Tag Archives: Miscellaneous Articles

Looking Ahead

Kevin Beale

AmtelcoAmtelco is celebrating its fortieth year of call center innovations this year. As we look at the last four decades, we see how the focus of technology has shifted from hardware in the early days to advanced software today. Software technology is much more dynamic and flexible than hardware technology. The pace of change and advancements with software technology is increasing at an exponential rate.

As we look at call center technology, we have shifted from racks full of individual computers and servers, each with their own specialized purpose, to a much smaller virtual server environment that has hundreds of times more horsepower and capability than its predecessors. We can now spin up new virtual servers as we need them, with dozens of servers running on a single physical machine. This applies to application servers, web servers, communications servers, and switching servers. Virtual servers can provide an added layer of redundancy and high availability by allowing servers to be easily replicated and moved to another physical machine, either manually while performing a system upgrade or automatically in response to an outage.

The introduction of soft switching provides the ability to migrate call center switching to a virtual environment. Soft switching shifts the control and processing of telephony functions away from hardware to the virtual server CPU, with software controlling the CPU. This provides much more dynamic and flexible switch configuration and management.

Soft switching and virtualization open the door to cloud deployment. Cloud solutions such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure are perfectly suited to provide cloud-based call center infrastructure. The entire Amtelco Intelligent Series and Genesis platform can be operated in the cloud at either of these providers’ facilities, or at another similar provider’s facilities.

Amtelco’s Genesis platform provides a soft switch controlled by an ACD and voice-processing module within Amtelco’s Intelligent Series platform. Controlling the soft switch functions from within the Intelligent Series provides a single point of administration, simplifying the process of adding and changing trunks, agents, and call behaviors. Genesis combines the flexibility of soft switching with the ease of administration and the power of the Intelligent Series.

System Integrations and Automation: Another major area of call center advancement is system integration and automation. In today’s world of technology, there is a much greater demand for these types of services. Call center clients expect their call centers to automatically integrate to their IT platforms, databases, websites, web services, and mobile devices.

Amtelco’s MergeComm module of the Intelligent Series is built to provide these services. MergeComm is like adding a dispatcher that lives inside your system twenty-four hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, 365 days-a-year. MergeComm dispatch scenarios can run automatically based on inbound triggers such as email and SMS text messages; scheduled to run automatically, initiated by a call center agent or a web user; or initiated by a third-party application via the Intelligent Series REST web API. MergeComm can deliver content to call center clients via any of the available Intelligent Series contact methods.

With today’s mobile work force, servicing clients’ needs means supporting them in their workflows in ways that were not feasible until recently. In the past, messages were delivered to clients as a one-way transmission with minimal ability to provide feedback. This often consisted of several discrete steps in order to close out the message. But now, thanks to the pervasiveness of wireless and smartphone technology combined with the power and automation of Amtelco’s Intelligent Series, MergeComm, miSecureMessages, and miTeamWeb, these steps are seamlessly combined and serve to enhance the workflow rather than impede it.

How to Move Ahead with Technology: As you analyze your client relationships, strive to identify the critical components of their workflows that can be improved by your services. Look for ways new technology and software can be applied, perhaps in uses not previously anticipated. This is the key to innovation and seizing an opportunity.

At Amtelco we are excited about what the next forty years will bring and look forward to working with each of you.

Kevin Beale is vice president for software, research and development, at Amtelco, a developer and supplier of call center and communications solutions located in McFarland, Wisconsin. Contact him at kbeale@amtelco.com.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]


A Tribute to Allen Kalik

Allen Kalik died Aug. 14, 2010, at the age of fifty-nine, leaving behind his best friend and life partner, Patricia Kalik, and their children, Lisa and Daniel Kalik. He is survived by his parents, Betty and Larry Kalik; his sister, Millie Kalik; and his nieces and nephews Melanie, Julie, David, Jessica, Zach, Kylie, Josh, Danielle, and Emily.

