By Roy Emmett
Remember back when all there were, was telephones? Then suddenly the “beeper” became a major transition in telecommunications technology. As basic a tool as we consider the pager today, it changed the world of communication forever. But, it took years for the pager to catch hold as an every man entity. Now, absorb for a moment what all lies in the grasp of the typical business person that falls under the heading of “communication.” It’s overwhelming. Most all of the landmark innovations in communication had their start in and around the year 1984, a mere 12 years ago. They included the birth of cellular, the PC, the beginning of voice mail, alpha paging, and much more recently, fax. However, from here on in, the world of communication is going to be rocked by even more change on a regular basis. What the business world is going to need is a new category of communications professional who can guide overwhelmed business people through the terminology and technology of the new information and communication age … and then, proceed to supply the highly specialized communications needs of an individual’s business. That is in itself a whole new opportunity for an entrepreneur who sees the potential as a consultant in this explosive industry.
From the perspective of the new or transforming entrepreneurial communications services provider, what is the immediate future for those of us who wish to carve out a business niche for the future, which doesn’t necessitate our going to work for some institution or old line communications company?
I started out my thinking by breaking down what I believed to be the primary needs or concerns of the largest segment of the business public that will make up the primary prospect base for any communications service company. Right up there at the top of the list is the niche for real live human intervention in communication, particularly communication direct from the businesses themselves that need to have contact with customers and prospects. People will inherently always want to talk to real live people who actually represent the company to which they have addressed themselves.
The First Entrepreneurial Opportunity: From this assessment, we can immediately see that the future holds a great deal of potential for highly personalized communications and business support “intermediaries.” They will, I believe, be the future of what has been left strictly to “operator services” or answering services. An Intermediary though will be far more than just an operator. Operators, by their very nomenclature, are seen as non-connected, impersonal message takers, rather than members of a core team who truly represent a specific business.
I see the new dimension of true communications intermediaries as skilled individuals who, through the use of appropriate computer software and the basic telephone, can become truly representative of a client with a far more in-depth relationship than a regular operator has. As a matter of fact, this very concept could be carried out by an entrepreneur working from a home-based business. Private intermediaries could represent a service bureau that would connect them with appropriate accounts, or it could be a solely owned, home-based business for an entrepreneur going it alone.
Highly trained and skilled individuals who excel in this area can work at varying levels for four, six, maybe up to ten accounts, on an as-needed basis, to reduce the need for business clients to hire extra skilled people full time. The key here will be in communications and computer skills for the Intermediary to function professionally, and on a personalized level, with each account. I think this will be a new tele-secretary concept for the immediate future, especially as it relates to the ability for the service provider to interject specialized technology and software on behalf of its clients. This will save a business from having to invest in extra technology and avoid having to train specialists for critical and enduring jobs.
The Second Entrepreneurial Opportunity: Second in the niche list, after real people, I see the foundational aspect of “Business Service Alternatives”. No more is communication just for messages. Communication technology has brought us additional ways to take orders, request information and enhance advertising and marketing efforts. Communication has actually become an advertising media all by itself. Communication has enhanced our ability to provide better customer service, increase message confidentiality and save money in disseminating information. Special customized service arrangements allow us to tailor just the right service package for each client, to simplify tasks and reduce the need for personnel, And, of course, to reduce overhead at the same time.
This is actually the antithesis of the “intermediary” service involving real people. Business Service Alternatives are primarily automated services, although certain alternatives could be provided by Intermediaries as well, if cost is not critical. One of the real benefits of the automated services is cost efficiency. Another key benefit is extreme diversity of service, features, and options that can really add valuable assistance to virtually any company.
Business Service Alternatives are quite simply, new ways of doing things that most people don’t know are available. Lots of new capabilities are available from the new Voice and Fax Processing Service companies that are now able to offer uniquely tailored communications services for selected accounts. Now with 2-way DIDs and ultra sophisticated software, combined with a host of new telco options and features, Voice and Fax Processing has taken on a whole new dimension as a diverse business entity.
