membershelpingmembers
April 2010


Betty Bouchie

From the Editor
Making New Friends
by Betty Bouchie

As always, the NAEO conference is still the place where friends gather. Sometimes it is just a matter of finding the friends that you always had, but never realized. The helping comment you extended or the one you found, are all wrapped up in the common ground we meet on each year. I have always enjoyed seeing the people I "listen” to when I need advice. It’s not really meeting for the first time, it is refreshing your memory, because surely, you knew them before.

I read an article which itemized the seven tips for making new friends. It did not say it was about the NAEO conference, but I am sure some thoughts must have come from there. The link is HERE if you would like to give it a read.

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Joe Adam

From the Desk of the President
by Joe Adam, NAEO President

For over a year now, I’ve promised Betty that I would write an article for Newslinks detailing what I hope to accomplish as the next President of NAEO. Not being one to procrastinate (OK, so I’m a year overdue on this article!), I finally sat down and put it to paper.

As many of you already know (if you were at the Newport Beach conference this year), we have started several new initiatives that will have a positive impact on our organization for years to come. The board of directors formed the NAEO Foundation, a 501 non-profit foundation that not only provides financial relief to the heart of our companies (our hourly staff) in case of catastrophic disaster (fire, flooding, etc.), it also makes these financial grants available to anyone in the telecommunication industry whether their company is a member of NAEO or not. We feel that this is just the first step of many that will allow us to give back to the people who help keep our businesses running 24/7.

The initial board of directors for the Foundation is made up of current NAEO Board members (though it is not a requirement to be a NAEO member to serve on the board) and we hope in time, to have a very good cross representation of our industry take over and manage the Foundation for years to come. The current officers of the Foundation are:

  • Joe Adam – President
  • Jim Wagner – Vice President
  • Robin Bailey – Treasurer
  • Gerald Brosseau – Secretary

Cori Bartlett will serve as the Foundation's Operator Relief Committee Chair and assist with the transition from the current NAEO Operator Relief Fund to the Foundation’s Operator Relief Committee. Once we complete the setup process, we will release more information about the Foundation to everyone. Once the Foundation is fully set up, board terms will be three years each. If you are interested in serving on a future board or committee, please let me know.

The second initiative, that is near and dear to my heart, is the Business Continuity program unveiled at this year’s conference. This program was developed in conjunction with a professional business continuity company (Barney Pelant & Associates) and customized for our industry. It’s a very detailed program, that if followed, will prepare your company for any type of disaster— and as an added benefit, you will have a better understanding of your company’s strengths and weaknesses. This is a free member benefit that I encourage everyone to take advantage of. It doesn’t matter if your company is a small family run business or a multi-state conglomeration, this program will work for you. Our plan is to hold numerous webinars this year to help everyone get started with the program and we will make the material available for download shortly. We will also develop a website in conjunction with this program to assist you in completing the program with online training aids and resources.

I see this program as just the beginning of a comprehensive set of tools that NAEO will develop to better assist our members in dealing with any type of natural or man-made disaster. This program is only as good as you make it, so I hope that everyone will take the time to go through this process.

Lastly, I’ve had several people ask me why I chose New Orleans as the site for our next conference. There are a couple of factors that made this the obvious choice for me. First and foremost, I thought it was only fitting that we go back to the place where the Operator Relief Program was born. We, as an industry, have spent the last several years recovering from the horrific effects of Hurricane Katrina. There are those to this day who are still trying to recover both professionally and financially. Second, New Orleans still needs our help; there are sections of that historic town that will forever be gone and numerous areas still trying to dig out and rebuild. Those who did choose to stick it out are still trying to get back on their feet and rebuild their great city. In essence, it’s time to put our money where our mouth is….

So in summary, I want to make my focus for my year in office as the "Year of the Operator." If anyone has suggestions for improvements to our programs and ideas for other programs that would benefit NAEO and its membership (especially our operators), please don’t hesitate to contact me. We (the NAEO Board) are actively looking for members to join our committees. We have several positions available in various committees, so if you have the time and energy, we want you!

I look forward to a very rewarding year and to seeing everyone at our exciting conference in New Orleans next year!

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Be Inspired

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You, too? Thought I was the only one."