He was born on Sept. 17, 1950, and grew up in New York City. He graduated from Cornell University in 1972 and went from teacher to ski bum to successful entrepreneur, all while windsurfing around the world, speaking French, and playing acoustic guitar to whoever would listen. Forever passionate in life and in his fight against cancer, he left peacefully with all of his loved ones nearby.    – Published in Union Leader on August 15, 2010

Here are some selected remembrances posted on Allen’s online guest book:

To a best friend of twenty-six years, one of the most talented people I’ve ever known. To a successful entrepreneur who put his faith in me as a business partner and profoundly changed my life! You will always be in my thoughts and prayers.   – Dale Schafer

Allen was a pioneer… twice he helped revolutionize the industry with his introduction of software that changed the face of that industry forever. Personally, he was so kind to me and so willing to share his vast knowledge about the industry and life.   – Gary Pudles

Allen wasn’t just a boss; he was a force. An intense, funny, and caring guy, his spirit overspills his sixty years, and we will all carry a little bit of him with us. – Mike Antognetti

A pioneer, visionary, and great guy who enjoyed his businesses and his life to the fullest. – Scott Lyons

Allen was a truly gifted man who genuinely cared for his fellow man. His intelligence was unsurpassed and his contribution to the growth of the answering service/order entry industries will always be remembered and respected.   – Marcy Hewlett

In an industry replete with smart and sharing people, Allen stood above the rest. He was a brilliant man who transformed the way we all do business. More importantly, he was a kind and sharing person who was always helping others.   – Michael Leibowitz

He will live in our hearts and our equipment and our imaginations as we go about our days. – Donna West

You were a great teacher and you had a great understanding of people. You were a kind and generous man, and you really did make a difference in so many peoples’ lives. If heaven is whatever we could imagine it to be, I can see you windsurfing your way all the way to Paris.   – Michelle Rivet

No industry meeting was ever quite the same without Allen. He had a warmth, a wonderful and heartfelt smile, a great sense of humor, and a humanity that could brighten up a tradeshow room – or any room – like few others.   – Gary Blair

Allen always took the time to speak with everyone; I recall sitting with him outside of a meeting room and knowing that I was learning more from him than I would have if I had entered the session. His sense of sharing was immense.   – Lil Lyle

Allen was a gifted and unique individual that touched anyone… with his wit, grace, and uncanny intelligence.  – Raymond Baggarly

Allen truly did have a zest for life and a passion like no other. Whether it was singing karaoke at a user meeting or brainstorming ways to make systems better, Allen’s passion was always an inspiration to us all.  His enthusiasm was always contagious!   – Phyllis Shaw

Allen was more like a friend than a boss. I loved the great stories that he shared with us all. I will always remember that [he] lived life to its fullest.   – Karen Black

A proud and witty man, with many clever visions.   – Elaine Senecal

Allen was a treasure to us all and a mentor to many of us. A true visionary and certainly one of the most generous people I have had the pleasure of calling a friend. The grace and zest with which he lived his life is a model we should all strive for.  – Judy Wood

Allen was one of the most beautiful people I have even known. We completed our master’s in French at the same time, and I emulated his fervor and creativity. He sang beautifully in French and was often very funny.   – Lauren Osepchuk

Allan was truly a visionary and a trailblazer… he opened the possibility for all of us to dream big dreams.   – Jannemieke Keener

Allen taught me more about business then I could have ever learned in any school and more about life than I could ever learn in a million lifetimes. He was a mentor, a father figure, and a great friend to me.   – Matthew Salvas

Allen hosted me over ten years ago when I was a chaperone to a group of French students. That was the beginning of a long and enriching friendship. We built up a special way of communicating, an odd mixture of English, French, and idioms. He taught me more than any other English speaker I have known, but most of all, he was a genuine friend.
– Céline Barré

I always admired Allen for his business acumen and unique insights that reduced the complex to the comprehensible. I remember his warm smile, zest for life, and the ease with which he shared compelling stories.    – Peter DeHaan

[From Connection Magazine October 2010]

Dan L’Heureux: The Man Behind the Scenes

By Steve Michaels

Dan L’Heureux, the man behind the scenes, is usually traveling. He is busy attending to the details of the conferences and meetings held throughout the country for many of the telemessaging industry’s various user groups and regional meetings. Dan, who is the executive director for eight such groups, finds his job not only rewarding but also fun.

In 1977, Dan started a telephone answering service in Minneapolis with a cordboard and high hopes for business success, which he achieved twenty years later when he sold his business of over 1000 accounts. He decided to retire; he got into sports car racing, where he won the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) central division champion in 1996.

Taking on the role of event coordinator happened by chance, says Dan. He was racing in Phoenix the same weekend that SNUG (Startel Network Users Group) was having their annual meeting. He stopped by the event to visit old friends and was approached by a couple of board members to help facilitate their conference – and the rest is history.

