May 2015

Regular Columns

Get Inspired
by Gary Blair

IS Tip
by Kevin Procter

Featured Articles

President's Report
by Gerald R. Brosseau, II

2016 Annual Conference
by Lina Masri-Cunningham

Upcoming Webinars

Amtelco Annex

Looking Ahead
by Kevin Beale

Gerald Brosseau, II

President's Report

By Gerald Brosseau, II

Fellow NAEO Members, I have the honor to present the President’s Report for the 2nd Quarter of 2015, and the first quarter of my term as your President.

If you missed the NAEO Conference in Orlando, FL at the Rosen Shingle Creek, I truly believe you missed one of the best industry conferences in the last half decade. Laurie Blow, the 2014-2015 Conference Chair, and her committee exceeded all expectations and truly led and executed an excellent conference that was bursting with integral educational content and opportunities for members to hold an open forum to discuss relevant industry concerns. We extend our sincere gratitude for all of the individuals involved in organizing such a successful conference, our sponsors, including Amtelco, and to all who attended. The quality and value of the NAEO conference would not be a realization — let alone this magnitude — without the level of camaraderie, mutual respect, and sharing of ideas and knowledge.

I came into this industry like many others in this industry: Our family and/or parents. A decade ago when my father and I were researching vendors for a new system, we were considering both Telescan and an Amtelco. However, one man helped us with that decision by inviting us down to his office to spend the day asking anything we wanted to know. It was then that I truly had an understanding of exactly what we were getting ourselves into and how Infinity would revolutionize our business, Always On Call. That same man didn’t hesitate whenever I had questions. Sadly, I never expected that shortly after accepting the role of President, I would be at the funeral of the man who introduced me to Amtelco and into NAEO. Many of us have memories of Tom Gelbach... whether it was his generosity to help others or his persistence as an entrepreneur, I can only say that I’ve lost a friend and we have lost an innovator, industry advocate, and colleague. My thoughts and prayers are with his team at ProComm, his family, and friends.

NAEO’s Association Management

NAEO welcomed Eric Ewald, NAEO’s Strategic Development Advisor and a partner with Ewald Consulting, to fulfill the role of Executive Director formerly held by Andy Shelp until late December 2014. We certainly miss Andy’s tenacity and intellectual expertise on behalf of our membership; however, Eric’s extensive knowledge, professionalism, and familiarity of working with the NAEO Board of Directors during strategic planning meetings has allowed for a near-seamless transition. NAEO also welcomed Monika Korzun, our Assistant Executive Director, to her first official annual conference. Monika has also been a tremendous asset to the board, especially in her accuracy in documenting board minutes, attention to detail, and consistent organizational abilities. Both Eric and Monika have complemented the 2015-2016 Board of Directors in our strategic efforts as well as offering a renewed perspective for the many facets within our organization. Welcome to the NAEO family, Eric and Monika!

The NAEO Board of Directors recently reviewed the contract with Ewald Consulting as it was due for renewal on June 1, 2015; however the 2015-2016 board did not have ample time to review such options post-conference given the contract expiration date. While the Board of Directors did not have any major concerns to address, especially regarding recent changes in late 2014 with the change of Executive Directors to Eric Ewald and the addition of Assistant Director Monika Korzun at no additional cost to NAEO, the board agreed to extend the contract for the proposed 3-year term. This duration allows ample time for future directors to perform the necessary RFP process, due diligence, and most importantly ensure fiscal responsibility to the membership. The board also felt that pursuing an RFP and/or change in association management firms at this time was not in the best interest of NAEO, considering such factors as the volatility of membership attrition and the risk to member retention.

2015 Annual Conference and Succeeding Changes

Over the last several years, we have seen tremendous changes among our membership. It’s no secret that the Telephone Answering Service industry is facing consolidation as a primary strategy of business growth with significantly less organic growth than we had even just 5 years ago. Until this month, we’ve also had limited knowledge or forecasts of what our industry and vendor, Amtelco, will look like in the coming years. TheFuture Directions Committee (FDC) Session at the Annual Conference in Orlando confirmed this apparent apprehension of the “unknown” among many members.