~ C.S. Lewis

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Something to Smile About...
If Life Were Like a Computer

  • You could add/remove someone in your life using the control panel.
  • You could put your kids in the recycle bin and restore them when you feel like it!
  • You could improve your appearance by adjusting the display settings.
  • You could turn off the speakers when life gets too noisy.
  • You could click on "find” (Ctrl, F) to recover your lost remote control and car keys.
  • To get your daily exercise, just click on "run"!
  • If you mess up your life, you could always press "Ctrl, Alt, Delete" and start all over!
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Paying by Logged On Time
By Deborah Wohlt, Monroe Telephone Answering Service, Inc.

We were still on cord boards when I first began managing my family’s business in 1980. My grandmother had her staff punching the time clock that sat between the cord boards and utilizing the blank, colored paper intended for message slips. The operators used a fresh slip of paper each day for the beginning and end of their shifts, and all breaks in between. Time stamps appeared chaotically on the slips, sometimes on top of each other, making it difficult to decipher. I had been sent to college to learn more professional business practices, so I introduced weekly time cards and an actual payroll time clock.

This method relied on employees to remember to clock in when they were ready to begin work. Instead, the employee would clock in the moment they were in the building, go to the bathroom, put away personal belongings, chitchat with co-workers, get something to drink, put their headsets on, and eventually sit down at their station although not necessarily begin working. Everyone did it, and not one of the employees thought anything was wrong with it.

I knew I was paying for a lot of non-work time, which irritated me, but short of standing guard over the time clock 24/7/365 there was not much I could do about it. When an employee forgot to punch the clock, trying to determine the actual time was difficult at best. And there was always the co-worker who was being "nice” and clocked the employee out when they remembered after they got home and called back in; giving that employee extra paid time because of course no one thought to tell me.

Sometime after we upgraded to our first computer telephone answering system in 1982, the payroll time clock broke. Rather than buy a new one, I decided that each employee would have their own "account” in the computer system and would put time stamps in the message slip, one slip per pay period. The main attraction of this method for me was they had to log on to their computer station in order to do this. No matter the employees’ job duties, whether taking calls or doing administrative work, they had an account they had to use to record their time stamps on and off.

The time stamp had their initials; if a co-worker was "nice” and did them a favor, that person’s initials would show. There was also the improvement of a more legible format that was much easier to read and concisely displayed. Adding up their time was still a protracted process, operators still wandered around on paid time, and they still forgot to record their time stamps.

It was during this decade that I did away with set breaks. Since they were no longer sitting side by side at cord boards but rather hidden in the cubicles that housed their computer stations, monitoring employee activity was more difficult. Gone were my grandmother’s supervisors that I had relied on to keep order; the ladies who had bounced me on their knees and taught me to work a cord board at the age of two. They simply could not adapt to the new technology and retired.

I found myself replacing all of my grandmother’s staff with people who were under 30 years of age, as any one older than that was either too afraid of computers or not able to handle the faster pace that was a by-product of a surge in telephony offerings and customer demands. Employee expectations and behavior had changed too, with more emphasis on freedom and less willingness to adhere to a rigid set of rules, much less proper and disciplined conduct.

Employees would snack at their stations, one of the primary reasons for a coffee break. Instead of sitting in the lounge during their unpaid meal breaks they would bring their food into the boardroom and chitchat with co-workers while they ate. They would go to the bathroom, another reason for breaks, anytime they wished. Personal calls at their stations became all too frequent while they were supposed to be working, instead of waiting to make them on their breaks. Most of my employees at that time smoked, which had become prohibited in the building with the installation of the computer system, and smokers demanded more opportunities to go outside than their set breaks allowed.

Now, before you think that I am a softie whose employees run roughshod over me, you need to know that in my community, I had (and have) a reputation for running a tight ship. Yes, all of these things were against the rules, but they happened every time my back was turned. I could not do my job and monitor their activity every minute. The supervisors were just as guilty as anyone else and truly felt that there was nothing wrong with doing these things, so they did not enforce my rules.

Yes, I knew what was going on behind my back, which only made the disharmony in the office greater. Confronting one employee would lead to new allegations against others. Remember that this was before cameras and call loggers in the workplace were economical and common, and every report put out by our computer answering system was geared toward client needs, not employee management.

