Categories
Business Articles

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-the power of compliment

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Do You Believe in Print?

Despite Interest in Audio and E-books, Don’t Write Off Print

printed books

As writers, our books can appear in three primary formats: printed books, e-books, and audiobooks.

Audio Books

Audiobooks have enjoyed a resurgence of late. Gone are the days of books on tape. Now it is digital files that readers listen to from their smartphones. This form of consumption has soared in the past couple of years, especially among younger generations. Audible books have also received a lot of buzz in recent months among the writing community. It seems I hear more about audiobooks than e-books nowadays.

E-Books

Reading books on devices is still popular. I hear the reader of preference has shifted from a dedicated reading device to a smartphone. However, many mainstream media have actually reported a decrease in e-book consumption.

Yet indie authors are quick to point out that a significant percentage of independent authors do not use ISBNs. This means no one tracks their sales as a whole. They maintain, though unverifiable, that e-book sales are grossly under-reported and are actually continuing their upward sales assent.

Printed Books

That leaves a print. For some 500 years, print was the only reading option. While prognosticators have predicted the demise of printed books for the past several years, its death has yet to take place. Yes, it’s market share has declined, but readers still consume printed books and many prefer the tactile, and even olfactory, the experience of reading them.

[bctt tweet=”Books have three formats: print, ebook, and audio. Which do you prefer?” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

Mainstream media also reports that younger generations are returning to print, apparently preferring to unplug and immerse themselves in the printed word. Besides, you don’t need a smartphone to read a print book. You don’t need charged batteries and you don’t need a signal to download content.

Do you believe in print?

Save

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

How to Start a Telephone Answering Service

Key Information Provided as a Service to the Industry

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When I consulted for the answering service and call center industries, people kept contacting me who wanted to start a telephone answering service. I didn’t feel right taking their money and tried to talk them out of it. After all, who wants to go into a business that is labor-intensive, capital-intensive, and never closes? (Though running an answering service is no longer as capital-intensive, it certainly was back then.) And the few people who insisted on hiring me soon gave up.

Yet the inquiry calls continued to roll in, taking up too much of my time and providing no business in return. In desperation, I set up a website, StartAnAnsweringService.com and referred people to it. That little site gave all the essential information and appeased most people.

When I stopped consulting to focus on publishing, I left the website up as a service to the industry. I even added occasional updates. With no promotion, it continued to get traffic, month after month, year after year. Though it had always been my intention to turn that website into a book, I never got around to it.

Until now.

How to Start a Telephone Answering Service book

On January 29, 2019, I released my first call center book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service. And I turned StartAnAnsweringService.com into its sales page. It even has a book trailer. On that day, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service, became the number one new book on Amazon in the outsourcing category.

For those of you in the answering service industry, you already know everything that’s in this book. But if you’re new to the industry or thinking about getting into it, this book contains valuable information. I think it’s the best information you’ll ever find on the subject, but then I’m a bit biased.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

A Book Need Not Be Perfect to Succeed

Book success can occur without it being perfect

A few years ago, I finished a novel I was reading, the first in a series.

The first chapter grabbed me, but by the second or third, some of the scenes began to irritate. They were unrealistic at portraying real-life situations. Likewise, some of the dialogue didn’t work too well for me either. It was artificial, contrived. I certainly could have done better.

Yet the plot was intriguing, so I kept reading.

About midway through, some foreshadowing suggested an implausible ending. Surely, this was a ruse. I imagined two other scenarios I deemed more satisfying. Yet, further foreshadowing pointed towards a conclusion I didn’t want. As I raced towards the finish line, the improbable ending unfolded just as I feared. The book left me unsatisfied. I was irked, bordering on mad.

And I wanted to read the next book in the series.

What? Why would I want to read another book in a series when the writing of the first one frustrated me?

[bctt tweet=”A book can succeed without being perfect.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

Quite simply I’ll read more because the author did a wonderful job creating characters I care about. I wanted to see how their stories unfold. I hoped to see them continue to grow as individuals and realize the potential I see for them.

Yes, the writing could have been better, and some readers would not tolerate it. But for light entertainment it was good enough for me; the book was a success.

