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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.”

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

How to Optimize Your TAS Processes

Two Tips to Streamline Your Answering Service’s Procedures

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

optimize your TAS-Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last year I shared several articles about finetuning the processes in your telephone answering service. The three key areas are streamlining sales, streamlining client onboarding, and streamlining customer service. Beyond that, we looked at fine-tuning billing and collections, agent hiring, and agent training.

In all cases, the goal of optimizing these areas in your TAS is to achieve the same—or better—results more effectively. To realize this goal, however, doesn’t mean working harder. It means working smarter.

To optimize any of these processes, we look at two areas: the number of steps required and the time they take.

Reduce the Number of Steps

As time passes, any process becomes more complicated. The initial steps required in the process remain, while new ones join them. As a result, most of our processes become bloated over time. Even though some of these steps are no longer required to achieve the desired outcome, or have a negligible impact on the result, we and our staff persist in doing them because we always have.

We must scrutinize every process and ask if each step remains relevant. Too often what was once important no longer is. Identify those tasks and cull them. For each step consider the impact if you eliminate it. If it doesn’t warrant its continued existence, cut it out and show your staff why it’s no longer relevant. They may initially resist this change, but once they realize it will make their jobs easier, they’ll quickly embrace the streamlined process.

Shorten the Amount of Time

Removing the number of steps required to complete a task should automatically make it faster. Now look for other delays you can remove from the process. Does one person arbitrarily delay completing a task that’s part of an overall process? Since they must do it anyway, why not do it right away? 

Another opportunity to shorten how long a process takes is to look for areas you can automate. Why wait for a person to do something that a computer can do automatically? Tap technology whenever possible.

Next realize that some things don’t have to proceed in a linear manner, with some tasks or even paths allowing simultaneous execution. For example, when a client signs up for service, one person will need to program the account, while another person will set up billing. It may seem orderly to do one and then the other, but both actions can occur at the same time.

Conclusion

Like any business, an answering service thrives on processes. This ensures that work proceeds in a smooth and organized manner, producing the desired outcome. However, these processes often swell over time, becoming inefficient and unwieldy. 

Look for ways to remove steps and shorten the time it takes to complete them. This will result in achieving better outcomes and realizing the desired results faster.

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

Should You List Major Accounts on Your TAS Website?

Balance the Need to Protect Your Client List with Your Desire to Close Sales

Peter Lyle DeHaan-your client

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When telephone answering services overhaul their websites or seek to tweak its content, many services wonder if they should post a partial list of some of their major accounts. Some answering services do this, and I have mixed feelings about the practice. 

Pros and Cons

On one hand, listing major accounts gives credibility to your organization and the services you provide. It lets prospects know that larger companies, who they respect, have already investigated your services and picked you. What a great endorsement.

However, posting your major accounts also tells your competitors who your main clients are. This gives other services the opportunity to contact your accounts and try to steal their business from you. In an industry noted for its high client churn rates, is it worth the risk of giving competitors a head start on poaching some of your most valued clients? Of course, the counterargument is that if you provide great service and high value, you’re not in danger of losing them anyway. 

Display Logos

Some services who list major accounts will just display client logos. These images, especially of well-known companies, provide immediate credibility to your prospects, without opening you to too much risk exposure. The larger the company, the more this is true. Visually this affords much greater impact than merely listing the company name. 

A related issue is whether to link the logo or company name to your client’s website. Though your client might appreciate the link for SEO purposes, it accomplishes little else.

Post Testimonials

Another approach is to ask for and post testimonials. Some services will list the organization and the person’s full name and title. This is almost an invitation to your competitors to approach these clients. That’s why I prefer not to do this. Instead don’t share the person’s last name, and maybe not even the company name. Instead, give the industry they’re in. This would produce a testimonial tag such as “Julie B, director of communications at a major hospital network in the northeast United States.”

References Available

A third option is to post nothing online. Instead, note that references are available upon request. This goes a long way to protect your client list from poaching, while still providing an extra push to help close the sale.

Summary

Before you post your major accounts online for the whole world to see, consider the downside to doing so, what you want to accomplish, and if there’s a better way to reach that goal. It’s hard work to land a new answering service account, so make sure you do everything to hold onto them once they sign up.