My greater concern at that time was the quality of work provided and customer satisfaction, and that is where I wanted to focus my efforts. Terminating great operators who showed up on time, got the calls answered promptly, took accurate messages, and dispatched them correctly and timely, and then spending six months training a replacement who would not be as good or dedicated but would have the same personal habits, seemed counterproductive to me.

Lastly, I do not believe in having rules I cannot enforce fairly and equally. I believe it fosters an attitude of "the rules do not matter so long as you do not get caught” which erodes respect between management and employees. So I offered my staff a compromise.

We would no longer have set break times, paid or unpaid. They could have the freedom they desired to do whatever they wished during non-peak times:

  • as long as it was slow;
  • they had their supervisor’s permission to go out of rotation;
  • only one person was out at a time;
  • they would only be paid for up to thirty minutes total in an eight hour shift; and,
  • they logged off the computer each time they got up.

In return, they were to do nothing of a personal nature during rush periods, and if it got busy while they were "out” they had to log back in immediately if asked. They still had an account for time stamps, and personal calls made or received on the system had to be done on that account only. My staff found this an acceptable compromise, and valued this extra freedom and more relaxed atmosphere. Most complied with the new policy, completely resolving tensions in the office and putting the focus back on the client; the few who did not were terminated.

Nothing is perfect, and there were certainly forgetful employees who neglected to time stamp in or out, personal calls made on company time, and employees who were out longer than was reasonable. Our second computer system helped us to combat these with reports that showed long calls, and operator log in and log out times. From these reports, by a still lengthy though more automated means, I was able to find the abusers, dock personal call time from their pay, and discipline those who were out of rotation more frequently or for too long a period.

Over time, we added more monitoring equipment, an actual time clock software program, installed cameras and call loggers, and eventually upgraded to the Infinity system. However, my payroll time process was essentially the same:

  • The actual time the computer answering system said the operator was in rotation and available to accept calls was compared to the employee’s time clock stamp. An allowance was made of a few minutes due to time differences between individual PCs and the computer answering system, but anything greater than that caused a manual adjustment to be made.
  • Allowable out of rotation time was calculated based on the time worked that shift, and the employee was paid for all time within the allowance that they used, regardless of how often they were out, provided the time out of rotation was not during a "rush” period, had been with supervisory permission, and no one else was out of rotation at the time.
  • Employees had to record a message (originally in a special account for the messages and later by email to me) if there was anything that would affect their time, such as an out of rotation meeting with management, computer issues, special off system training, etc. These were used to make manual adjustments to their time.

From the NAEO listserv I learned about WebPortal and the Time Clock feature. It used the same MDR information that I drew from. After comparing its results to my manual calculations over several pay periods, and with a little modification to the program made at my request, I was confident that it would produce the same exact figures I would have manually every time, in just a few moments instead of the day it would take me to produce the same data on my own.

Due to the amount of time it used to take to calculate payroll times accurately, decades ago I had changed my grandmother’s policy of a weekly payroll ending on Thursday with a Friday pay date to a bi-weekly pay period ending on the second Sunday with a pay date of the following Friday. Since using the Time Clock (Agent Time in WebPortal), if I wanted to I could actually go back to my grandmother’s weekly payroll ending on a Thursday, and easily produce paychecks by 9 a.m. on Friday morning.

Instead, I like giving my staff four days to review their payroll time at their leisure. My Operations Manager used to dread paydays because employees were often expecting more hours than they actually got paid for. This was usually a result of a miscalculation of their hours on the employee’s part. It required pulling schedules and time sheets to prove that we were not in error.

Now they are happy on payday because they know how many hours to expect on their paycheck. My employees are able to access their own payroll times for any period of days they choose to verify the accuracy. They have time to notify me of any errors, which are normally paid out of rotation times they had forgotten to email me about at the time they occurred.

About five years ago, it came to our attention that businesses were being sued for the actions of their employees while those employees were on paid break time. By this time, my staff had changed from bringing food from home to eat or getting food delivered, to running out to the corner store or the nearest fast food restaurant for something to bring back, often for others rather than just for themselves.

My husband/partner Larry and I became very concerned about this legal liability. We tried everything we could think of to stop employees from leaving the premises during this paid time, including prohibiting it and taking disciplinary actions. At that time, the economy was booming and employees frequently broke the rules without concern about losing their job since it was so easy to find another. That is when we decided to stop paying for any non-work time.