Dan started with SNUG in 1999 and along the way other groups approached him. Dan now represents eight industry groups: four regional associations and four user groups. The regional associations are WSTA (Western States Telemessaging Association), STA (Southern Telemessaging Association), ASTAA (Atlantic States Telephone Answering Association), and GLTSA (Great Lakes Telemessaging Services Association, Inc.); the user groups are SNUG, TUNe (Telescan Users Network), PIN Users Group, and OEO (Onvisource Equipment Owners).

Dan’s responsibilities vary depending upon each group’s needs. While his title is executive director, he also does administrative, meeting planning, and background work for the groups, along with finding the appropriate locations for the meetings. The decision of where an event will be held is usually up to the board, but Dan scouts out two to three possible meeting sites and does the legwork so they can act accordingly. This includes determining the feasibility of the attendee’s ease of travel, location availability, and overall site package. He also does the negotiating with the locations to get the best possible rates, and he makes sure that the individual conferences are budgeted efficiently and then run according to that budget.

Dan says that it has been a real treat to still be involved with the industry and its members. He was active in his user group when he owned a call center and became convinced of the benefits that can be gained from attending such a meeting. Dan says, “No matter how much you put in, you always get more out.”

Dan indicated that he did not solicit any of the groups for business; each one approached him via word of mouth recommendations. “Every group has its flavor and what it is used to having,” says Dan. He tries to merge the process of hotel and food selection with programming that fits the flavor of a particular association; it’s all about adaptability.

While Dan notes that there has been a reduction in attendance to some meetings, he thinks that reduction is mostly due not to the economy but to “fear” of the economy. People that Dan has talked to throughout the industry say their call volumes are down, but in many cases they have made up for it with new business or different types of business. Certainly, people are in a “wait-and-see” mode and have been for the past year. Hesitation in the economy seems to have a domino effect, and Dan feels that this is as much of an issue as anything else.

According to Dan, people come to the regional events because they can usually drive to them, they are affordable, and they can bring staff members that they might not bring to other events. Mr. L’Heureux indicates that the programming changes from year to year because of the changes in each association’s volunteer board, the economy, equipment changes, new services and features being offered, and an always-changing client base of members. Dan says that you can’t bring the same content year after year to a group and expect it to be successful. The message has to be constantly updated to make sure that what is available in substance as well as features are of value to its members.

[From Connection Magazine March 2010]

Where in the World is President Goldenberg?

By Beth Cooper

ATSI and President Larry Goldenberg have been busy in 2009, and we are looking forward to an even busier 2010. ATSI continues to reach out to the teleservices community, providing education, motivation, and networking opportunities. When asked what he’s been doing as president this year, Larry Goldenberg responded, “One of the privileges of being ATSI president is presenting an update on ATSI programs and services at all of the regional affiliate and user group meetings, as well as at CAM-X (our ‘sister’ organization north of the border) events and groups.

“It is a tough travel schedule, but it’s a great opportunity to see people I know, meet new people, and bring the ATSI message to members and potential members. The fall schedule included visits to the TUNe user group in St Louis, WSTA (West Coast) in Las Vegas, ASTAA (East Coast) in Philadelphia, GLTSA (Midwest) in Indianapolis, STA (the South) in Chattanooga, as well as CAM-X in British Columbia. I know it’s tough, but someone has to do it.”

Mixed into that schedule was his trip to Washington, DC, to participate in a “Hill Walk” in conjunction with our extremely important initiative to voice our concerns to our elected representatives and the FCC on the negative impact of charging answering services for FUSF (Federal Universal Service Fund) fees based in the number of telephone numbers we “own.” He reports that our professional lobbyist, Dave Wenhold, aided by members Brian Gilmore and Darlene Campbell, conducted an all-day training program on the issues as well as the ins and outs of meeting with important congressional staff members. The following day, fifteen ATSI members descended on Capital Hill to participate in fifty meetings with congressional staff people. “We were very well received – it was a very successful program,” he concluded, reminding us all that this is not a one-day operation, but rather an ongoing communication program.

Where will our president be in the future? He still has four additional user group meetings to visit, and he will find his way to our national convention in San Diego in May.