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

How to Handle Pricing on Your Answering Service Website 

Sometimes Posting Too Much Information Can Work Against Us

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-answering service

Over the years I’ve looked at hundreds of telephone answering service websites. A few are great, many are good, and some need improvement. A common page for many answering service sites covers pricing. There are different ways to handle rate information, each with their advantages and disadvantages.

Post Rates Online

Though I’ve never tracked it, I think most answering service websites post their rates and rate packages. 

This has the advantage of eliminating budget-conscious tire kickers—who won’t hire you anyway—from taking up your time. It has the disadvantage of conditioning answering service clients—especially yours—to shop for price. Remember, if someone selects your service based on price, they’ll leave as soon as a better price comes along. High churn results. Therefore, I’m not in favor of this practice.

Request a Call

Another approach is to encourage people to call you for more information. You could say something like, “Contact us today for a customized package to fit your specific needs.” 

The advantage of this approach is setting the expectation that you will design an answering service solution to meet the unique requirements of the prospect. The disadvantage is that you will invest time pursuing clients who merely want the cheapest service.

Complete a Form

A step up from requesting the prospect to call you is presenting them with a simple form to fill out to receive more information. Since they’re already on your website, this is an easy ask. The fewer questions you require them to fill out, the greater the chance they will complete your form. 

The advantage of using a form is more requests for information then if you ask them to call. The disadvantage is even more cost-conscious prospects to weed through.

Use an Online Quoting Tool

An option I’ve only seen a few times, but which bears consideration, is an online quoting tool. Prospects enter their basic call parameters and call volume into an app on your website. Then the tool automatically provides a custom quote to best meet their expected usage. You can either display their custom quote once they enter their information or you can automatically email it to them. Obtaining their email address allows you to follow up. 

The advantage of using an online quoting tool is that you can still provide rates quickly to prospects, thereby eliminating those who are shopping for the best price. This also keeps you from posting rates online. The disadvantage is the cost of setting up the quoting tool and maintaining it.

Action Step

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each of these approaches based on what you want to accomplish, your position in the marketplace, and how your prices compare to your competitors.

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

Make Sure Your TAS Website Is Ready for Search Engines

Having Great Content on Your Website Means Nothing If No One Can Find It

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-SEO Elements

A few months ago we looked at SEO (search engine optimization) for telephone answering service websites. In that short column, we touched on the essential SEO elements: page or post title, description, and keyword or keyword phrase.

These are the three critical SEO elements. Start with those as the most important, but don’t stop there. Here are some key supporting SEO considerations:

Headings

For SEO purposes, a well-written page or post will use subheadings every couple hundred words. This helps people who can. This is important since most visitors will scan your content and not read it word for word. Make your headings bold and add heading tags, such as H2 or H3. (Use an H1 tag only once, and that’s for the title of your page or post.)

Images

Every page or post should have an engaging graphic or photo that relates to the content. Give the image a name that reflects it, such as, professional phone answering. Don’t use image1 or Dx23ga234k. Then add relevant SEO alt text to the image. 

Link Strategy

For SEO purposes, it’s a good practice to link every post to another post. And have an existing post link to the new content. Also, many SEO gurus now recommend one outbound link per post to a high-authority site, that is, one that gets a lot of traffic.

Content-Length

Every page or post should be at least three hundred words long but aim for five hundred. Anything shorter than three hundred doesn’t give search engines enough content to analyze, so they’ll skip that page.

Keyword Density

We mentioned that having a keyword or keyword phrase is a critical SEO element for each page or post. Make sure the content includes your keyword phrase without overusing it. According to Yoast SEO, aim to use your keyword phrase in 0.5 to 3 percent of the text. (In a 500-word post this is 3 to 15 times.)

Web address

A final consideration that’s easy to cover is the words in the web address for that page or post. Make sure they reflect the theme of the content and include the keyword phrase. 

Conclusion

Addressing these SEO elements will help search engines find, appreciate, and promote your site and its content. But remember that the title, description, and keyword phrase are the essential SEO elements. Handle these three items first. Then add the rest.

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.