Fully interconnected with the local telephone company, these tele solutions companies are picking up where the phone companies themselves are leaving off, in terms of personalized support and uniquely tailored services. In short, the telcos are bringing the communications conduit to the business world, which allow telephone traffic to take place. What is needed is for businesses to learn about all the additional applications and features that can be of significant help, that only come from outside service companies like Service Alternatives. Along with the conduit, the local telcos do provide a range of enhanced services that are actually the nuts and bolts of the new capabilities that can now be carried out by Business Alternative Service Bureaus. Such features as busy/no answer call-forward, caller transfer, and three-way calling all add to the dimension of voice and fax processing capabilities.
What such companies are offering are highly personalized introductions to an even wider range of end user services than what the phone companies are providing. This brings about the true beginning to what is called “relationship marketing,” where the smaller yet very professional company can be face- to-face with a customer for in depth planning and with more diverse applications on how a company can take advantage of the latest ideas and applications. Phone companies are institutions and do not have the ability to be on-call and on-site for select clients to cater to their special needs. That is what it takes for relationship marketing. And relationship marketing will be the absolute mandate for helping a largely techno phobic society move through the onslaught of all the new tech no-confusion that is about to explode.
Business Alternative Services are more than just basic communications companies. And, there will be a large potential for specialized professionals who will be able to create home-based businesses in this field as well. It will be a creative and invaluable career field, but not a technical field. This is a marketing application and a people business. The technical part will be available from another specialized field. This part is the creative force that can define, in lay person’s terms, just how a company can navigate through the many options, select the right solutions, and then oversee the installation of those options, making money both as a consultant and from a monthly residual paid by the vendors who make the connections and provide the ongoing services. This aspect of what is going on, and will be going on into the far flung future, is absolutely fascinating and loaded with opportunity.
The Third Entrepreneurial Opportunity: The third item on the list is the hardware/software products to be sold and perhaps installed. I must admit that I don’t have my heart in this side of the business. Mostly, because I don’t see this as the most profitable direction for a new entrepreneur and because it appears to have the greatest amount of physical labor and aggravation. The really scary part of the “hardware” business is that it will be constantly outmoding itself.
A tremendous amount of the newest technology is not going to be much better than what’s out there now, doing essentially the same thing as the new technology. Faster processing and more gizmos and whiz-bangs won’t always out date existing hardware. The big institutions such as the phone companies and mega-companies like paging companies, will certainly have a field day as they offer new gimmicks and bells and whistles on the full range of communications products. But, we as smaller entrepreneurs, will merely get the crumbs from the table as we try to compete as resellers for mere marginal profits. Products like pagers and cellular phones may actually have a greater chance for more profitable returns for us when we meld them together with alternative services as part of bundled service packages.
Entrepreneurially speaking, getting into the hardware side of the communications business is not so opportune for new entrepreneurs as what can be done in the solutions side. Of course, somebody’s got to do it, and there will be those who will venture in and make out quite handsomely as a result. I prefer to take advantage of the service side of the business, where one can build a true monthly business volume with recurring revenue services.
That leaves us with two primary service directions any of us can explore to bring us into the real opportunity potential of a subscriber based communications business with recurring revenues. One, is t he people side with personal computer skills that will allow home-based businesses to start up and supply specialized customer service, billing services, inventory control, database management, order taking, and tele-receptionist services. A skilled person could choose various services as package programs and represent their clients as an intermediary but with close ties to the companies they represent. Such a person could handle four to eight accounts on a personal level for a very respectable fee.
The other side is the automated services business to provide cost efficient alternatives to older forms of communication. Personalized relationships with clients will become a key to success as Business Alternative Service companies actually become an invaluable resource for the clients they serve. This could be a business for an independent reseller, functioning as a professional communications consultant, or it could be for a fully interconnected company with its own voice/fax processing system.
People connecting with people will be an invaluable service forever. The cost effectiveness of the latest automated services will be a must if businesses are going to function with all the best options for their own particular needs. That means there’s a great opportunity to move into areas that right now are not being filled by any of the communications companies in current existence.
Roy Emmett, President of Vital Communications, Inc., is a consultant specializing in Voice/Fax Processing service bureaus. Mr. Emmett can be reached at 407-288-0101, P.O. Box 152, Palm City, FL 34991.
[From Connection Magazine, May 1996]