Upon accepting the role as President from Kurt VanderScheer, sessions within the conference in Orlando reaffirmed my reservations that the Board of Directors needed to make some key changes and improve communications with Amtelco and our membership. When I first ran for the Board of Directors, I vowed to improve communication between NAEO Members and Amtelco through education. I am a firm believer that the key to a successful relationship is through transparent communication. Needless to say, as President, my entire term is dedicated to improving communication but now in a much broader sense.

The election of Directors in the Annual Business Meeting welcomed Tifani Leal as a new Director and second terms as Directors for Gordon Mott and Theran Mossholder. Congratulations to each of you! For those of you who sought election to the board but did not get elected, please consider running again. I wasn’t elected my first time, either. It took a long time of volunteering and proving to the membership that I didn’t have a hidden agenda before the membership instilled their faith in me.

After the election, I knew I would be responsible for appointment of board positions. In the days and weeks prior to the Annual Business Meeting, I spent hours upon hours evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each of the board members, including myself, and the board candidates who were running for office. During my first board meeting, I was challenged with immediately implementing key changes, including a strategic plan to improve communications and transparency all while appointing the appropriate individuals to pertinent roles that would ensure a strong and unified team to serve you. This began with Theran Mossholder being elected by the Board of Directors as the President-Elect/Vice-President. Congratulations, my friend!

Changes to NAEO Structure
  • Professional Development Committee (PDC): Tifani Leal, Chair; Deborah Anders and Evelyn Portinari, Vice-Chairs
  • Conference Committee: Lina Cunningham, Chair; Robert Donnelly, Vice-Chair
  • Membership Committee: Lisa Phillips, Chair; Mike Crossman, Vice-Chair
  • Communications Committee: Rob Bennett, Chair; Theran Mossholder, Vice-Chair
  • Future Directions Committee (FDC): Robert Donnelly, Chair; Kurt VanderScheer, Vice-Chair
  • Treasurer/Secretary: Gordon Mott
  • Board Liaison / Support Positions: ATSI Representative, Rob Bennett; Heathcare Liaison, Vacant

During my first meeting, I also changed the schedule for board conference calls. Now, committee and board calls are prescheduled by the 1st or 3rd or 2nd and 4th week versus a specific date which reduces any ambiguity. Second, board calls are much more focused. Since most committee calls are monthly, the committees report to the board monthly (or more if needed). Instead of trying to force all committee chairs to report within one call, our calls focus on 2-3 committees allowing for more discussion, improved preparation time for committee chairs, and decisions to be executed more efficiently.

Fiscal Responsibility

As President, I advocated for a conservative approach to finances this year, especially given the unpredictability of fluctuations in membership dues. While a commitment was made between NAEO and Amtelco to market to other Amtelco product users who are not active members, including offering a limited number of trial memberships in an effort to regain both healthcare and traditional TAS members, the Board of Directors opted not to make any additional adjustments to dues this year.

However, I immediately began working with our association management company and our Treasurer, Gordon Mott, to reduce board travel expenses starting with our spring meeting. Several years ago, we used to meet in-person 3 times a year in addition to the annual meeting. Due to economics, improved frequency of communication, and use of technology, we now only meet twice in addition to conference. However, costs for in-person meetings were still substantial. The spring meeting, following conference, includes our annual meeting with Amtelco and annual strategic planning session. Rather than excess airfare to Madison, WI and hotel costs, including room rental and food and beverage costs, we opted to meet at the Ewald Consulting offices in Chicago, IL. The hotel provided shuttle service, many flights for board members were direct into O’Hare, Ewald allowed us to meet in its offices at no additional cost to the membership, and meals were not catered by a hotel; this all meant substantially lower costs. To maintain our meeting at Amtelco Headquarters, we opted for a shuttle to provide door-to-door transportation to Madison, just two hours north of Chicago.