We explained to our staff the legal issues and our concern that one employee accident could cost a lot of employees their jobs from the resulting lawsuit. Instead, we calculated the cost of the paid break time benefit and gave every employee an equivalent wage increase and eliminated the word "breaks” from our policy manuals. From that moment forward, all Message Takers were paid strictly by their "On” time. The sole focus of Message Takers is to get every call answered promptly. To do this, they need to be in their seats at all times, focused on their computer screens, ready and available to answer the next incoming call immediately.

By only paying our Message Takers for their On Time, it encouraged compliance with this goal, resolving a lot of problems. No longer were operators wandering the building. Gone were the problems of employees taking too long on their breaks. The dispute about the fairness of smokers getting extra paid "break” time because of their habit disappeared.

Dispatchers and Supervisors are still paid for their "In” time. This is a benefit for the more demanding and stressful job duties they have that leave little time for them to be away from their stations and their responsibilities. However, these employees do not always work those positions, so they have additional log-ins to separate their payroll time, as do other employees who wear more than one hat.

For instance, when scheduled as an operator, my log in would be "Deborah-O” and I would be paid for my "On” time. Should I be scheduled to dispatch a shift, I would use a log in of "Deborah-D” and be paid for "In” time. If I supervised, I would be "Deborah-S” and paid for "In” time. Agent Time in WebPortal will group "Deborah-O’s” time together as though it is a different employee from "Deborah-D."

Agent Time will provide the Log In and Out times, and Log Out Reason with each "set” of in and out times as a single line entry. A summary at the end of the report gives Time Totals of Logged In and On Hours. Agent Time does so much more, especially if you are also using AMTELCO’s Voice Logger, which I will not go into at this time as it is not used in calculating my payroll and producing paychecks but they are great management tools and highly useful to those who award performance bonuses.

I have always produced my own paychecks and tax reports. For the last ten years, I have been using QuickBooks Pro for my accounting software, which has dramatically improved to the point that these tasks are now very simple, and require almost no more time and effort than it takes to print out the report.

To generate paychecks, I simply print out Agent Time in WebPortal; I like to have a paper copy of this data "just in case” something happens. In QuickBooks, I click "Pay Employees” and enter the times for each employee directly into the "Payroll Information Detail” form from Agent Time in WebPortal. If I have no adjustments, in a matter of minutes I have created paychecks.

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On Call Rotate
By Lucas Delisle, Télé-Page

This is a way we at Tele-Page found to facilitate the agents’ and dispatchers’ work when a client has many technicians on call that change on every message (e.g. 1st message is sent to tech # 1, 2nd message to tech # 2, etc.)

First of all, create a System Field (we suggest you name it after the client):

When you create the Directory for the client, create a Master Field called Number. Assign a number to every technician in the company, starting at 1 and going up to 8 (8 technicians), and enter that number in the Number field of the technician’s listing.

Now, when the script opens, do a Set Field action, setting a field in the script to the value of the System Field:

This allows you to do many things. For instance, in one of our accounts, messages are sent by text on the technician’s cellular phone, so right after the Set Field action, we programmed a Directory Link to go fetch the on call technician’s alpha number:

At the end of the script, when the agent presses Next, the message is automatically sent to the technician’s alpha (a Dial action which dials the value in the Alpha field).

Now you must change the System Field so the next message is sent to the following technician. To do that, what we suggest you do is a series of If Branches when script completes:

Field Equals – Number equals 1
If True, Set System Field ABC Company to 2
If False:
Field Equals – Number equals 2
If True, Set System Field ABC Company to 3
If False: …..

All the way to Field Equals – Number equals 7
If True, Set System Field ABC Company to 8
If False, (this means it must be 8), Set System Field ABC Company to 1

This way, your System Field will switch from 1 to 8 and back as calls come in. You could do this for as many technicians as you need.

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NAEO Newport Beach Annual Conference – A Roadmap to Success!
by Kelli Harrigan, NAEO Conference Chair

The reviews are coming in and our attendees are saying this was one of the best conferences ever! With a great location, a stellar program and the participation of our attendees, it would have been hard NOT to get a lot out of this conference.

For the first time, NAEO offered a Supervisor seminar co-located with the conference, and that started off our conference week on Sunday with more than 30 attendees. It was a great start to the week and the feedback has been very positive.