In addition to meeting President Goldenberg, what else can you expect at the national convention in May 11-14 at the Westin in the Gaslamp District of San Diego? Would you like to learn about “branding” from Mr. Karl Speak? His interactive session will educate even those of us who think we have branding mastered. Some of the topics to be covered include:

  • Internal brand building: engaging everyone in building a strong brand
  • What every executive team needs to know about brand, and why it matters to the consistent growth of their organization
  • What it takes to improve the brand-building competency of your organization
  • Using the power of positive perceptions to create lasting differentiation with customers and prospects
  • Personal branding: an innovative sales training technique to sell more to existing customers

In the immediate future, you can find President Goldenberg at the 2010 ATSI Owners Forum on January 11-13 at the Barton Creek Resort in Austin, Texas. The focus this year is on people and strategy. After the opening working reception and dinner on January 11, participants will get to work on January 12 with Tyler Hayden, who will:

1) Focus on teaching teamwork to call center owners

2) Help call center owners to build trust and respect in the workplace

3) Teach team-building strategies that owners can take back to their office

On January 13, the momentum will continue with Patrick Thean, who will:

1) Develop strategies for what was learned on January 12

2) Teach Rockefeller-style execution

3) Focus on a one-page strategic plan

Finally, President Goldenberg has been building excitement about the ATSI 24/7 Certified Agent of the Year program. Nominees for the 2010 Award are due December 10, 2009.

Beth Cooper is director of operations at Answer Quick, a call center located in eastern Tennessee. Beth serves on the ATSI board as the SNUG-appointed board representative, chairing the Industry Accreditation/Certification Committee.  She is a frequent speaker at industry events on agent training, disaster preparedness, and certification.

[From Connection Magazine December 2009]

We Salute Our Vendors

By Donna West

With Thanksgiving approaching, it is time to consider all we have to be grateful for. One such item is our vendors. There has rarely been an industry that is as closely knit as the telemessaging industry. It is also safe to say that there has rarely been an industry that is as closely integrated by a small group of vendors as ours. We are family. We are almost an incestuous family, since our vendors are in some cases our competitors, and our competitors – with whom we share so much – have occasionally become our vendors. Yet, it works, and works well.

That is because we are so focused (I love that word) on education. We have formed “user groups” with most of our vendors, and those few, smaller vendors who don’t have a user group do have a group of sharing, caring clients who are the “go-to” people for that vendor. Education – helping one another to learn more about our equipment, our processes, and our customer needs – is what binds us together. ATSI tries to lead in offering educational opportunities, but we all help educate others every day.

It is safe to say that those of us who have been in the industry for any length of time probably have closer, or at least as close, friends in the industry than in our neighborhoods. We may even have close friends in the ranks of our vendors, people we seek out at the ATSI convention (and other conferences) and with whom we spend a bit of quality time, sharing a drink or a meal together. When one of us has something to celebrate, or something to mourn, we are as likely to receive emails, cards, and gifts from our vendors and their employees as we are our colleagues and peers. We are there to support one another.

When a vendor mourns a loss, we all mourn their loss. Likewise, the accomplishments of our vendors please and excite us, and we are genuinely happy for them, whether they are our vendor or not. Moreover, we are honestly thrilled for our competitors when they receive accolades and awards.

One thing we all seem to recognize is that there is plenty of business out there for all of us. It is by helping one another grow and improve our services, that we are truly expanding our industry’s opportunities. The more excellent teleservice companies our industry can boast, the more our services will be needed. The more unique benefits we can offer our customers, the more our services will be recognized for the business tools they are. Potential customers will only see the possibilities we can offer them if they know about us. We are the best we can be because others have given thought, shared their ideas, and reached out to help competitors in this industry. Our vendors are brave enough to take part in and encourage this spirit of sharing.

At this time of Thanksgiving we, the members of ATSI, salute you, our vendors, for your honesty, your integrity, your generosity, and your commitment to helping us build our businesses. That we all flourish when one flourishes is truly a fact of life. Thank you for all the times you’ve gotten up in the dark of night to reach out to a client in need. Thank you for listening to us when we don’t always articulate our needs correctly. Thank you for striving to keep up and for the difficult tasks you face in this frightening economy. Although we may grumble at times, we do know we would not be successful without you. We appreciate you!

