2012 – A Future Scenario for the Telemessaging Industry

By Steve Michaels

From the mind of Steve Michaels, as might be told by Rod Sterling:

Todd Quinn settles in for the night with the comforting feeling that even though there is a Category 3 hurricane bearing down on him, all is well because he has chosen a new way of doing business. Todd lives in Louisiana, and back in 2005 he was hit by Hurricane Katrina and was down for 18 days, losing most of his call center’s clients.

Todd thinks back now on how that disaster had scared him to the point of looking for another way to keep his business alive, since he had heard that this natural disaster cycle was only going to keep getting worse. No matter how well he had prepared for Hurricane Katrina, he did not consider all of the contingencies that a disaster of that magnitude entailed.

Sure, he had a generator, but it was only good as long as he had fuel. And who would have known that when the government told everyone to evacuate, his agents would leave and never return. Other issues included not having enough food for his staff and the fact that fuel was nowhere to be found. Flooding was everywhere, so emergency vehicles could not reach his facility. Even getting cash on hand during this crisis was challenging because the banks were closed. All of those elements combined brought Todd to the realization that if he was to ever get out of this situation he would look for another option that would make him more disaster proof.

In 2007 Todd heard about a new paradigm, a new way of doing business over the Internet using VoIP that incorporated the use of a hosted system versus a piece of equipment located at his facility. This quickly grabbed his attention for many reasons:

  • With a hosted system, there would be no more monthly loan payments, costly equipment upgrades, licensing fees, service and maintenance contracts, and back-up power systems.
  • He would have access to all the latest technology and software upgrades.
  • His account information and database would be on another system in a different part of the country, but accessible from anywhere in the world.
  • He would no longer need his highly paid technician
  • His agents would work from home and likely be happier. Todd would no longer have a large office with its related costs for rent, electricity, furniture, and so forth.
  • He would be able to hire agents anywhere in the world.

This way of operating his call center worked really well, and Todd came up with the idea to share his workforce with other call centers. He talked to other operations using his platform and decided to form an Alliance. The owners were very protective of their customer base, but with mutual agreements in place, the benefits overcame any potential problems. (By the way, in 2012, every major vendor offers a hosted system using VoIP technology, whether from the vendor or a call center with hosting capabilities.)  This Alliance acts as an outsourcing resource, giving Todd the ability to overflow particular traffic, should the need arise, to other parts of the country. Although other members of the Alliance do not incur hurricanes like Todd, they may experience other natural disasters, such as tornadoes, floods, snowstorms, or earthquakes, and need the assistance of Todd and his staff. This is a win-win situation for both parties.

Todd had found out with the increasing unpredictability of the weather patterns that after a calamity, his call center was either going to be really quiet or very busy depending on the severity of the disaster. Todd, as well as his staff, had learned to move out of the hurricane’s path and bring their PCs with them. Within minutes of settling into their new surroundings, Todd’s agents could log on and take calls from their new location. Todd also notified his Alliance members to be ready and had set up special pass codes for them should they be needed.

Todd’s buddy Allan up in Chicago elected to purchase his system from Todd’s vendor. Todd says that some call center owners want to have a system in-house, yet have found that they are still able to share their disaster recovery resources, whether it is on a hosted or purchased system. This was a big plus when the storm of 08 hit the East Coast.

Allen, in retrospect, had a great idea when he started hosting start-up services on his own technologically advanced equipment which allowed him to share his switch with another service located hundreds of miles away. Allan had been looking for acquisitions through a broker but since he hadn’t found any, decided to share or rent out his system. This helped him to pay for his seats and brought in more revenue with the eventual possibility of purchasing the new services accounts through a first right of refusal that was put into place at the beginning of the agreement. Allan also helps the new start-up with set up, advertising, pricing, and counseling so the new business gets a good start and doesn’t hinder the industry with novice mistakes.

The new start-up is pleased because they had an experienced owner’s guidance to help them like a big brother. They didn’t have to purchase an expensive system, but received the technological benefits to remain competitive. They also receive back-up support by overflowing the traffic to Allan when staffing is limited. When Allan does a mailing, he prints another 1000 copies with the start-up’s name and address for their area. All of these things help the new call center grow and become profitable while enhancing Allan’s business at the same time.

With over 30 other Alliance members now utilizing the same-hosted equipment, it is easy for Todd to purchase accounts from them because they are all on the same system. Todd remembered that his clients dislike change, so when he purchases another member’s accounts, he basically just hands them a check. Todd is able to retain the agents, leave the client information in place, and not change a thing as far as the clients were concerned. This keeps his retention rate near 100%.

Todd’s bottom line couldn’t be better. He no longer has the expense of rent, telco lines, or even equipment, since his agents provide their own PCs. He now has the flexibility to schedule his staff to work split shifts since they are working from home. The agents love it because they don’t have to drive to work, pay for the expensive cost of gas – which in 2012 is $8.30 per gallon – and have more time to spend with their families. Todd has discovered that a happy agent is a productive agent.

He has also eliminated his midnight shift by aligning himself with five other trusted Alliance members who take turns answering the third shift calls for all five members – something that he always wanted to do, but was impossible in 2005 with everyone on different platforms.

The telemessaging industry has always had its challenges when it comes to its members and new technology. Some were afraid that the advent of answering machines and call forwarding would put them out of business. Others thought that voicemail would take away their livelihood. But in the end, these technologies only helped to make the industry stronger, enabling them to offer new features while keeping their costs down through shared resources. “And the Small shall act Big,” as stated in the best selling book, The World is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. The telemessaging call center of the future will eventually learn that one way to survive in this industry is through shared resources.

“Change is inevitable…those who make the change easily and seamlessly are those who are more apt to survive.” – Author Unknown

VoIP hosted systems are available now through Steve Michaels of TAS Marketing. Mr. Michaels is the only VoIP Hosted Systems Broker in the market and may be reached at 800-369-6126, or check out the banner on his website at www.tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2007]

Learn more about the Telephone Answering Service Industry.

How to Start a Telephone Answering Service, by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PdH
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