As writers, we need to make our books as good as we possibly can, while at the same time not becoming paralyzed by the pursuit of perfection—because there’s always something we can improve.

Book success can occur without being perfect. And I couldn’t wait to read the second book.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Know Your Target Book Length Before You Start Writing

Book Length

When pitching my book at a writers conference, one industry person said my length was perfect, while another wanted it 20,000 words long, and a third said it should have at least 25,000 more words. That’s a huge difference.

Finding the Ideal Book Length

There is no universal answer to the ideal book-length, but there are some generalities. To avoid wasting time and effort, we need to be close to industry expectations when we write. Here are some ways to find out how long your book should be:

  • If you have an agent or publisher, start there. What they say, goes.
  • Ask people in the book publishing industry who know.
  • Go to a library or bookstore and look at the length of books similar to yours. (A rough average is 300 words per page.)
  • Search online (like I did) and find a lot of conflicting information, but at least it’s a place to start.

[bctt tweet=”Know how long your book should be before you start writing.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

The main thing is don’t waste time writing a book that is way too short or too long for anyone to ever publish it. The closer our book is to our publisher’s expectations, the easier it is to tweak to meet their requirements.

Have you ever written something that was the wrong length? How are you at editing something to hit a word count? Even if you’re good at editing to hit a target word count goal (like I am), it’s a time-consuming and frustrating endeavor.

That’s why it’s best to make a book the right length to start with.

Save

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Take a Fresh Look at Agent Compensation



Don’t Brush Aside the Importance of Providing Appropriate Call Center Agent Pay

 By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In my article “Ideas to Better Retain Call Center Staff,” we looked at five tips to improve call center staff retention rates. I first considered compensation, a topic of great concern for managers and which carries a critical consideration for call center agents. Because of its complexities, it’s too easy for managers to shrug and say, “We’re doing the best we can. We can’t afford to pay anything more.” In fact, I’ve shared this sentiment with call center staff a time or two myself.[bctt tweet=”Make incremental steps to what you pay, what you expect, and what you get in return from your staff.” username=”AnswerStatMag”]

Survey Your Local Market

Several years ago, I consulted for a county medical bureau’s answering service. As I met with the call center agents, each one had the same complaint: “People working fast food make more than we do.” After two days of repeatedly hearing this grievance, I did some research. I walked into the eight closest fast food restaurants and asked what their starting wage was. Each one paid less, often considerably less, than the answering service.

Agent Compensation

Armed with this information, I set about correcting the agents’ unchallenged misconceptions about their pay. My research approach was a quick and easy one, and you may want to do a more thorough analysis, but the point is to survey your local job market to know where you stand. Then you can make informed decisions about what your agents should make.

Establish Your Compensation Paradigms

Another answering service I consulted for paid their agents comparable to the local fast food restaurants, which hovered near minimum-wage. I told the owner, “When you pay fast food rates, you get fast food mentality.” This isn’t to imply criticism against fast food workers, because some of them do their jobs with excellence. It is, however, my intent to point out that taking an order for a hamburger isn’t on a par with handling a phone call at 3 a.m. from a hysterical first-time mom concerned about her screaming baby’s high temperature.

Decide what you want your call center agents to make in comparison to other area jobs. Remove the concern of what you can afford from this equation, and focus on what you should aim for instead.

Make Expectations Match Compensation

At this point, I doubt you’ve decided you’re paying too much. Though you could have concluded you’re paying your agents an appropriate hourly rate, you more likely determined that ideally you want to pay them more.

But don’t make the mistake of increasing your starting hourly pay, without making a matching adjustment to increasing your screening processes, employee expectations, and desired outcomes. Pay more and expect more.

Conclusion

Making a significant change to agent compensation is one of the most terrifying decisions to make when running a call center. Trying to make huge adjustments too quickly could produce devastating consequences. Instead determine where you want to get to, plan how to get there, and implement it with care. Over time, make incremental steps to what you pay, what you expect, and what you get in return from your staff.