Our fall meeting will be at the upcoming conference location, which has been built into the contract with the hotel, and will allow for the Board of Directors — especially the Conference Chair and Vice-Chair — to become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the property and meet with our on-site contacts. We continue to listen to our members and have been actively analyzing attrition of membership when factoring in conference and meeting contracts.

Improving Communication

Of all of the meetings I have been privy to with Amtelco, our meeting on May 5, 2015, in Madison at Amtelco Headquarters was immensely productive and laid the foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership. We were able to focus on open dialogue and address member concerns and concerns Amtelco had with NAEO regarding our ability and consistency of communications, which we were able to confidently advise that the newly developed Communications Committee would endeavor to mitigate these concerns going forward. Bottom line, both parties took accountability and assured one another of their efforts and responsibility to improve. Since then, the NAEO Board has had numerous follow-up correspondence with key individuals, including a conference call on May 19, 2015 with Tom Curtin, Joe Everly, Jim Becker, and Bernie Torvak. NAEO is committed, especially the Communications Committee, to improve methodologies and consistent practices to better educate the industry on member benefits, educational opportunities, and important news, such as the release of Amtelco’s Genesis System, the latest advancement in a Softswitch solution.

On behalf of the NAEO Membership, we are genuinely appreciative of Amtelco’s efforts and its commitment to communicating their advancing technology solutions and company “road map” for our industry. We are extremely blessed to have a vendor that cares about its customers as if we were born into the Curtin Family. Thank you, Amtelco!

Professional Development Committee (PDC)

The board voted to merge Education and Professional Development Series into one committee. PDC now includes 3 key aspects:

  • Education (Webinars and Conference Educational Content)
  • Training (In-Person Training, including Intelligent Series)
  • eLearning (Operator Training & Infinity Supervisor Training)

The PDC immediately resumed its efforts following the conference to roll out the next phase of the Infinity Supervisor Training Program. Volunteers are aggressively incorporating content into NAEO’s Learning Management System (LMS) via a series of videos. This LMS system is the same software platform NAEO’s utilizes for the Operator Training Program. Webinar topics and presenters are scheduled through July and available for registration on www.naeo.org. The NAEO “Summer Series” Intelligent Series Workshop is scheduled for August 10-12, 2015 at the Embassy Suites Hotel at Charlotte Airport in Charlotte, NC. Seats have been filling up quickly, so please reserve your space today!

For more information, questions, to volunteer with the committee, or suggest a webinar topic, please contact PDC Chair Tifani Leal at professionaldevelopment@naeo.org.

Conference Committee

Immediately following conferences, the Board of Directors sends out a survey to welcome feedback, comments, and related data from conference attendees. The feedback from Orlando was reviewed extensively by the Board of Directors, presented to Amtelco, and will be utilized by Lina, Robert and the conference committee members as they prepare for the upcoming annual conference, February 29-March 3, 2016 in San Diego, CA. Healthcare members are urged to consider volunteering to assist in the development of a unique agenda outlining key educational opportunities in order to better justify conference attendance. The committee is also actively pursuing sponsorship opportunities and preferred vendor relationships, which was also key feedback from the survey. Trust that your responses are not only appreciated, but studied and discussed extensively.

The NAEO Conference Committee welcomes new volunteers, conference topics, suggestions for presenters, and overall feedback. For information, questions, or to join the committee, please email conference@naeo.org.

Membership Committee

Lisa Phillips continues to provide excellent oversight with regard to the membership database and communication with renewals and contacting new members. Active memberships are averaging 170 with 7 new members in 2015. In addition, the Board of Directors adopted and approved an Alumni / Honorary Society Program, details of which are being finalized. However, the purpose was to identify individuals who would be willing to continue to share their expertise that are no longer directly involved within the industry. Mike Crossman continues to oversee a strong mentor program with 13 mentees and 11 mentors. Mentor volunteers are always welcomed.

The Hospital/Heathcare Committee is struggling to maintain consistent participation on monthly conference calls. Shortly after conference, Gail Russell stepped down as the appointed Hospital Liaison. The position is currently vacant despite efforts to fill this seat. Both Amtelco and NAEO discussed the healthcare membership extensively and continue to identify aspects to improve member retention and attract new members. In addition, Tom Curtin of Amtelco is personally assisting the board to identify potential candidates to fulfill the liaison role.

