By Roy Emmett
This magazine serves a special niche within the gigantic telecommunications industry. The information here in is relevant to businesses that provide business communication services in a personalized and custom tailored arrangement. What these companies are capable of doing, is not at all like what is being done by all the other communications companies in existence. And, over the last decade, the changes in communications have been so great, that it is impossible for businesses to grasp what all is in front of them. Together, those two points make for perhaps the greatest opportunity that we have ever had. That’s because the business world, by and large, is overwhelmed and we can provide a whole new range of solutions to bring some order to the chaos. As an opportunity, we can make ourselves available as true, personalized resources to provide special communications applications that are not available from other sources.
That means that our special niche within the industry could be far bigger than we ever thought. I say that because I have assembled a list of all the communications company categories in existence and identified what their prime orientations are toward the business communications marketplace. None of them seem to be able to do what we can do.
What types of companies are there, that you can think of, that provide local custom business service solutions? Who’s out there that can incorporate the scope of operator services together with automated services and unique hybrid service arrangements, to assist clients in our respective markets? In short, who is out there doing what we can do, except us?
No one. There are a lot of giant companies of national origin that are kind of hitting around the edges while the local telcos are saying that they are small business specialists. But are they really? Are they able to compete with our core capabilities? Not at all. Our main problem right now, in capturing greater local market share and developing a stronger customer base remains one of education in our own markets. But even closer to home is the need to clearly define for ourselves and actually become known for what we can provide. Then we must learn in detail what all we have at our fingertips, to apply our diverse, valuable offerings.
I’d like to stress two prime, paramount assets in our industry that many clients have taken for granted or have grossly under valued in the face of all the rampant technology. One is the service bureau operator and the other is automated service capabilities. Quite frankly, the business world hasn’t got a clue as to what all can be done with these two unbeatable potential assets. And nobody has this one-two punch but you who are in the business.
Traditional telephone answering service, in its strictest most, basic format, is an extraordinarily limited service concept in today’s high tech world. But what this resource has the potential to become, is way beyond what it is known to be. But the memory lingers on. As a basic service it is grossly unappreciated by all too many of those who use it. That’s why it’s time to get creative and take advantage of some new directions. This is where classic brainstorming could really come in handy. If we could sit down in small groups and free-associate for ideas and then come back together in larger groups, we could undoubtedly come up with an awesome list of creative services in which telephone secretaries would be the centerpiece of many new service ideas, enhanced by the latest in voice processing services.
We are awash in a sea of technology that is frustrating the typical small business person who doesn’t understand it. Think about it. Literally all of the technology that is introduced into the market place today is left to the user to grasp, to apply, to understand and to implement. It is mostly hardware and software that is purchased at retail or via mail order or over the phone as a basic service to be turned on by a commercial institution. The burden in any case is that once you order something, it’s your problem, baby!
The answer? Customers have to hire installers, trainers, and consultants to make stuff work for the purposes for which it was intended. That is, except for all the services that we can provide for our business customers, as specialized service providers. We are actually full service and implementation providers, not just peddlers of stuff. More importantly, we are “idea” resources. We can listen to a prospect explain his/her circumstances then analyze the possibilities and offer creative solutions and unique ideas to help. And we stay with the customer throughout the implementation process as we introduce special solutions that we have helped create. That’s pretty special, I’d say!
On the surface that may not seem like a really big deal for many prospects who simply want the basics. But it can be. It can put us in a very special position and allow us to fully develop accounts and bring about special solutions they didn’t know existed. That will only work though if we capitalize on our specialization and bring that flexibility into the open.
Every day, there are individual new solutions being initiated by call centers, telephone answering services and voice processing companies that are real service bureaus. But those ideas go unheralded and for the most part, are not maximized. Do you as a service provider take your best ideas, package them into marketable packages to introduce to entire vertical markets, to effectively capitalize on what we have created? I’m learning that some of us do. Not many, but some.
However, idea sharing is making that happen. I have a good idea and I tell you (a non-competitor) about the idea. You offer some input that makes the idea even better. I improve the concept and you take the whole program and put it into effect in your market. Later on we get together and compare notes. Together we make it even better still, as a result of actual implementation results. Then a third party adds another dimension and the concept goes through a continuing maturing process until it is a thorough, specialized solution to be sold and resold throughout a vertical market.
There is a lot of attention being spent by TAS/Call Centers on market expansion, to provide basic services well outside a primary market area. Services such as pure answering service and typical call canter services like order taking or inbound telemarketing are the gist of many a company’s growth plan. However there is very little attention being spent in our own local markets to seek out more in-depth clients with specialized, full service solutions. And that’s a real shame, considering the potential.
