the drill: write, re-write, edit, spellcheck, and proofread. You only get one chance with this article at this publication.

Follow Their Requirements with Care

Reread their submission guidelines and meet every requirement. Though most editors won’t disqualify you for making a tiny blunder, it could count against you, and too many will result in a rejection.

Be Patient

Some publications will acknowledge they received your submission. If they say they do and you haven’t heard back in a few weeks or so, ask—politely.

If they accept your piece, be patient. It can be a while for them to post it online and several months if it is in print.

Thank Them

Most writers skip this step. Don’t be one of them. Once your piece has run, thank them—even if some aspect of it wasn’t to your satisfaction. If you have an idea for another piece or are open to receive an assignment, this is the ideal time to mention it.

Follow these key article submission tips when submitting an article to a publication. Doing so will significantly increase your chances of success. And you can thank these pointers once your article is published.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Now Is the Ideal Time to Consider What Happens Next

While Still in the Pandemic Begin Planning for Post-Pandemic

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

During the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare call centers stepped up to take a more prominent role to facilitate patient-facing communications. Though a few missteps may have occurred along the way as they forged into the unknown, overall they met the challenge facing them, ramped up well, and processed more calls than ever. In the short medical calls, centers shined brightly.

Though the worst may be behind us, a long road of uncertainty still lies ahead. But as we catch our breath, let’s also look forward to past the coronavirus crisis to consider what healthcare call centers will look like in the future. They proved to everyone that they can adapt and do more to advance the provision of healthcare services. Let’s build upon this success.

In planning for what happens next, be it a return to normal, a new normal, or a continuation of the crisis, there are three questions every healthcare call center should ask.

1. What Went Well?

There is much to celebrate in how call centers acquitted themselves during this crisis. Note each one of your success areas. Document what contributed to each one and the steps taken to achieve those results. If we’re ever faced with a comparable situation, being able to build on what went well this time will help you to get to where you need to be next time faster.

2. What Could’ve Gone Better?

Next look at the snags that impeded reaching the desired outcomes as quickly as you would’ve liked. These can include redeploying to work-at-home scenarios, managing a distributed workforce, or having the needed policies and procedures in place. Begin working now to make sure these past roadblocks don’t become future inhibitors.

3. How Can You Be Better Prepared?

A common struggle that many call centers face is that their infrastructure didn’t allow the flexibility needed to allow for off-site work or to expand existing capacity. This could entail changes to software licensing or expanding infrastructure. In some cases, however, this might require replacing the on-site legacy system you have now with a more flexible, cloud-based alternative.

The one thing you don’t want to do is to return to business as usual and expect a crisis like this will never recur.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Should You Expect Submission Feedback?

submission feedback

Many writers wish editors, agents, and publishers would give feedback when they reject a submission, but they don’t. As a writer, I share this frustration. As a publisher, I know the reason why they don’t provide submission feedback.

After trying in vain to give writers feedback and wasting way too much time in the process, I’ve simply given up. I can better spend my time working with the submissions I accept to make them the best they can be.

When I reject a submission, it’s usually with a short message: “I have decided to pass. Sorry.” This is curt, but anything more, especially to tell them why, inevitably spirals into a series of email exchanges, which are time-consuming and seldom productive.

Few people who’ve asked for my feedback truly want to improve. Instead, they hope they can talk me into changing my mind.

If a person submits something clearly outside the type of content my publications use, I just delete their message. This may seem harsh, too, yet they didn’t even bother to read the submission guidelines and don’t have a clue about what we publish. I owe them nothing.

By the way, I get ten or more unsolicited submissions a day, along with several hundred spam emails. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference. It takes too much time to wade through them. I, like every other publisher, editor, and agent, am pressed for time. I need to make every minute count.

Instead of hoping for submission feedback, use other resources to improve as a writer. Then submit your best work according to the submission guidelines. That’s what I do.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Coronavirus Communication

Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Periodical Submission Tips

Periodical Submission Tips

There are three key periodical submission tips to follow when sending content to online outlets and print media publishers.

I list them from least important to most important, but if you don’t get past the first one, you’ll never get to the second. And you must pass the second step to even have your writing considered.

1. Follow the Submission Guidelines

Guidelines are there for two reasons. First to allow the recipient (usually an editor) to work more effectively, and second for the writer to present their work in the most favorable light.

The guidelines are there for your benefit, to help you, not constrain you.

2. Make Sure Your Submissions Match What the Periodical Publishes

For example, my publications address niche industries. I want relevant industry nonfiction articles. Over the years I’ve had people submit short stories, poems, song lyrics, and even a recipe. It’s clear they never bothered to see what content I publish.

As a result, they wasted my time and theirs.

3. Submit Your Best Possible Work

Even though it will be edited—this happens to every piece, regardless of who wrote it—make it the best you can. Proofread it carefully, spellcheck it, and ensure it says what you want it to say. Frankly, if I have to work too hard to polish the submission, I’m likely to reject it and go on to the next one.

This may seem harsh, but it’s the reality for most time-pressured editors, agents, and publishers. Follow these three periodical submission tips to maximize your chance for acceptance.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Third-Person Omniscient Point of View

Third-person omniscient is out of favor. Do you wonder why?

While we could attribute it to a trend, the best explanation I have is that we’re so conditioned to watching TV and movies, which limit us to the camera’s vantage (third-person limited, if you will), that as readers we expect books to do the same thing.

When I began writing back in the dark ages, I preferred the omniscient voice because third-person limited seemed, well, too limiting. Third-person omniscient was also easier to write because it didn’t restrict me to one point-of-view per scene.

However, those days are gone, and few books published today use omniscient point-of-view. I once heard a podcast recording with Jerry Jenkins, and he said third-person omniscient was “archaic.” That convinced me.

Categories
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.”

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Writing Perspectives (Point of View)

Many beginning writers wonder about point of view in writing and which should they use. Though there are many books written on this subject, here’s a brief overview.

Note that most people use perspective and point of view interchangeably—that’s what I learned in High School English—but others make a distinction between them, claiming that point of view is the correct term for this discussion.

Here is a brief, basic overview of perspectives/points of view.

First Person Point of View

First-person perspective uses I, as in I said… or I went…

For example, I went to the bookstore to buy the latest book by my favorite author.

Second Person Point of View

Second person perspective uses you, as You said… or You went…

For example, you go to the store to buy a journal and pen.

Second person is hard to write (and to read), so most authors avoid it. As an exercise, I wrote a piece of flash fiction in the second person, present tense. It was tedious.

Third Person Point of View

The third-person perspective uses he, she, and they, as in He said… or They went…

For example. They went to a book signing to see the famous author.

Two Types of Third-Person Points of View

There are two flavors of third-person: Limited (only what the point of view character can observe or think) and Omniscient (where the narrator knows what everyone thinks).

Third-person omniscient is out of favor and seldom recommended any more—though many of the classics, including much of the Bible, is third-person omniscient.

Writing Tense

For each of these four options there are two choices: present tense (what is happening now) and past tense (what has already happened). This results in eight possible combinations to consider, but eliminating the second person and third-person omniscient, cuts our considerations down to four.

Past tense is easier to use, and the first person is more natural for most writers. After all, when we tell stories about ourselves to our friends, we use the first person, past tense.

Beginning writers should start with first person perspective, past tense, as in “I wondered which point of view I should use.” Then try third person, past tense, if you wish.