Sunday evening, we started off the festivities with our First Timers event, welcoming more than 30 first timers to the conference. The First Timers met up with their buddies and had the opportunity to earn some cash with a Bingo game, challenging them to meet a variety of members throughout the conference. A big THANK YOU to NAEO member Tigertel who donated $250 in cash prizes for our First Timer’s Bingo Game. The prize winners were Sam Kooiker from Golden West (First Place - $125), Denise Richmond from Appletree (2nd Place - $75) and Karen Robichaud from Allstar Communications (3rd place - $50). Congratulations to these lucky first timers! Our festivities continued with our opening reception in the Rose Garden – a lovely evening (no rain or gale force winds to force us inside!) for a reception, we enjoyed excellent food and camaraderie as we all reunited to kick off another annual conference.

Monday morning, Amtelco kicked off the conference with their presentation and the start of their "Road Rally” contest that carried on throughout the rest of the conference, awarding prizes for top scores related to a variety of trivia questions in their various sessions. Joe Adam followed up with a presentation on NAEO’s latest member benefit – the Business Continuity Workbook; all member companies received a copy to take home and get started on their planning process. While the process of business continuity planning can be overwhelming at first glance, the workbook helps to map out the process in stages. Joe reviewed the overall plan with our attendees and explained that we will also set up a series of webinars and ongoing training opportunities to help NAEO members with this very important process.

Cameron Herold of www.backpocketcoo.com joined us in the afternoon as our keynote speaker, sharing with us his expertise in preparing your business for growth. His interactive session inspired our attendees to go home and develop their own "Painted Pictures” and share this vision and their core values with their staff to get them energized and aligned to move forward. Several attendees have mentioned that this session alone more than paid for the trip out to Newport Beach!

Monday evening, Amtelco hosted a reception (yes, outdoors and still no rain!) and everyone was treated to a wonderful buffet and more opportunities to visit and discuss the hot topics of the day. Thank you, Amtelco, for a wonderful evening!

At our Annual Business meeting on Tuesday morning, Billy Peppard of Medical Connections was elected to the board; re-elected to the board were Gerald R Brosseau, II of Always on Call and Robin Bailey of The Legacy Connection. Cori Bartlett of Alliance Communications passed the gavel to incoming NAEO President Joe Adam of ACT Teleservices. Tuesday afternoon continued after lunch with breakout sessions for our Operations, Technical and Sales/Marketing tracks and our ever-popular round table discussions.

Breakout sessions continued Wednesday, along with the start of our day-and-a-half long IS Workshop which had more than 50 attendees this year! We wrapped up the conference with our Best Ideas session (see the separate article on that session in this issue) and our closing luncheon. At our closing luncheon, incoming president Joe Adam announced the location of our next NAEO conference – New Orleans, LA, March 13-16, 2011! New Orleans was selected largely because of NAEO’s commitment to the Operator Relief Fund which began when Hurricane Katrina devastated that area. As NAEO focuses on continuing the Operator Relief Fund, and building on our Business Continuity program, the location seemed a fitting choice. Keep an eye on the website, list serv and future issues of Newslinks for more details on the 2011 conference.

See you all in New Orleans!

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Sales & Marketing Track a Hit at NAEO Annual Conference!

A perennial favorite, our "60 ideas in 60 minutes” session from the Sales/Marketing track at the annual conference in Newport Beach was moderated by Jim Wagner and the ideas were flowing. Here are the "takeaways” from that valuable session. A special thanks to Laurie Blow for taking notes.

