By Steve Clover
A robust economy is a mixed blessing for the small business owner. Capitol is abundant. Interest rates are low. Your customers are riding the tide as well. In fact, if you are a good marketer, you may be able to bring in more business than you have ever dreamed. As with any silver lining, comes a dark cloud. I’m talking about the ability of a TAS to attract and retain good employees. Think about it. Aside from customers who pay, equipment that works and phone lines that are stable, what is the most valuable resource in your telephone answering service (TAS)?
The answer of course is your staff.
A low unemployment rate is on balance desirable, but can pose a real challenge for those of us who may be located in some of the tighter labor markets. If you are like the rest of us, you are probably guilty of gazing around your call center muttering to yourself, “If I could just find half a dozen more people like…” Well okay, let’s say you find them. How are you going to hire and keep them? Look around at your competition, and I don’t mean just other TASs. Starting wages have escalated everywhere. Your potential candidates are going to look closely and compare what your company has to offer in the way of wages, benefits, hours, environment, etc. There are enough jobs available today where sign-on bonuses are offered, regardless of skills!
Your ability in maintaining a well-trained, dependable staff, will determine your company’s level of quality and ultimately, its success. Constant turnover in your employees produce a constant turnover in your customers. The cost of hiring and training comes directly out of your profits. Your clients are paying a fee for the service you are providing, not for employee churn.
So, in a booming economy where the national unemployment rate hovers near three percent, what is the answer?
My company, Telemed, has been located in Atlanta, Georgia since 1986. Due to our business’s significant growth over the past few years, we knew we reached the point where action needed to be taken. We were paying wages far above what was reasonable to retain employees that were not even near the highest level of ability. The results from our classified advertisements were depressing. It seemed as though we would screen fifty candidates, hire five and have one of the five stay for six months–it was time for a bold move.
Having gone through a similar situation several years ago with a previous TAS employer, we explored other areas of the country to relocate our inbound operations. This company, which was then located in the New York metro area, moved the entire inbound operation to the Virginia coastline. Norfolk, Virginia, home of the largest naval base in the world is nearby. Many military dependents and retirees looking for shift work live in the area. Get the picture? Many other companies did as well and located large call centers there; however, this area has become saturated and is not an option for a smaller TAS.
After investigating many locations throughout the southeast, including military towns, Telemed decided upon an area in western Virginia. The people are friendly and hard working. They have endured difficult times in the past. At the point we first considered this vicinity, the unemployment rate was over eight percent! The community needed jobs desperately and lobbied strongly for our relocation. The local and state governments offered a mixture of incentives including:
- Location assistance
- Facility construction
- Fixed asset financing
- Tax incentives
- Financial assistance
We were also impressed with the level of education of our candidates. Since there were few jobs in the area, many young people decided to prolong their education. The average applicant had at least two years of college. Although the labor pool was deeper than what we had previously, it took time to train those “green operators.”
After six months from when the papers were signed, we had achieved a higher level of quality than our customers experienced in Atlanta. Now we are seeing the benefits of our move very clearly. The level of quality continues to improve, errors are down and overall call management skills sharpen daily. For every applicant that does not make it through training, there are several more waiting to fill the position. We do expect this trend to continue.
Some advise for those who would consider this strategy: never stray farther than you are comfortable with. Remember, you may be spending a lot of time at the new location.
Search out areas that have a higher unemployment rate. Local communities, which have lost major employers, are a very good start. The Internet is an excellent source to find influential contacts in your chosen areas (i.e. chambers of commerce, local officials, etc.). Check out the local newspapers on line. Military towns deserve a close look as well. Take your time. Remember, if you bring jobs to an impoverished region, you will be in the drivers seat when the time comes to negotiate terms.
Once your initial homework is complete, narrow your search to at least two or three competing areas. Do not commit. Let those planners and politicians know they have competition. If you play your cards right, they will sweeten the pie with various enticements to help make your decision the right one.
Steve Clover is vice president, sales and marketing for Telemed, a nationwide medical call center. He can be reached at 800-663-3560 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – September 2000]