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Telephone Answering Service

Where Are Your Clients Located?

Align Sales and Marketing Strategy with Client Geographic Distribution

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Since you can target online ads to specific markets, conduct a geographic analysis of where your customers are located. Let the results inform future ad targeting. 

Here are some considerations:

Local Market: Though there’s no longer a technical reason to go with a local answering service, some businesses prefer to work with nearby vendors. Their reasons for doing so vary, but the main factor in your favor is that their preference to buy local gives you an automatic advantage over everyone else who’s marketing to them from a distant location. Use this fact to your advantage when targeting your local market.

Highly Reached Markets: Is there another state or city where you already have a lot of clients? Explore the reasons why this is the case. Look for ways to capitalize on these reasons in future online marketing initiatives. Another benefit is that when it comes to closing the sale, some prospects will be impressed if you can list other businesses in their area that you already serve.

Under Reached Markets: Now consider other states or regions where you have few customers or none. Is there a reason for this? Let this explanation inform your decision about targeting these areas. Maybe you never marketed to that area. Or perhaps you did, but the results disappointed you. If so, see the next item.

Conduct a Test: Your current geographic distribution of clients is a culmination of past factors. This may not be indicative of future success. Therefore, some periodic wide-scale testing is in order. 

Conduct an online ad campaign targeting your ideal client, but don’t specify any geographic area. Then look at the results. 

If you receive a greater click through rate in a particular geographic market, this area may be positively predisposed—for whatever reason—to be interested in switching answering services at this time. It doesn’t matter why; not really. The key is that your message resonates with them right now. So target that area. Continue to do so for as long as you see results.

Time Zone Targeting: I once mused about having an answering service with 25 percent of my client base in each major US time zone. This, I reasoned, would smooth out each day’s traffic peaks and valleys that occur when most all clients are on the same schedule. Now, with geographic online ad targeting its feasible and practical to pursue this specific time zone mix—assuming you see reason a to do so.

Conclusion 

Answering service sales and marketing tactics change over time. A current marketing favorite is online advertising. But this is only half of the equation. The other half is the sales part. More on that next time. Until then, happy marketing.

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.

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Telephone Answering Service

Answering Service Marketing, Then and Now

Sales and Marketing Tactics Change, but the Need to Close Sales Doesn’t

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

In the early days of the telephone answering service industry, most all clients were local. This was because a physical off premise extension of the customers’ phone line needed to be installed in the answering service. If the client wasn’t local to the answering service’s office, this was cost-prohibitively expensive. 

This meant that hiring an answering service was a local buy. And the only effective competition—if any—was another local provider. My things have changed.

Then came along call forwarding, local DID numbers, toll-free numbers, and toll-free DID numbers. These provided the potential for every answering service across the country to compete with every other answering service. Even so, the marketing focus of most answering services remained on their local city. 

A subsequent advancement came with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which completely opened the market. This made every answering service with this technology a competitor to every other service in the country. 

Marketing that Worked Then

Some of the common marketing efforts when the focus was on the local community included yellow page ads, local print advertising, direct mail, direct sales (cold calling, lead follow-up, or both), networking, word-of-mouth, and referrals. 

Of course, individual results varied, but most answering services found success in one or more of these strategies. These techniques worked then when the focus was on the local market, but they don’t work so well now, especially when pursuing a broad geographic area.

Marketing that Works Now

When casting a net over a wider geographic region, the common go-to solution is online advertising. The ability to target ads to specific areas and prospects is an attractive option, especially when contrasted to yesterday’s broadcast marketing solutions.

Running effective online marketing campaigns is a skill people best learn through doing. Expect to make some mistakes and lose money in the initial stages, but with practice and intention you can run successful online advertising campaigns.

Closing Leads

The goal of marketing is to find prospects, that is, leads. The goal of sales is to close these leads. For an answering service to grow, it must excel in both aspects of the sales and marketing equation. Just as you track online marketing effectiveness by the number of clicks, you track sales effectiveness by the number of closed deals.

Generating leads is just the first step. Closing leads is essential to have an effective sales and marketing campaign. 

In the next issue will look at online ad targeting strategies.

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Telephone Answering Service

Is It Time to Rethink Your TAS for the Long Term?

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

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author 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.

Location

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.

Platform

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.

Staffing

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.

Management

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.

Conclusion

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.

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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 books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer 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 books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.