  1. Everyone in the company should be selling. Incentivize with $250 for three months pay & stay.
  2. Provide all employees with business cards.
  3. Let employees pick their title on business cards.
  4. Pay clients for referrals.
  5. Mine current clients – let them know what more you can do for them.
  6. Use email system every other month to contact all clients.
  7. Utilize Social Media such Facebook and Linked In.
  8. Create a Facebook profile using your company logo and become a fan of other companies, so your logo shows up in their friends list.
  9. Attend trade shows.
  10. Government contract lists for leads.
  11. Newsletters to existing clientele.
  12. Newsletters to potential clientele.
  13. Use "Constant Contact” for sending email. Will let you know who has opened newsletters. If images are not opened, does not show as viewed.
  14. Use newsletters for brand building and name recognition.
  15. Leads groups, networking groups – join or create your own.
  16. Make sure emails are going to the right person in your client’s company.
  17. Web optimization – update frequently
  18. Reach out to business associates and get them to "sell your concept and dream." Provide them with operator training.
  19. Donate services to charities. Require answer phrase or announcement with "This service is brought to you by (your company name).”
  20. Follow up calls to office to ask about receipt of flyers and newsletters. Inform about new features.
  21. When clients call to make account changes, offer a free month of another feature.
  22. Contact non-customers who share coverage with current customers.
  23. Look at the company information on customer checks to see if they are part of a larger group.
  24. Google prospect company while on lead calls to make the more call personalized.
  25. Host a Chamber of Commerce event.
  26. Include marketing messages and requests for non-billing contact information on holiday forms.
  27. Create break-even analysis for different industries so you can provide prospects with industry specific comparisons of the revenue benefits of live answer vs. voicemail.
  28. Ask prospect for the value of the loss they would suffer if an operator made a mistake. Use that amount to give them value of all calls handled correctly.
  29. Potential inquiry – staff can take info and immediately fax pdf. Follow up with invitation to mini webinar.
  30. Give clients an option of a charitable donation instead of a referral fee.
  31. Ask prospects to buy from you.
  32. Everyone talking to customers should have access to your contact management program.
  33. Fridays and Mondays are best days to close sales.
  34. "Creating Competitive Advantage” – come up with reason why someone should use you over a competitor.
  35. When caller inquires about price, ask questions about why they are looking. Ask what problems they are currently having.
  36. All sales people should have a top ten list of prospects. Discuss in weekly meetings.
  37. Set sales goals.
  38. Work backwards from goals. What do you need to reach goal?
  39. Track conversion rates of prospects to sales.
  40. Higher close rate with face to face. Bringing into the office closes sale and generates referrals.
  41. www.aceofsales.com
  42. Make sure agents identify themselves by company name, not just "answering service."
  43. Sales training for front line staff on why customers use service.
  44. Sales staff double headset with operator.
  45. Ensure consistency of those grading calls – include sales staff.
  46. Have all who evaluate calls periodically evaluate the same calls and compare results.
  47. Contact customers via personalized email with note asking if they have any questions or concerns with the service. Offer to send them copies of their data for review.
  48. Following up on mistakes can result in referrals.
  49. Offer to be part of customers’ monthly meetings.
  50. Require sales force to answer calls each week to create sense of value.
  51. Reduce sales commission for give aways.
  52. Watch "The Bucket” with staff and ask them provide you with a list of personal goals by end of year.
  53. Ask clients if they have other locations.

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NAEO 2010 Best Ideas Session
by Kelli Harrigan, NAEO Conference Chair

Last year at the annual conference in Cancun, we tried something new by having our attendees at the last session of the conference share the best idea that they were taking home from the conference. The idea could have come from a session, meeting with Amtelco, Round Tables or any of the various opportunities we all have to network before, between and after sessions. We did the same this year, so if you weren’t able to make it to the conference (or even if you did and missed out on a session or round table), here are the ideas that were shared …