[From Connection Magazine November 2009]

Imagine If There Were No ATSI…

By Donna West


No yearly trade show for vendors to show their wares

No single place for us to travel to see equipment

No annual educational meeting for us to build relationships and share ideas

No organization to help our vendors set standards so we can all compete on a level playing field

No international identity – and most importantly —

No voice for our industry

Without the Association of TeleServices International, there would be no central place for consumers to find out more about our services. We would have to invent this same organization all over again. Fortunately for us, our predecessors did create the ATE (Associated Telephone Exchanges) in 1942, during the infancy of this industry, which became Associated Telephone Answering Exchanges (ATAE) in 1958 before becoming ATSI. The founders had the common goal of improving business and supporting one another. Today, that is expressed in the current ATSI Mission Statement as follows:

To enhance the value of association members’ businesses by:

  • Promoting fair competition through the pursuit of appropriate regulation and legislation
  • Providing research into and development of our industry and its current and prospective markets
  • Providing support services
  • Providing educational opportunities and resources to address the challenges and trends affecting our operating environments
  • Encouraging and maintaining high standards of ethics and services

ATSI holds true to these values and purposes and has developed or is the promoter of many products and services that help its members to be more competitive and more successful.

To measure overall quality and educate its employees, ATSI provides:

  • ATSI certification programs for sites, agents, dispatchers, and supervisors
  • ATSI Award of Excellence and the Award of Distinction programs
  • ATSI Certified Agent of the Year program
  • Preemployment applicant testing, professional telephone techniques, and teleservices training

ATSI offers products to help us grow:

  • Marketing tool kit
  • Sales training seminars
  • Marketing in Minutes, including Ask Mark publication
  • ATSI promotional presentations (commercials)
  • “Spotlight On – Communications”

There are business development offerings, such as the owner’s forums and book forums. Additionally, ATSI offers:

  • Training seminars for operations personnel, customer service, and sales representatives
  • Model contracts and HIPAA contracts
  • Errors and Omissions (E & O) Insurance Program with ongoing legal “hotline” support

Additionally, ATSI bands together to tackle government regulations and make our voices heard when legislation may not be in the best interests of our industry. ATSI also offers tools to tell us how we’re doing, such as its customer satisfaction survey program, financial benchmarking program, and chart of accounts. To keep members informed and tied together, ATSI contributes to Connections Magazine and publishes TeleCommunicator and Answer OnLine.

Lastly, ATSI provides the ATSI Community Web Forums, the new and improved communications tool that replaces its list-serve, where our peers answer our questions, share concerns, provide support and empathy, give suggestions for running our businesses better, and reach out to assist in disasters.

Other industry organizations are important, but ATSI brings us all closer together and we are stronger for it. There is strength in numbers, and increasing our numbers will make us even stronger. If you are not a member of ATSI, call a board member today, and tell us why.

ATSI members are “Learning by Association” – sharing ideas is what we’re all about.

[From Connection Magazine June 2009]

Strength in Numbers Fosters an Incredible ROI

By Lynne West

“It’s like having a room of COOs, but they’re free,” says Dennis O’Hara, owner of Associated Call Centers and president of ATSI (2008-09), when he talks about one of the many ways ATSI membership has helped him manage and grow his Pennsylvania call center. Specifically, Dennis is referring to the Listserv that is in essence a real-time email blast to other members who can respond with advice and opinions almost immediately to nearly any question or issue posed by another member.

He says, “Having access to such a pool of experienced owners is phenomenal when you realize that dues to join ATSI are less than $6 per week for many members, and that is only one of many other benefits to membership.”

“One of the most valuable resources is the pool of ‘business coaches’ that I can reach out to on a daily basis. The availability of networking opportunities with peers on business methods and challenges is amazing. Sharing ideas and extending a helping hand is what being an ATSI member is all about,” says Mary Ann Wetmore, owner of Network One Communications in Tampa, Florida.

She adds that in addition to the owner-to-owner sharing, there are many ways that ATSI membership can help a business. A few that are important to her company include the educational opportunities (conventions, owner’s forum, webinars, and bulletins), industry awards that help her distinguish her company from competitors and continually monitor and improve customer service, and alerts to members about federal restrictions and laws that could affect call center operations.

Sharon Campbel, owner of Cal Johnson’s Telephone Answering Service, especially appreciated how ATSI addressed the HIPAA issue. “Each member business did not have to go it alone and do all the research and work to become compliant; ATSI came to the rescue, saving each of us hundreds of hours.”

ATSI is currently representing the industry in opposition to proposed revisions in the way telephone companies collect Federal Universal Service Fund (FUSF) fees and other federal and state fees and assessments. The proposed changes would immediately increase the phone bills of call centers with a large bank of numbers by $10,000 to $15,000 per year.

