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Telephone Answering Service

How Well Do You Work from Home?

Empower Employees to Excel Regardless of Where Their Office Is

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We are now approaching one year since many businesses sent employees home to work. Though some staff have returned to the office, either all the time or on select days, many workers continue to toil from their homes. Some have set up fully functional workspaces, while others persist with cobbled together solutions that mostly work, most of the time. These workers—or the company that employs them—persist in this mode, hoping to return to their office accoutrements any day. Until this occurs, their customers suffer through less-than-satisfactory outcomes.

When businesses first decided to, or were forced to, send workers home, many sent out Covid-19 response emails to their customers and stakeholders. These were both unhelpful and repetitive, providing little useful information. The essential message was for us to lower our expectations because their employees were working from their homes.

One email I received, however, delighted me. This company said their employees had always worked from their homes, so I could expect the same high quality of service and responsiveness I’d always enjoyed. As far as they were concerned, it was business as usual.

This business-as-usual message should have come from every organization, whether accomplished at having home-based employees or pursuing working from home as a new initiative. Yet I still hear companies apologize for their poor service and delayed responses because their staff struggles with the limitations of their home-based offices. 

On the onset of this development to send staff home, I offered tolerance for a week, even a month, as employees adjusted their perspectives and equipped their offices to provide full-functional support in all they did. Yet for them to remain mired in this mindset eleven months later is unacceptable.

Although some jobs require face-to-face interaction, most work occurs at a distance using the telephone, email, and video. Office location shouldn’t matter. And it certainly shouldn’t be an issue after all this time.

Though we hope that employees who once worked in an office will soon be able to return, the wise approach is to proceed as if this might never happen. 

If you’re working from home, look at your office configuration. Is there anything you can’t do or can’t do as well from home as you could in your office? What do you need to do to correct that? Don’t let the limitations of your home-based office affect your staff or clients any longer.

And if you have employees working from home, are they fully functional or partially provisioned? What do you need to do to close that gap? What must you do to ensure their location isn’t an issue?

It shouldn’t matter to your stakeholders where you work from. They deserve the same quality of service and responsiveness whether you’re at home or in the office.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

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Telephone Answering Service

Rethinking Remote Operators

What Was Once Optional Is Now Required

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

The potential to have remote operators work off-site from the main answering service location goes back to the 1990s, when I made a presentation about this topic at the ATSI convention. I covered the two key aspects of having a distributed workforce. One was the technology to make it happen and the other was managing a dispersed staff.

The technology aspect of remote work was, at best, convoluted, not nearly as stable as being on site, and it involved a great deal of planning. It required having a data connection and an audio connection. Both had to work well to answer calls. Technology has changed much since then, with remote access being as simple and as flexible as a good internet connection.

The management concerns, however, remain unchanged. It’s still challenging to manage and supervise remotely located employees. Yes, we now have more tools to tap into to do this, but the human difficulties of managing someone we can’t see is still fraught with problems.

Given the risks associated with not having staff conveniently working in one place has caused many answering service owners and managers to dismiss remote operators as an option. In other cases, the inability to find and retain a local workforce has driven other answering services to embrace remote operators as a requirement.

Until recently, most who have pursued off premise employees have done so out of necessity, not principle. This has changed.

With lockdowns, restrictions, and limitations placed on most people across the United States and around the world, allowing staff to work from home has become the only way for them to answer client calls. For many it was go remote or go out of business.

Some who have gone down this path have celebrated the flexibility and embraced it as a new business model, perhaps one even superior to what it replaced: a centralized answering service operation. Other industry leaders, however, look at remote operators as a necessary solution that they one day hope to retreat from. They long for the days of walking into their operation room and seeing all their staff in one place, busy working.

Though returning to a centralized operation may one day be possible, we must consider that we may never be able to fully revert to this traditional operational model. We should, therefore, learn to embrace having remote operators for the long-term, whether it’s our preference or our only option.

And even if this current crisis abates to where we can again safely gather in an office, with cubicles not quite six feet apart and staff unable to wear masks, history could repeat itself with another pandemic forcing us to send people home to work.

Though having remote operators was once optional, it’s now a necessity, both for the short-term and for future flexibility.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering 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.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering 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.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Categories
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.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his book How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.