For more information, questions, or to join the committee, please email membership@naeo.org.

Communications Committee

This committee will encompass all media opportunities, from social media, print advertising and press releases, correspondence from the NAEO Board and Committees, Newslinks, content for The Pulse, Connections Magazine, Amtelco Insider, and other mediums. Among other goals is to redesign the NAEO website with updated content. The committee will continue to enhance communication between Amtelco and NAEO members as well as improve communications with other industry associations, including ATSI. As a newly developed committee, Communications is actively seeking members. For more information, questions, or to join the committee, please email communications@naeo.org.

Future Directions Committee (FDC)

Subsequent to the Future Directions of NAEO / Industry session and the Owners Forum, the Board of Directors developed a survey to assess our vendor, Amtelco. The results of the survey were collected and the raw data provided to Amtelco management for analysis. One aspect was consistent among the survey results: Communication. As a result, Amtelco and the NAEO Board of Directors have vowed to improve communications to members, former members, and the industry as a whole. Amtelco has extended the opportunity for NAEO to market to other Amtelco product/software users via its marketing distribution channels. In addition, Amtelco identified Kevin Beale as the individual who will convey the collective vision, product and technology advancement, and the future direction of the Amtelco Management Team. We’re excited that Mr. Beale has vowed to communicate with the members via the Amtelco Insider at least monthly.

The FDC is committed to providing a conduit by which information from both NAEO members and Amtelco is disseminated in a strategic and consistent manner. As such, the vendor survey will be conducted annually for the purposes of benchmarking statistical information and ultimately improving our partnership.

For more information, questions, or to join the committee, please email futuredirection@naeo.org.

Closing

I ask that you please consider volunteering your expertise on one of the NAEO Committees, regardless of whether you can commit to a monthly call or just offering to help in some fashion. If you are reading this, you already possess invaluable skills that our association needs. I can honestly tell you that I have gained more personally and for my business through volunteering than I ever would have by just reading the posts on the listserve.

NAEO continues to be an outstanding organization of talented individuals that extends far beyond a “users group.” We’re considered both competitors and colleagues, yet friends and business associates. Above everything is a priceless relationship in which we are all committed to sharing ideas, expertise, and knowledge for the betterment of us all. As your President, I appreciate the opportunity to serve you and give back to the many who have given to me. Please don’t hesitate to contact me anytime at president@naeo.org, especially if there is anything NAEO or I can do for you and your business.

Respectfully submitted,

Gerald R. Brosseau, II
NAEO President, 2015-2016

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Get Inspired

Submitted by Gary Blair

I think that no matter how old or infirm I may become, I will always plant a large garden in the spring. Who can resist the feelings of hope and joy that one gets from participating in nature’s rebirth?

~ Edward Giobbi

And one many of us can relate to after a long, hard winter...

You can’t see Canada across lake Erie, but you know it’s there. It’s the same with spring. You have to have faith, especially in Cleveland.

~ Paul Fleischman

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IS Tip

Submitted by Kevin Procter

Never Stop Learning

Last month we sowed some oats, but now, we must fertilize those oats – wild or not!

In the past, this writer has stepped upon a database soapbox and extolled the virtues of incorporating an SQL database within an I.S. system. The power you unlock within I.S., via the addition of a database, is substantial.

But where does one start? How does one begin to add a database to I.S.?

First of all, one must know how to use a database. If you're not familiar with SQL, perhaps this is an opportunity to go back to school. Look around you and find a course. Just as fertilizer aids in the growth of one's oats, so does education enhance the growth of one's knowledge, and thereby the growth of one's business.

Like a new gardener taking time to learn from an experienced gardener, so too must a programmer take some time to enhance knowledge, and thereby increase productivity, efficiency, and most importantly, add value to his or her presence in the company.