In addition to being the industry voice for governmental issues, ATSI provides members with a competitive edge and credibility, according to Ms. Wetmore. She says, “When I market the affiliation with my trade association, it enhances my relationship with my clients – implying to my customers and the business community that my business is stable and credible.”

Credibility and stability are at the root of the organization as well. Despite incredible changes to technology and the market over the years, ATSI has remained true to its fifty-eight-year-old mission.

Today, ATSI has more than 380 members who provide a variety of services from live answering and simple message taking to emergency response, locator services, and virtual receptionist services. Some are inbound, some are outbound, and others do both. Some members have three operator stations, while others have 300, with many operations in between. The diversity is what makes this association so rich and deep; the dedication and camaraderie of its members are what makes it so rewarding.

If you want to grow your business, improve your service and operation to consistently exceed customer expectations, and increase profitability, invest in an ATSI membership.

“I don’t know how a business can afford to not join,” says Mr. O’Hara after reflecting on what ATSI membership has meant to him personally and to his business. His presidency was just a way to give back and help spread the word about ATSI to other call centers in the industry, realizing that there is truly strength in numbers.

According to Mr. O’Hara, if you join before May 15th, you will be entered into a May 20th drawing for a complimentary ticket to the annual convention ($550 value) or $550 toward the second year of membership (’09-10) and “you’ll experience firsthand the difference ATSI membership will make.”

Ms. Wetmore adds, “The more a member participates and takes advantages of all ATSI has to offer, the more a member gains… and in short order.”

Are you ready to grow your business more creatively and efficiently than ever before? Join ATSI today.

ATSI Mission

The purposes of the association are:

(1)  To promote high standards of ethics and service among its members

(2)  To provide members and others with opportunities for dialogue, education, advancement, and improvement of all aspects of the teleservices industry (TSI) through meetings, seminars, communications, publications, and other programs and activities

(3)  To articulate and advocate the needs and interests of the teleservices industry before legislative, administrative, and judicial branches of regional and national governments

Lynne West is a freelance writer/consultant from Maryland.

[From Connection Magazine May 2009]

The Recession, Predictions, and Top Ten Tips for 2009

By Steve Michaels

Given the huge challenges facing this country and the constant barrage of “bad news,” this coming year will be one of the most perilous in modern history. Anyone hoping for a period of calm after the turbulence of the past year will be disappointed. For the economy and for business, 2009 promises to be a year of bracing adjustments for the telephone answering service industry (TAS).

Where will this end? We’re regularly watching unsustainable companies and industries fall by the wayside. Even if the government tries to bail them out, it won’t be enough to save them. We are watching consequences of our choices, which may last for years. No matter what happens, the Fed cannot save all the banks and all the industries.

Overall, we are in the midst of the most daunting economic and financial challenge since the days of FDR and the Great Depression. Recession is also hitting Europe, Japan, and other advanced countries. China risks a hard landing; so do many emerging economies. A severe global recession and financial crisis is certain.

As more of these economic blows occur, I encourage you to remember that we are “remodeling” the economy. Instead of calling it a recession or depression, let’s just call it an economic adjustment or correction. Just like when remodeling your home, with the walls open for rewiring and replumbing, it takes time for things to look better. A tough economy motivates businesses to find new ways to work more efficiently, so let’s see what is happening to answering services nationwide and what they are doing to combat this recession.

In a survey conducted by TAS Marketing, it seems that California, Texas, and Georgia have been hit the worst, but in general the telephone answering service client base is down anywhere from 1-10 percent, with call volume dropping as much as 25 percent within the last ninety days. This can be found mostly in construction and real estate. Medical seems to be holding its own, although there have been a reported 1.2 million jobs lost affecting the medical coverage of these jobless individuals and causing medical calls to be down. Wilma Schmerer from Pro-Tel in Walla Walla, WA, reported that even the call volume on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, was down.

It has been reported that some individual doctor’s offices have dropped their answering service and are using an answering machine with an announcement stating that if it is an emergency to call their pager. This could be because the doctor is always on call anyway. It does not seem to be affecting offices with two or more doctors.

Former ATSI president Allan Fromm’s call center processes a lot of catalog orders. He states that the business for luxury items is off by a third from last year and gourmet foods are down by 50 percent.

Given this, how do we make things better? What the astute TAS owner requires is an acknowledgment of the uncertainty about where the economy is heading, and clear thinking about how to effectively deal with it. Here are ten tips to consider:

1. Track Your Numbers And Adjust Your Overhead: Print your nightly statistics and look at your call volume per client. If a particular client isn’t getting any calls, have your third shift staff call their business to see if their calls are forwarded to you. If not, give them a courtesy call in the morning to see if they forgot or are seeking other options. Sometimes, businesses will not use their answering service, instead forwarding calls to their home to see if they can do without your services. This is the first step to losing a client.

2. Contact Target Businesses: One surveyed TAS owner said that she had gone back to a proven method of adding new clients by honing her target businesses in communities where she has clients for references. She is also telling her current medical clients that she is able to take appointments, which will help reduce the doctors’ staffing.

3. Charitable Community Drive: To keep the morale up in your call center, consider starting a charitable drive in your community. You and your company will portray optimism and a positive attitude when others are touting “doom and gloom.” Remember, people want to be around others who are positive, enthusiastic, and willing to help when times are tough.

4. Negotiate Fees and Offer Alternatives: One astute owner found out that a couple of her clients were shopping for a discount answering service. After she contacted them and offered them call screening with operator revert, they were happy – they really didn’t want to subscribe to a lower quality service just because of price. Remember, the discount services are not going to be able to survive long if they are not making a profit.

5. Offer New Options: A tip from Mike DeMas is to contact your clients if you have the following options available through your service:

  • Business-to-business lead generation
  • Customer service follow-up calls
  • Surveys and consumer market research
  • Appointment setting and doctor reminder calls

6. Email Marketing: This jewel comes to us from Maryann Wetmore of Network One Communications in Tampa, Florida. She is using the services of a company called Constant Contact to broadcast emails to her clients. With this service, Maryann is able to provide her clientele with how to tips, success stories, and even invitations for feedback or new client referrals. Maryann stated, “It is more important today with the financial challenges we all face as business owners to strengthen our relationship with our current clients. I recognized that the best way to keep business going and to create new business is to communicate regularly with my clients. We all receive something through Constant Contact on a regular basis; the Ask Mark publication from ATSI’s Marketing Committee an example. Constant Contact is an inexpensive ‘relationship marketing’ tool to communicate your message to your current and future client base. You may think you have one of the best services out there, but that alone won’t guarantee success if you haven’t built loyal bonds with your clients.”

7. Press Release: Write a snappy press release, suggests Cori Bartlett of Alliance Communications in Orlando. Unveil a new feature or announce a staff promotion…anything to generate interest. Make it sales-oriented, giving a reason for your clients to call you with “referral intent” or for a new “service offering.” Use it as an insert to connect with your clients, giving them a reason to think about you, or better yet, call you.

8. Consider Equipment Options: One industry vendor discontinued support on a particular line on December 31, 2008. Those who are researching equipment options may opt to outsource accounts to another call center or host accounts on another server, paying only for use. The hosting option frees up a cash outlay for new equipment, includes 24/7 technical support, and offers the latest features.

9. Selling Reporting Statistics: Our Canadian friend, Gary Blair from Tele-Page in Montreal, states that he is receiving more requests from clients asking for statistical reporting, such as answer time and number of calls on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. This could be another source of revenue for your business.

10. Join a Group: Whether it is a national group such as ATSI, a vendor group, or your own regional group, become a member so that you have support from others in the industry. It helps to hear ideas from cohorts and solicit their support on common issues.

Bonus Thought: One extra idea from Bill Smith of Answerone in Brooklyn, NY, isconsistency. “The only problem,” he says, “is that if you strive to be the best, you had better be the best all of the time. I find that we provide excellent service, but if we falter even a little, the client perceives a drop in quality. I had a boss that would say he valued consistent mediocrity over occasional brilliance. The client hates change but also hates inconsistency.”

Overall, we need to become proactive rather than reactive. If you know that something is about to happen, then prepare. That’s what the prudent businessperson does. By being proactive, you will establish a rapport with your remaining clients as someone who really cares about their problems and their business.

A One-Word Summary: Sustainability, the process of staying in business. In doing so, change is essential. To sustain profits, answering services may have to slash costs and cut jobs while being open to merging or sharing their resources with other call centers using comparable equipment or hosting capabilities. Large multilocation services already do that to consolidate labor. In these economic conditions, individual answering services may opt to share their resources, labor, and even profitability in order to sustain the long haul. I believe that future trends of our industry will entail a co-op or hosting type of relationship between small groups of answering services. These groups will entrust their client lists to members of their co-op and will form small, bonding relationships for the benefit of the group. I see this as an alternative to bankruptcy or closing your doors.

From my interviews with TAS owners across the country, I found that owners are resetting their priorities and are eager to meet their own make-or-break challenges. “You have to be resolute and determined all of the time,” says Jim Geary of Complete Answering Service in Jackson, TN. “If your business is suffering, it is just a matter of looking inward at your business and fixing or changing what doesn’t work, which ultimately results in one of the upsides of a bad economy – a more productive company,” says Jim.

Sarah Ban Breathnach says in her book Simple Abundance, “The downturn has affected me and my business as well, but what we need to remember is that we are not alone. The recession has affected everyone, and there is a sort of comfort in that. However, we need to keep calm and carry on. You shouldn’t dump misery on others. It’s toxic. We need to watch our words. Don’t say, ‘We’re broke.’ Say, ‘I choose not to spend my money that way.’ The power of our words is very important.” She also states that, “All you need is the awareness and willingness to ask for help. What this crisis is asking of us is to be real and to be authentic. There is a whole world of people who want to help us, but we have to ask. Our current dream may have died, but there will always be another dream. We have never been tested the way our parents or grandparents were tested…but we’re about to.”

Steve Michaels is a futurist and business broker with TAS Marketing and can be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com.

[From Connection Magazine January 2009]

What Is a Distributed Call Center?

By Wayne Scaggs

What is a distributed call center? The answer is, it depends.

One definition is a call center with multiple offices. Or perhaps it is a call center with multiple systems. An alternate definition could be a call center with distributed agents who are located all around the city, country, or world. Does outsourcing qualify as a distributed call center, even though the agents are only servicing your local customer base? When you share a large account with other call centers, it sounds like yet another definition of a distributed environment. Lastly, distributed can mean multiple locations that look and act like one center.

The label “distributed call center” is beginning to have the same difficulties as answering service, call center, and contact center have had. Which type of center are you? Again, it depends. What works for you? Many successful businesses have defined themselves with any one of these titles. You are what you think you are.

Whatever your definition of a distributed call center, the underlying objective is to bring all available resources together for a common goal.

Wayne Scaggs is president of Alston Tascom, Inc., which offers an end-to-end contact center solution using digital telephony. Contact Alston Tascom at 909-548-7300 or info@alstontascom.com.

[From Connection Magazine October 2008]

Forget Politics – I Just Want to Run My Business

By Wayne Scaggs

What you may not understand is that business is politics. If you are in business, you are involved in politics. The business of politics is money. The amount of money you keep is determined by politics, and you have power to alter the impact of some of the legislation. Legislation is the function of making rules by which we live, and we the people, through our legislators, shape and vote on that legislation. Become involved and make your voice heard; this is how change comes about. In many cases, someone wanted or did not want something to happen. They felt strongly enough to do something about it. They built support for their position, and they contacted their legislator.

Excerpts from Participating in the Legislative Process, a citizen’s guide I received from my  state assemblyman, indicate that the legislative process is most effective when you, the voter, make your personal views known to the elected officials. The first step is getting to know your legislator or the legislator whose bill affects you. They are people with a job to do, just like you.

Next, build a constituency of voters who share the same position and then express your collective concerns. If you have enough clout, hire a lobbyist who will follow and influence the legislation. Meeting and talking with the legislator or the committee members can be helpful. Educate the legislator or the committee members on the impact of the bill to your business and employees. Offer an alternative or compelling reason for your position, and thank the legislator or the committee members for their time.

Often you will get to meet with staffers; these are the people that work behind the scenes and directly influence the legislator or committee members. Staffers work for and on behalf of the legislator; they open the mail, set the appointments, etc. Staffers are the people to get to know; they can be very helpful. If you get the staffers to understand your position, it will be easier when you meet with the legislator.

Our industry has a legislative bombshell just over the political horizon. This legislation has the power to reach deep into our pockets and take more of the money we work so hard to earn. The legislative process is slow, but we need to make our concerns known now regarding The Federal Universal Service Fund while we have the opportunity. Get involved; it is your money at stake!

[For an explanation of the Universal Service Fund, see the article, Universal Service Fund Update.]

Wayne Scaggs is president of Alston Tascom Inc. He is also the immediate past president of the Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce and current chair of the Inland Valley Chamber Legislative Alliance (IVCLA), a group of seven chambers with 4,500 businesses, which is currently working with legislators regarding healthcare. He can be reached at 909-548-7300.

[From Connection Magazine March 2008]