As you do, you will improve agent retention and increase quality, along with enhancing your employees’ attitude and workplace environment.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

SEO Tips and Tricks

Search Engine Optimization and Keywords

SEO tips and tricks

Keyword Perspective One

If you’re talking about using the keyword metatag, don’t worry about them. This is because Google says they ignore them. Therefore, I don’t waste any time thinking about metatag keywords.

Keyword Perspective Two

However, if you think other search engines do look at metadata keywords, only give them passing consideration. Some SEO tools do allow users to enter metatag keywords, so you might feel a compulsion to enter something. If so, don’t spend a lot of time on them. Perhaps limit yourself to less than thirty seconds to list reasonable metatag keywords for SEO. But don’t expect them to do much good.

However, if you’re talking about keywords or keyword phrases to guide your writing and include in your text, this is something I encourage you to pursue if you’re interested in SEO.

SEO is part art and part science. It’s a skill that takes time to develop. There are many books, blogs, and podcasts that explain this. Not to oversimplify a complex topic, a reasonable starting point is to consider what words you would type in a search engine to find the post you’re writing. Then use that phrase for about .5 to 2.5% of the text.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Researching Competitive Titles

Competitive Titles

A common part of many book proposals is a “competitive works” section. I recently researched competitive titles for one of my book proposals. What I saw enlightened me.

Traditionally Published Books

To research competitive titles, I first looked at books from traditional publishers. They gave me pause. I had to think a bit to determine how my book was different and how it would stand out. This challenged me, but it was good exercise.

Each book was impressive: an attractive cover, nice title, a great concept or theme where the content flowed nicely, and professional editing and formatting. However, I didn’t think about any of these qualities at first. I expected these characteristics. Since they met my expectations, I gave these traits no thought—until I looked at some indie-published books.

[bctt tweet=”Our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

Indie-Published Print Books

Next, in my competitive titles research, I looked at some print books that were indie-published. At first glance, the covers were of similar quality and the titles were almost as good.

The content, however, was not the same. The concept of these books was lacking and their execution, disappointing. Also, the writing wasn’t nearly as good. One didn’t even appear to have been edited, with sloppy formatting and missing words—and that from reading less than one page. The fault in all this is not is a tool they used to publish the book. It is the author. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.

Indie-Published E-Books

Last, in my competitive titles research, I considered a pair of indie-published e-books. They offered no print options.

These suffered even more. Their covers weren’t as good, and their concept was questionable. As far as the writing, the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I didn’t include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.

Takeaway

From all this, I’m reminded, once again, that indie-publishing (self-publishing) is an attractive option and an affordable solution when traditional publishers take a pass on our books. While this could be for reasons outside of our control, it might also be that our content is ill-conceived or our book still needs work. Sometimes this is hard to determine, especially after we’ve poured ourselves into writing it.

Regardless, if we choose to indie-publish, we need to keep in mind that our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.

Categories
Business Articles

The Only Constant is Change

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

[bctt tweet=”To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. ” username=””]

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear—fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees—all of them—get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Do Indie Authors Need to Follow Publishing Conventions?

Indie Authors

Have you ever flipped through a book and sensed there was something odd about it? Though you couldn’t identify what was different, you knew something was off. It felt wrong. This has happened to me.

Perhaps the feeling was so strong that you opted not to read the book. Again, this has happened to me. Because my reaction to something in the layout was so negative, I have decided not to bother reading it.

When this happens it is most likely because the book deviated from some standard publishing practices. Though most readers are unaware of what these principles are, we subconsciously know when they aren’t followed. That’s when we get this unexplained feeling that something is wrong. If the feeling is strong, we might not read the book.

This is why indie authors should follow all of the time-honored traditions of book design, but there is nothing to say that we must. We can break from tradition. Sometimes we may have a good reason to not follow the rules.

The key is to be aware that the more book publishing practices we break, the greater the likelihood our finished product will produce a visceral reaction in potential readers that pushes some of them away.

[bctt tweet=”As indie authors, we should follow publishing conventions whenever we can.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

As indie authors, we should follow publishing conventions whenever we can. If we do decide to break a rule, it should be for a good reason and with full knowledge that it could hurt readership.

Yes, rules are made to be broken, but they are also there to guide us. Choose wisely.