Here is an idea that is taking shape that some service bureaus are implementing, to grow new clients as well as to build existing clients into bigger ones.
Client Analysis – You have a client base of so many customers on your service. Breaking them down into various categories can be a major break through in how you could expand them. For example, create a category of companies that have a sales team of some kind, that are out more than they are in. Another category of home based businesses. Then one for companies that have only one or two people max. Another for those with multiple locations. Another that has a lot of requests for information. And so on.
What you are looking for are categories other than SIC codes. You are looking for solution categories. All companies with sales teams have similar needs, for example. What can you do for a company with a sales force? Go ahead and make a list of all the things that you can do that are special for sales people. For starters, you can provide audio text (information service on voice mail), you can provide fax-on-demand material to facilitate sales forms and detailed literature, you can provide a complete network to allow sales people to intercommunicate with themselves and with the office. You can offer 24 hour access to a personal contact if necessary. Strictly answering the phone after hours is becoming a commodity service in a sense. Empowering an organization to function in a streamlined fashion with some new advantages is a whole new dimension.
If you can identify clients that need true operator services and then show them how they can create new efficiencies with the latest in specialized automated services, and simultaneously point out cost savings and new service advantages, you will have done far more than just respond to a request for service. And you will have developed a more profitable client and one that will stay with you longer, based on the bundled service arrangement you have created just for that client.
Once you have exhausted your client list, to fully develop their potential, you need to seek out referrals from your clients for whom you have just scored major new points. Taking the time to work with existing customers, to determine with them, if there are any ways that you can help cut back overhead costs and introduce new service options, is healthy to say the least. All of our customers are vulnerable to being taken over by other alternatives or competitors. We can offset those possibilities by enhancing our customers’ service beyond the ability of others to be able to match our service.
So what are the services that are most likely not available from other kinds of communications services? Here are some that are most obvious and powerful.
Revert To Operator Service – This is the ultimate escape from “voice mail jail”. Specialized voice mail service that allows a caller the option of selecting a real live person, is the highest form of professional voice mail service. Sold as a form of live answering service, this becomes an in expensive alternative. Of course the price is based on the number of calls that connect to a live operator. But that is the basis for the service – a real person is always available.
Direct Connect Voice Mail Service – this is what is fast becoming the premiere voice service, where you have the ability to connect live to any phone or any other communications device, automatically, without any operator intervention. It also incorporates the “follow me” feature and the ability to change the phone number of the person or location where your calls are sent. This is 2-way DID technology.
Detailed Network Service Arrangements – This is a growing category of service that can only be provided by a service bureau that can work closely with customers on a local level, to provide a complete integrated program that takes into account all the communications needs of a prospect to create a special network unique to each customer. It can integrate every aspect from operator services for answering, overflow calls, order taking, customer service, voicemail, paging, alpha dispatch, and internal networks for office communication.
Super-Specialists For Vertical Markets – With a built up expertise in a particular area, you can dominate that market in your area. Once you have established yourself as a specialist, you can milk that potential unlike other service companies which simply market to the mass public to sell price sensitive products. As a super-specialist, you have the potential of being sought out for such expertise. That has typically only been done to any extent in the medical area, but many other niches exist such as real estate, insurance, even general categories like home-based businesses.
The greatest benefit that we have as specialized service bureaus is that we can, if we choose, elect to work in depth and at all levels to become a company’s actual out source resource for most all of their communications beyond the phone system itself. This is what will allow us to turn smaller accounts into much larger accounts. It will allow us to be more of a professional communications company than what the business world ever thought we could. Promoting these capabilities through our newsletters, news releases and through specialized sales efforts will make us out to be what the business community really needs. And we really are a very special service that is truly needed.
So why aren’t more service bureaus zeroing in on a more professional approach to this direction? It all boils down to learning more about it to take off in this direction. It isn’t something that is so obvious that it just happens. It demands someone within your company who will become the professional communications consultant to begin the process and stay with it, to continue developing the prospects and promoting the concept as well. Finding that person might become the greatest challenge of all.
In the meantime, it makes sense to practice on your existing customer base, to explore with them what their needs really are. Let them know that you are in the solutions business and you want to find more ways to help them and cut their overhead as well. Just inquiring in such a manner that shows you care, will help endear your customers to you. What you will learn could surprise you. However, what all businesses are looking for are ideas and answers, not just questions. So before you begin, develop a list of specialized ideas that you can present, that will be meaningful to many and profitable to you. Taking advantage of our unique capabilities is going to be our best marketing advantage ever. It isn’t something that others can steal from us.
[From Connection Magazine, September 1997]