To Know Where You’re Headed You Must First Determine Where You Are
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Year end is an especially busy time at most telephone answering services, but that’s not an excuse to focus strictly on the present and stop thinking about the future. In fact, December is an ideal time to give some thought to where you are and to what lies ahead so that you can prepare for next year. It starts when you conduct a year end review.
If you don’t know where you are, it’s impossible to get to where you want to be. Take some time now to evaluate your current situation. This will form the basis to move forward with intentionality next year. Here are some things to assess.
Let’s start your year end review with a look at the backbone of your answering service, your employees. They make you shine, but they can also produce problems, affecting your clients, the schedule, and overall profitability. In short, they can make or break your business. Here are some questions to ask:
- Telephone Staff: Do you have enough frontline employees to answer phone calls? Don’t worry (too much) if your answer is no; you’re in good company. This fact, however, provides you with an opportunity for improvement.
- Staffing Model: Do you have a centralized workforce, a distributed one, or a hybrid plan? What elements of this works for you? Which ones do not? What needs to change?
- Turnover Rate: Do you struggle to achieve an acceptable turnover rate? Regardless of where you’re at now, what steps do you need to take to lower it?
- Operator Quality: Are you producing the quality service you aspire to offer and that your clients expect? Can you quantify your answer, or is it wishful thinking?
- Non-Operations Staff: Do you have adequate management and support personnel? In addition to operations, look at accounting, sales, marketing, and technical roles, as well as administration. Consider your strongest areas and weakest. How can you keep your top employees? How can you best help those who struggle?
- Yourself: Do you have adequate time to address what’s most essential for your answering service’s long-term viability? Or do you spend too much time putting out fires and handling day-to-day minutia? What steps can you take to be the leader your answering service needs?
Your software and equipment provider is a critical element of your operation’s success. Leading vendors strive to enhance their offerings every year, providing new capabilities and value-added opportunities.
Look at your annual expenses to use their products. This includes one-time charges, ongoing costs, and leases. Is the vendor easy to work with? Do they provide you with what you need to achieve your goals? How is their tech support?
And if your vendor isn’t providing what you need or keeping pace with the industry, consider what you can do to help them achieve the results you want. Work with them, not against them. Changing vendors is the last thing anyone wants to do, so your first goal should be to make the best of what you have.
Here are some common answering service industry trends to consider:
- Consolidation: The industry continues to consolidate. This produces an opportunity to sell. It also provides niche markets that nimble, smaller players can capture.
- Competition: At the same time, the remaining operations encounter increased competition in a national and even international marketplace. How can you make your service stand out?
- Labor Market: Coupled with these two items is that most services have recently experienced an unprecedented challenge in hiring qualified employees and keeping them. Successfully addressing this dilemma could provide the biggest boost to your operation.
- Technology: The next consideration is technology, which allows you to do more and to do it more easily, but it comes at the cost of a greater investment, coupled with increased configuration complexities.
What else would you add to this list of industry trends?
You compete in a national market, but you exist in a local one. What can you do to rise above other providers around the country? What can you do to distinguish yourself in your local marketplace?
For the final element of your year end review, look at the money side of your answering service. Two common items to address are increasing the money coming in and decreasing the money going out. Another item is access to capital, along with building up reserve fund.
Don’t attempt to tackle this lengthy list of a year end review all at once. Work on it over time, adding to it and fine-tuning it as you go. As you move toward the completion of this effort, a strategy to move forward will emerge.
Use this as your plan for next year. May it be your best one yet.
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.