  • Back in ’96, past NAEO president Jamey Hopper of Dexcomm said he was introduced to the internet at an NAEO conference; this year in the session on Social Networking Media, he learned that SEO is not what works to get you to the top of google searches any more – it’s all about social networking media.
  • Jamey Hopper also referenced our keynote speaker, Cameron Herold, and the idea that it costs 15 times annual cost of a salary to keep around a bad employee – you need to get the people out of your office who don’t belong in your office regardless of unemployment expenses or even legal expenses. If they need to go, get them out.
  • Dawn Newborn of Omni also got this tip from Cameron Herold’s session – you OWE it to your good employees who are not the best fit for your business to release them to work someplace else to keep growing; someone may not be a fit in your business and by keeping them, you are stealing time away from their life and the other opportunities they could be experiencing.
  • Sam Kooiker of Golden West shared the idea of providing your employees with an EAP program as a benefit so that when your staff is having personal problems affecting their performance, you can still work with them and get them through the tough time without losing a valuable employee.
  • Gary Pudles of AnswerNet shared his revelation that social networking media is the new community for networking opportunities, similar to Rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, etc. – it is just a new way for us to network and build trusted relationships.
  • Cindy Roth of Absent Answer is taking home an idea for a performance pay plan from Trisha Stenberg’s session on Remote Operators and feels this idea alone will pay for her trip to the conference!
  • Jake Phillips of Appletree learned about Amtelco’s new Universal DID/One # Call Forwarding feature from Amtelco and said this will be a huge asset as we focus on VOIP and disaster recovery moving forward!
  • Tom Gelbach of ACT shared an idea gleaned from the billing strategies round table on how to better "sell” our base rate systems – that the base rate is for pre-planned usage (and can therefore be discounted because we can schedule for it) and overage is unplanned activity and therefore more expensive (could result in additional labor hours, overtime, etc). The idea is that the base rate should be minutes included at a lower rate and the overage at a higher rate. Tom encouraged everyone to always be looking to improve on our ways of doing business.
  • Elaine Cook of Tigertel learned more about transitioning from a two-call environment to a one-call environment and felt that this will resolve many issues that her office is experiencing.
  • Chris Marshall from Appletree shared that this year especially, he realized the value of spending more time focusing on the sessions and networking with the attendees at the conference, focusing on that rather than checking email on his computer, his phone, etc., and truly reaped more rewards from this conference by changing his focus.
  • Doug Swift of Tigertel mentioned that his priority coming to the conference was getting to know three or four more people within NAEO. He was successful and has now expanded his network of people he can pick up the phone to call with a question or to discuss an idea. This is the power of NAEO.
  • NAEO past president Jim Wagner of Wagner Communications found Cameron Herold’s Painted Picture idea to be especially valuable.
  • Gary Pudles agreed – Gary has come up with his painted picture which he has since shared with his managers and team and received an excellent response. This and the discussion on Core Values are critical pieces of establishing the culture – always think about the story you are conveying. Your employees always want to know where are we going – they want to understand the big picture. Engage your team so they are focused on growing in alignment with your vision. You have to set the tone, share the vision, inspire them to reach the goal.
  • Lina Masri of Extend Communications said that while she is not an owner, she felt she could come up with a painted picture vision of her own. Following Cameron’s session with our panel discussion of Core Values really hit home for her and gave her ideas on what they can do back in the office.
  • Jim Wagner also mentioned that after a past NAEO conference with Verne Harnisch as the keynote speaker, he realized the value of sharing your goals with your staff. He has re-established his long term goals and realized that he need to share his long term goals with his staff so that they understand where they are headed.
  • Rich Press from All Voice Communications found out his main phone carrier is shutting down the switch they rely on! He also realized that he had not been treating all of his employees as sales people and sharing the marketing plan with them – now he will be going home to share the plan with them and get them business cards and get them all working to promote the business.
  • NAEO President, Joe Adam of ACT said that we are in the communication industry and yet we all struggle to communicate effectively within our organizations. Get staff at all levels involved in the processes that you may be changing or affecting so that everyone is on the same page – don’t assume they don’t know how to help.
  • Deborah Anders of the Legacy Connection shared that while she is not an owner, she takes ownership in her company. She encouraged other non-owners in attendance to take the ideas they got at conference and share them with the owner of the company and get them as excited about them as you are – don’t be afraid!
  • Cindy Roma of Telelink has been working with Cameron Herold and she encouraged everyone to establish their core values before the "painted picture." Once you have the values and painted picture, everyone should have their top five goals each week, and the goals should support the painted picture.
  • Jamey Hopper of Dexcomm followed up on this thought about looking at Core Values – pointing out that whether you have them already written down or not, you HAVE core values – the process you need to go through is IDENTIFYING what they are based on your culture (see Verne Harnish’s book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits).
  • Tom Gelbach of ACT mentioned that for years he has resisted the idea of NAEO hiring paid speakers from outside of our industry for our conferences, but he has been reading through Cameron Herold’s handouts since his session and now sees the real value to the information he had to share with our group!
  • Terry Jones, a first timer from TelePage, said that when his boss told him to come to the conference, he didn’t think there would be much for him, a technical person, to get out of it. But Terry said he had a ton of notes to take back with him, got a lot out of Cameron’s session and it has been a great experience!