If a programmer (or anyone, for that matter) is prone to doing the same thing, day-in and day-out, there may be a proverbial rut in which the metaphorical plough (plow) is stuck. Step out of that familiar rut, and begin learning new techniques, such as database programming, and combining the power of the database with the great power of Amtelco's Intelligent Series.

Who needs January 1 to make a resolution? Go ahead and resolve now, today, to learn the know-how of adding a database to your system; OR, enhance your current experience and knowledge with advanced education.

Challenge yourself, and fertilize the oats of your mind. Make those tame oats blossom and grow wildly with knowledge!

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Lina Masri-Cunningham

2016 Annual Conference

By Lina Masri-Cunningham, Conference Chair

SAVE THE DATE
Feb. 29 - March 3, 2016
Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa
1775 East Mission Bay Drive
San Diego, CA

On behalf of the NAEO Board of Directors and the Conference committee, we invite you to SAVE THE DATE!!! Feb. 29 - March 3, 2016, NAEO Annual conference will be held in sunny San Diego, California!

This year’s agenda is gearing up to be jam packed with interactive sessions, multiple guest speakers and Education, Education, Education!!!

If you have not yet completed the NAEO test to receive a 10% discount on your service contract, do it now; it could pay for your conference experience! Don't miss out on this chance.

No snow, no rain, lots of places to network with old friends and make new ones; this conference is exactly what you need to take your business to the next level!

View the slideshow below to see more about the conference location.

 

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Upcoming Webinars

Supervisor Training Part 2 RegisterSupervisor Training Part Two
June 17, 2015 | 2:00 pm ET

Presenter: Deborah Anders
Host: Evelyn Portinari

Session 2: Making the transition from Team Member to Team Leader: how to make the change from your old mentality to your new position and get the most out of your team.

Pre Summer Series Info Session RegisterPre-Summer Series Info Session
July 1, 2015 | 2:00 pm ET

Presenter and Host: Theran Mossholder

Join the Education Committee as we discuss the upcoming IS Workshop in Charlotte, NC. We ask that everyone attending the workshop please join us on this webinar so we can make sure you have everything setup and ready to go for this advanced class. If you are undecided if this workshop is for you, please attend to get a sneak peek on the topics that will be covered.

Supervisor Training Part 3 RegisterSupervisor Training Part Three
July 15, 2015 | 2:00 pm ET

Presenter: Deborah Anders
Host: Evelyn Portinari

Session 3: Training your successor: Learn to recognize and develop future supervisors.

Learning Management System RegisterLMS - Learning Management System
July 29, 2015 | 2:00 pm ET

Presenter:Theran Mossholder
Host: Tifani Leal

Join us to review the new NAEO Learning Management System. We will go over how to log into the site, add new employees and assign employees new training assignments.

All webinars are free for members. Please register your information. There is a limit on attendees, so register early.

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Looking Ahead

Submitted by Kevin Beale, Vice President for Software, Research and Development

This is the first installment of a new column I will be writing for each edition of the monthly Amtelco Insider newsletter. Amtelco Insider historically has focused on providing how-to instructions and documentation for existing released software features and modules. Looking Ahead will focus on industry trends and new developments Amtelco is working on, providing information each of you can use in your future business planning.

This first Looking Ahead article examines soft switching — which is a topic Amtelco has been focused on for quite some time. You may have heard Amtelco use the term Genesis. Genesis is the overall product umbrella for Amtelco’s Infinity Intelligent Series soft switching platform. You also may have heard the term IS Voice Services. IS Voice Services is the part of Genesis that adds soft switching behaviors to the Infinity Intelligent Series platform.

Soft switching is an industry development that has been gaining momentum over the last few years. Amtelco and our customers have been fortunate that the hardware-based Infinity switching platform has been so reliable and has continued to advance with updates such as Unity Logger and the Amtelco XDS VoIP board, allowing you to adopt VoIP functions such as SIP trunks and SIP operator audio, and adding integral call recording, without replacing Infinity or adding additional peripherals. Not all platforms have been so fortunate and this has driven the industry to move towards soft switching. Soft switching shifts the control and processing functions of the telephony away from telephony boards such as the Amtelco XDS VoIP board and to the computer CPU, with software controlling that CPU. Soft switching still requires a computer to run the switching functions, but offers advantages such as being capable of being virtualized since there are no specialized telephony boards installed in the computer.