Besides the ideas that we are all taking away from the conference, there were many comments about how valuable the conference experience can be. With more than 30 first timers in attendance at the conference this year, there was a lot of encouragement for them to get involved and take advantage of the community NAEO offers. Dawn Newborn of Omni encouraged all of our first timers to start communicating with the members via the listserv right away when they got home— ask any questions that they came up with during the conference; no question is stupid and it can generate discussion that will help all of us. Dawn encouraged all attendees to go home and start making major changes based on the information learned at the conference. Don’t let fear block you from trying these ideas that can make you successful! If you don’t know how to get started, go on the list serv and ask for advice.

Past NAEO President Maryann Wetmore of Network One encouraged our first timers, even if they are not the owners of their companies, to get involved in the organization and join committees to help out. We need the young movers and shakers to get involved, be passionate and keep moving our organization forward – it is a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. Gerald R Brosseau, III agreed, noting that "We learn as much from sharing with each other as we do when leading a session!"

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Listen Up!
by Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor

Last month's newsletter was on questioning techniques, and thank you for the tremendous response to that article. Seems we hit a nail on the head. Many folks requested a reprint. And to continue to do that, we wanted to bring you another article that would follow in its footsteps. That would be listening skills.

Do we really LISTEN? Do we really HEAR what people are saying? Are there any methods, tricks, ideas, tips or techniques to make us be better listeners? We at Telephone Doctor believe there are.

Taken from our newly released DVD on listening skills, below are some ideas to help those who are having trouble being a good listener. In truth, some of us aren't good listeners. What do some people do that others don't in order to be good listeners? If you're going to ask great questions, then you need to listen to the answers you're going to get.

Let me ask you. What do you think the difference is between listening and hearing? Don't we all listen? Don't we all hear people talk? First, let's explain the difference. Hearing is physical and listening is mental.

It's pretty simple. Take a TV commercial. We normally hear it, but do we always listen to it? Probably not. Especially if it's about something we're not particularly interested in for ourselves or even others. There were plenty of holiday commercials that I "heard" on TV, but I didn't really listen to them, because they didn't interest me. Getting the picture?

Take the Super Bowl ads. We talk about them before they're even on TV. How many can you remember now? My guess is you'll recall those that were of "interest" to you. You listened to them. We all "heard" them. We watched them. But again, how many did we really listen to?

OK, heads up. Here are six easy steps to becoming a better listener. There are more, for sure, but starting with these will help you a lot.

  1. Decide to be a better listener. You can really decide to be a good listener. It's a decision. Will everything be of interest or value to you? Maybe not, but not listening might be dangerous. So make a mental decision to listen better to those you talk with, especially if you have asked them a question and they answer. You need to LISTEN to them.

  2. Welcome the customer on the phone or in person; in business or at a social event. We need to make the person feel welcomed. That in turn helps make you a much better listener. Be obviously friendly when you're talking with a customer. And it's got to be sincere. Most folks can tell when you're not. So bring a welcoming phrase to the table and use it to make the customer feel as though he's a long lost friend!

  3. Concentrate. This is not the time for multi-tasking. And today, we can all turn to the left or right and catch someone texting and probably having an in-person conversation as well. One of these things will be in trouble. We simply cannot do two things well at once. Your concentration must be on the customer, again, in person or on the phone. Do nothing else but "listen."

  4. Keep an open mind. Why do we need to do this? I'll tell you why. Some of us think we know what the other person is going to say before they say it and so we interrupt or interject our comments before the customer can answer. That's not keeping an open mind. That's interrupting. Some of the time we're right and we do know what the person will say. But it's important to put your teeth in your tongue and not interrupt. By keeping an open mind, you'll gain more information as well.

  5. Give verbal feedback. Talking with someone and not acknowledging what they're talking about is very frustrating for them; especially on the phone, because we don't even have body language to check out. So a few "I see," "That's good," "OK," "Interesting," and a few words and phrases like that help the person feel that you're listening and listening well. In person, you have the ability to nod and smile and they can SEE your expressions. However, on the phone, we need verbal feedback. And be careful we're not saying the same word over and over. Like OK, OK, OK, OK. That's boring to both of you.

  6. Take notes as you talk. And yes, even in person. That's perfectly acceptable! Taking notes and letting the person know you are doing it is a sign of great interest. I do it all the time when I'm on the phone. I tell the client, "I'm taking notes so we can refer to them later and so I don't forget what you're saying." No one has ever said, "Don't do that." Most say, "Good, that's super!" Taking notes so you can refer to them is a big compliment. Don't forget to do it.

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