Virtualization of servers provides many benefits that many of you already take advantage of with your Intelligent Series infrastructure. Adding telephony to your virtual platform provides flexibility, scalability, and high availability. Virtualization also lends itself to operating in the cloud (a topic we will cover in an upcoming Looking Ahead article).

Let’s take a look at Genesis in more detail. Amtelco began working on the Genesis soft switching platform in 2009. At that time, we reviewed our options and determined that we had the most feature-rich and reliable system on the market with the Infinity Intelligent Series, so our best option was to build on that platform and add soft switching to it rather than replacing it with another product. I am sure all of you Infinity Intelligent Series owners appreciate that decision as you look to add soft switching to your call center.

The initial critical design objective of Genesis soft switching was to retain the same reliability as Infinity hardware switching. One of the key elements of Infinity is that it is in complete control of the switching functions, including trunking, voice processing, call behaviors, operator services, conferencing, and call recording, all within one Infinity software application. Genesis uses the same model in which we control the switching functions from the Infinity Intelligent Series, providing a centralized point of control and administration.

IS Voice Services leverages the voice processing abilities of Genesis to play client-specific greetings to callers.

Another critical design element of Genesis was to replicate the many Infinity behaviors and available options, including integrated call logging and voice behaviors such as greetings and voice menus. Each call center is able to customize Infinity to meet its own unique needs with easy to use set-up screens within the Infinity Supervisor. Genesis uses the same model with behaviors and voice functions set up within the IS Supervisor Client screens, using the same time-of-day control as Infinity, but with more flexibility. Genesis is able to take advantage of soft switching capabilities such as integral text-to-speech functionality that makes greeting creation available in the IS Supervisor screens. Text-to-speech translates text into synthesized speech that can be played to callers without the need to create recordings with a phone call. Text-to-speech also can be used in the message delivery process, such as playing a text message to a client over the phone.

Another critical element of Genesis is that it allows adding Genesis soft switching while still operating your call center with Infinity. Amtelco has built Genesis in a manner that allows adding Genesis behaviors that coexist with Infinity behaviors while enhancing those behaviors. Genesis tightly integrates with the IS Contact Architecture and the new IS MergeComm automated dispatch capabilities. This integration allows adding voice services to IS such as the IS Checkin menu that enables clients to update their IS Contact Based Status via a phone call. The IS Smart Paging behavior enables clients to initiate pages to IS Contacts via a phone call. The new MergeComm behavior can initiate an IS script via a phone call.

Individual IS Directory listings can be configured to use the text-to-speech feature of Genesis to play the names of individual listings to callers.

The core of Genesis is complete and many of the Infinity call behaviors and voice functions are complete. Amtelco released the first version of Genesis with our IS 4.1 release in 2013 and it is now in use at several call centers and hospitals. The primary focus at the current installations is to voice enable the IS Contact Architecture with the IS Checkin menu and IS Smart Paging behavior. Genesis also supports conferencing and call recording, providing the same critical conferencing and Unity Logger capabilities offered with Infinity.

The current development focus for 2015 is to add advanced ACD call routing to Genesis. Basic ACD functionality was introduced in 2014 with the Emergency ACD, providing a soft switch backup to the Infinity ACD. The advanced Genesis ACD expands on the Emergency ACD, providing the same skills-based call distribution schemes and operator grouping as the Infinity ACD, while offering enhancements such as native SIP with future capabilities to integrate video and other multi-media processing in the operator interface. Genesis and the advanced ACD capabilities will be a major focus at the next NAEO annual conference.

We encourage anyone interested in soft switching and virtualization of your Infinity to contact Amtelco. We are excited about this opportunity to further enhance the Infinity Intelligent Series platform and move it into the future with advanced soft switching capabilities. Feel free to contact me directly or reach out to your sales representative for a demonstration of Genesis.

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

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Newslinks November/December 2014 - National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO)