NAEO Newslinks-May08
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May 2008

 




Betty Bouchie
From the Editor:
Something to Think About...
by Betty Bouchie

As I walked to work the other day, I noticed that the crocuses were pushing their way up through the lawns. Many gardeners had arranged them nicely in flowerbeds, rimmed with rocks or bricks. The crocuses had other ideas. They bloomed where they were planted, but they also spread themselves in new directions, outside the confines of the gardener's plan. It made me think about the way we plan our work, our business, our life. We think everything will fit nicely into our lines and rules. Sometimes the most exciting, interesting and profitable opportunities are not neat and tidy. They require a stretch outside our regular thinking, a push through new ground. Spring is a good time to open yourself, and your business, to new opportunities. Stretch outside the flowerbox.

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John Ratliff

From the President:
Spring is in the Air

by John Ratliff

Spring is in the air, and spring is my favorite time of year. Businesses, like closets, need to be cleaned out from time to time. Many times, we put stuff away thinking that we will "get back to it tomorrow" and then, tomorrow never comes. All that clutter adds up to inconsistent performance and out-of-date processes in our business. Take the opportunity of spring’s renewed energy to look at both your physical location as well as your behind-the-scenes processes. This is a great time to engage your agents, as well. They are often great sources of ideas and suggestions on how to make things run better.

Don't forget about your customers! Spring is a great time to get in touch with as many customers as possible to renew and review their account instructions. Much like closets, customer data tends to become out-of-date over time, especially as key players change within your customer's management team. What one manager thought was a great idea, a new manager might think is terrible. Without a review, they may not even know the idea exists in the account instructions. Spring is a great time to take stock of what you have and make any necessary adjustments.

As always, it is also a great time to clean up your physical environment. Does anything need painting? Desks cleaned? Floors, windows, or anything else require work? A renewed physical environment brings new energy.

Enjoy the great weather and get ready for summer!

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IS Training Workshop
Registration is now open!

 

Due to a very strong positive reaction to the Intelligent Series Workshop held in Savannah and requests for more IS training opportunities, your NAEO Education Committee has been hard at work preparing to bring you more!

Please join us at the Hyatt Regency Union Station in St. Louis, MO on June 18, 2008 for a full-day Intelligent Series Training Workshop. Jake Phillips and Gerald Brosseau will be joined by various members of the Amtelco training team to cover basic, intermediate, and advanced topics in a hands-on environment.

Seating is limited and time is short, so act quickly and register today at www.NAEO.org. You can also download the registration form here.

After you complete your training, consider sticking around for the ATSI Annual Convention as well. Registration for the Convention is available at www.ATSI.org

StLouisTraining

June 18, 2008
St. Louis, MO

Register Now!

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One of Those Days...
Looking for a New Job? Consider My Work History

My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned: couldn't concentrate.
Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn't hack it, so they gave me the axe.
After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn't suited for it. Mainly because it was a so-so job.
Next I tried working in a muffler factory but that was exhausting.
I worked as a pilot but eventually got grounded for taking off too much.
Then I tried teaching but I couldn't make the grade.
I spent a few years as a Psychiatrist but everyone's problems drove me crazy.
I wanted to be a barber, but I just couldn't cut it.
Then I tried to be a chef – figured it would add a little spice to my life but I just didn't have the thyme.
I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced it, I couldn't cut the mustard.
My best job was being a musician, but eventually I found I wasn't noteworthy.
I was a pretty good eye doctor, but I could not stay focused on the job.
I worked a long time as a doctor. I gave it my best shot, but I didn't have enough patients.
Next was a job in a shoe factory; but it never touched my sole.
The Energizer Battery Company hired me but then expected me to keep going, and going, and going...
I became a professional fisherman, but discovered that I couldn't live on my net income.
Thought about becoming a witch, so I tried that for a spell.
I managed to get a good job working for a pool maintenance company, but the work was just too draining.
I got a job at a zoo feeding giraffes but I was fired because I wasn't up to it.
So then I got a job in a gymnasium (work-out-center), but they said I wasn't fit for the job.
Of course, I tried being a secretary, but it turned out not to be my type of work.
My years as an exterminator were pretty good, but I got tired of the rat race.
Next, I found being an electrician interesting, but the work was shocking even though it kind of turned me on.
I was a gardener for a while, but I didn't grow with the job even though I was raking in the money.
My career as a comedian was a stand-up success, but the critics thought I was a big joke.
After many years of trying to find steady work I finally got a job as a historian until I realized there was no future in it.
My last job was working at Starbucks, but I had to quit because it was always the same old grind.
You got any ideas? I'm open for suggestions......maybe you have something that WORKS.....cause I don't!!

Courtesy of Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D.

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Be Inspired

"Education means to bring out wisdom. Indoctrination means to push in knowledge."
~Dick Gregory, Comedian and civil rights activist
Submitted by Gary Blair, President, Tele-Page

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Judi Lathan
Judi Lathan

Member Spotlight:
Judi Lathan, Manager - Physician Locator Service/Call Center, University Health Care Systems

Q: Could you tell us how and when your business began?
A: By the fall of 1987, University Hospital had been running a hospital-based, for-fee answering service for its medical staff for almost 15 years. At that time it was totally manual, with the exception of the use of digital [meaning NUMERIC] display screens on hospital phones that would help the operators remember the DID number assigned to the individual practices for use in forwarding their calls. At the point when a call came in, the operators would contend with finding the correct set of index cards in a slot on a large wooden wheel. Consulting the white, pink and/or blue cards and status slips was necessary for each call in order to know whether the office was closed for lunch or for the day, what the contact information was for any number of doctors in the practice as well as what the desired method of contact was for that time of day or day of the week. Mayhem ensued not on a daily, but on an hourly basis. And don't let it be a holiday!

By late 1990, we had planned for and identified a mechanized solution which consolidated all the information and provided screen pop associated with the DID number as the calls came in. The initial and significant resistance to the introduction of the system on the part of the staff, as well as from the doctors, was eventually overcome through the partnering with doctors in particular practices. These doctors soon learned the value of a valid audit trail in the handling of calls and messages. The initial goal of having an answering service in the hospital was much more readily addressed after the introduction of the mechanized system. Having this service in the hospital helped to ensure physician loyalty and enhance internal communication by the clinicians to the medical staff.

Q: What are your most common accounts?
A: Our Emergency Procedures, Patient information account and Hospital Departments as well as our private physician accounts are commonly used.

Q: When did you start using Amtelco equipment and why?
A: In order to use the mechanized system, we still had to maintain separate platforms because there was no way to fully integrate hospital telephone traffic, access patient information, ease use of our alphanumeric paging system, as well as handle calls forwarded from physician offices. We needed to bring the hospital call center onto a shared platform so as to combine and cross-train the hospital staff with the answering service staff in an effort to make full use of fewer and fewer FTEs. Consequently, a search of available vendor solutions brought us to Amtelco. Implementing Infinity allowed us to consolidate functions and physically replace devices which included a telephone, the original answering service terminal, a patient information terminal off the hospital mainframe and a Motorola alphatext paging entry device.

Our first iteration of the Infinity system was installed in 1998. By 2000 we were adding the voice logger capability and installing our third system, as we implemented Infinity functionality to our Nurse Triage function as well as to our Access Services Registration and Pre-certification department. As we approach the second decade of automation in the Call Center and Physician Locator service, we are looking to consolidate these three systems in an effort to gain efficiencies, enhance feature set availability to all the supported departments, and reduce maintenance costs for the enterprise.

Q: When did you join NAEO and why?
A: We joined NAEO roughly in 2000. We saw the advantages of partnering with a world of experts – the other users. Where else can you find this kind of support?

Q: When did you begin in the business?
A: I am originally from Illinois and moved to the Peach State about 20 years ago. I happened to fall into this business quite by accident. I could not find a job when I relocated – every place I went, I was told you are either under-qualified, over-qualified or they did not believe I would stay in the area, etc. I was finally hired through a temp agency and worked there for five months. I became ill and had to go to the clinic at University, where I met a wonderful lady named Bobbi who was, and still is, a nurse here. I thank God for her - she listened to me complain about not being able to find a job and now I’m sick. She put me in the room, went and got an application and said, "Fill this out." The rest, as they say, is history. This was my first permanent job and I have been here ever since. I was impressed with her passion and knew I wanted to be part of this caring organization.

Q: Tell us a little personal information about you, your family and your hobbies or interests.
A: I do not have much free time; however, outside of serving at my Church, Second Providence Baptist Church, N. Augusta, SC, I am a Board Member for our Summerhill Community Resource Center, a program dedicated to educating and improving the lives of children, in addition to the Membership Committee for NAEO. I enjoy spending time with my family, going to my granddaughter’s soccer games, walking, reading and sewing. I have always been interested in home decorating, remodeling and I want to learn woodwork. I want to build something.

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Emergency Procedures – Infinity Style
by Judi Lathan, Manager, Call Center and Physician Locator Service, University Health Care System, Augusta, GA

University Health Care System Call Center is a one-call environment and our emergency procedures override all other simultaneous incoming calls. Our emergency procedures have a distinct ring, alerting the Specialist. If all Call Center Specialists are on calls, the Emergency call will "drop” in on line 2. The Specialist is trained to immediately answer line 2 which automatically places the caller on line 1 on hold. If the Specialist is not on a call, it is an auto-connect.

Quick transfer keys (Shift+F1) are programmed in the main Emergency Procedures account that rings in. The caller identifies the type of emergency and the Specialist will transfer to the appropriate account (Code Red, Code Amber, Code Triage, etc). Each emergency procedure has a separate account with specific call handling instructions as a reminder or quick reference.

The Call Center Specialist will make an overhead announcement (from a separate account within Infinity) for designated areas only. For example, we do not overhead announce room numbers for critical care units (Coronary Care, Intensive Care, and Neuro ICU). However, the exact location including the room number is paged to the responding team. An overhead announcement is made, first using a tone alert (loud noise) to alert everyone of an important announcement, then the pager number is activated. All message forms have the emergency procedure name programmed (i.e., Code Red, Code Amber, etc) and the Specialist need only fill in the exact location (area and room number). This process saves keystrokes and precious time; it actually takes mere seconds to complete. Call control is extremely important.

We have group pager numbers assigned to each emergency procedure that will alert the appropriate response team. The activation of a single pager number will alert everyone simultaneously. The pager numbers are STAT and it overrides all routine alpha-numeric messages being paged at the same time. With the activation of the single pager number, the message is saved, paged and an automatic repeat is set. The same Specialist handling the call is now available to receive the next incoming call.

Our policy is that the response team must respond within 4 minutes. Upon activating the group pager from the dial string, it is programmed to ring back in 4 minutes. At that time, the Specialist calls the floor/area where the emergency is and verifies everyone has responded. If not, the Specialist is then tasked with concentrating solely on finding the person(s) who have not responded.

This process has worked extremely well for us for many years. Having separate files made it so much easier to track and report emergency procedures.

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IS Tip of the Month – Dialing from Database
by Pam Shaffer, Checkpoint Communications

Would you like more control over which telephone number is being dialed from the Oncall Directory? Have your agents ever pressed the "Dial” key too many times and called the wrong number? Consider copying the data from the Oncall Directory into a button within your script! To use this IS feature, start by creating fields to store the Oncall Directory data. Next, insert the OnCall Response Element into the Load portion of your screen and specify which IS fields the Oncall Directory field data should be copied to.

IS image 1

Add a Button to the screen and assign Dial to the action. Instead of entering text, select the script field that houses your Oncall Directory data.

IS image 2

 

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Basic Set-up for Remote Operators
by James Shigley, Monroe Telephone Answering Service

Setting up stations to be remote capable is actually quite easy. It’s all the other things that come with it that complicate it. Is it secure? Do you want to have e-mail? There are so many other "little" questions to think about.

Well, first you need the basics. You need Access to the Remote’s computer, Access from outside the building to Infinity, and the remote needs an internet connection of DSL speed, at the minimum. They also need a land line. (I will discuss VoIP later in the article).

Before we get in to all the fancy things like VoIP, VPNs, and so forth, I will discuss the bare minimum. To set up for a remote, the first thing you need is a piece of equipment with the ability to forward traffic. The reason being, Infinity can only have one IP in it at a time. I would suggest that your Infinity IP should always be your local internal address. There are a variety of ways for this to be accomplished. Most DSL, Cable, or T1 modems have the ability to IP or Port forward. I will not go into details on configuring the IP or Port forwarding as it is different for every piece of hardware/software you may be using. The basic function for using IP forwarding is, when the Modem/Router sees that traffic is trying to talk to IP 1.1.1.1., it forwards all traffic with a destination IP of 1.1.1.1 to IP 2.2.2.2. So 1.1.1.1 is the externally accessible IP of the Infinity and 2.2.2.2 is the internal IP of the Infinity. (The IP located in Infinity.) If using port forwarding, any traffic coming in on ports 5000-5200 would be directed to IP 2.2.2.2 (again, where 2.2.2.2 is the IP in Infinity.) IP forward or using NAT (Network Address Translation) rules is the better way to go, though.

Either way is fine, although IP forwarding is the better way, in my opinion. Some modems do not have forwarding capability (most do), but if you have some kind of router in your system, either a hardware or software based router, it will be capable of IP/Port forwarding. Whatever piece of equipment/software you use to forward, the traffic will need to have an external IP that the remotes are able to access. Whatever your routing solution is will then forward that traffic to the Infinity. Considering the many, many types of hardware and software people will be using, there is no sure-fire "How To” for this step.

Next is configuring Infinity for remote usage. For this, you need to have DIDs or 800 numbers for the remote audio. Most people will have multiple remote operators, so you will need one DID or 800 number per remote op. You will need to create an account for each remote audio. The DID or 800 number you decide to use will, of course, need to be the source ID.


graphic6

Under Source Setup for Day and Night Behavior, select the standard behavior as "Operator Audio.” The station number needs to match the port number set in the specific remote operator’s Infinity. In the example below, the port number would be 5019 in Infinity, making it station 19. If the port number was 5109 then station would be 109. If these numbers do not match, then the operator will not have audio and will not be able to answer live calls.

graphic5


So you now have the basic setup for a remote operator. The op will login into Infinity first, then using a telephone, dial into their specific DID or 800 number for audio. It is not a requirement, but I highly recommend the "black audio boxes” for your remote, so they can use a headset the same as the office, instead of having to hold the receiver while they work.

Now is when things get complicated! What if the power goes out on the remote? What about security? Do you want them to have access to your inter-office e-mail? Is VoIP a more cost-effective option for you, compared to DID/800#s for remote audio?

To prevent problems if the power goes out, I highly recommend either supplying an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) for your remote or requiring them to supply one. It doesn’t have to be a big one – just enough to give them 5 to 10 minutes of battery life so that they can finish any calls they currently have, notify you or your shift supervisor, and perform a controlled shutdown on the computer. If you want to supply them with a larger one or they buy a larger one, that is okay, but you only need one that will last 5 to 10 minutes. The UPS also acts as a surge protector for the computer and will be better than a standard surge protector/power strip. You can purchase a 300-watt UPS for around $50. A 300-watt UPS should be enough to last the average computer 5 to 10 minutes. This is based on an average size, single-monitor computer. More computer equipment would require a larger UPS.

What about security? With a remote computer, you have less control over what is being done on the computer such as what Web sites are visited, what programs are installed. If they manage to pick up a virus, it could easily use the connection to spread into your system, if you provide them with access to your inter-office network. So, it is recommended that whatever antivirus/antispyware software you use in the office, you also install on the remotes. We use Symantec’s Corporate Endpoint Protection; it does more than just AV/AS duties. It has the added benefit of being able to see the remote IP, at the management server, so that you are able to remote in to their terminal. You will have their IP, versus having to explain to the operator how to find it. It also makes installing a new version of Telephone Agent, or Supervisor, easier; just look to your AV management server for their IP.

There are programs that can "sniff” traffic out and monitor activities that are not encrypted. I recommend using a VPN. There are many options for VPNs. Some are free, some aren’t. Windows 2000 (and 2003) server has a VPN built into the operating system that is extremely easy to configure. You simply turn it on and assign it an IP that it then assigns to the incoming VPN connections. To do this in Windows 2000 adv server edition, look under Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Routing and Remote Access
.

graphic4

Under the General tab, make sure these setting are checked.

graphic3

Finally, provide the IP address(es) it can access. I recommend a static pool; that way, you know what IP range it will use on your network. Then, if you see traffic from IP X, you know it is one of the VPN addresses and therefore the traffic is from a remote computer.

You can configure DHCP as well, but it generates its own IP addresses. Those addresses will not usually be able to communicate directly with your local IP range as they technically will not be on your network. For this reason, in my opinion, it is a better idea to put in your own static pool of local IP addresses. In the case below, there is a block of 25 addresses available to be assigned to remotes. Note: The VPN server doesn’t actually use the IP addresses you put here – it merely assigns them to the remotes that login correctly.

graphic2

In your active directory server, in your remote operator’s logins, you will need to set remote access. Note: To assign access, right-click on the user's name in the Active Directory and Click properties. Access is assigned on the "Dial-in” tab. This may also be true for a 2008 server. Using these steps, it takes less than five minutes to set up a VPN.

graphic1

These are two free options. If you look around or search the old list serve e-mails, you will find plenty of other VPN suggestions before you choose the one which best suits your environment.

To quote Donovan Niesen, from the list serve, on this same topic:
"If you're not squeamish to the command line and text-based configs, OpenVPN is a fantastic free software-based VPN. After having loads of connectivity issues with PPTP VPN connections, we moved operators to OpenVPN and haven't looked back. It's very forgiving of connections with fluctuating latency and traverses NAT without blinking.”

I highly recommend using a VPN for security reasons. Without it, you are sending data to and from your network completely unencrypted. A good sniffer could find and capture this client data or find a way into your system, or worst case, both. Using a VPN, you have now encrypted the data. Also by using a VPN, it is not necessary to give Infinity an outside IP – you only need the VPN server to have one. Once you have a VPN connect established, the remote will be able to use Infinity or any other computer in that network’s local IP to communicate with them. To be HIPAA compliant for any medical clients for remotes you will have to use a VPN, as well.

Another reason for a VPN is to allow your remotes to have access to your inter-office e-mail so that they stay informed. It provides another communication form with the office. A VPN is the suggested way for this to be accomplished. You do not necessarily require one, depending on your e-mail server; but without it, the data may not be secure or encrypted. For example, in our office, once the VPN is active the remote operators only have to open their Outlook, just as they would in the office.

I will not go into detail for all the possible configurations of VoIP/Sip usage (there are a lot of them). However, if you have the bandwidth capability for the traffic, VoIP is usually less expensive than using DID/800 numbers for remote audio. Also, operators will not require a land line, simply an internet connection, and you supply them with a little VoIP box. We use these. A VoIP server can be set up free. Most are open source and Linux-based. For example, we use Asterisks. Note: It does so much more than just be a VoIP server and PBX. We use it to record all our calls. This means from the time the call enters our system until it leaves, we have the recording, whereas most other recorders only record when the op is live with the caller. Even after an op has patched the call to a client and "doned” the screen, the call is still technically in the system going thru the VoIP, so we are still recording. This can be beneficial to clients in "he said/she said" situations.

One thing not covered in this article is using terminal server (TS). I have no experience with TS, but if you are planning to run more than 5 remotes, TS server is a very good option to examine. The way it works is the remotes log into the TS and the server does all the work. None of the data is ever on the remote operator’s computer. The remote operator receives the visual of the screen and their mouse/keyboard sends signals to the TS. The remote computer is like a big television screen and TS does the work. This has many positive aspects. It is easy to update software, and if a remote operator no longer works for you, you only have to revoke their privileges and they will not have any of the Infinity programs or other business information on their computer. This also cuts out the need for a VPN as, I believe, TS is encrypted by default. The one downside for TS is licensing, which can get a bit costly.

I think that covers the basics. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask on the List Serve. You can almost guarantee that someone will know the answer – and if they don’t, they will know what direction to point you.

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How to Send a Pre-Made Document to Callers Using UltraComm and Imbedded Commands
by Mark Frey, IT Manager, Extend Communications Inc.

The document to be attached to the e-mail must be saved in \\ultracomm\copia\faxfacts\image\:

UltraComm1
In the account, in UltraComm Supervisor, set up the delivery method – check the "E-mail” box and enter the client’s e-mail address(es) in "Addresses”. Enter your e-mail address in "Custom From Address” and customize the subject line:

UltraComm2

On the Modify Message tab, check "Search For Imbedded Commands.” Check the box "Imbedded Delivery Halts Standard Delivery” if you don't want a copy of every message going to the client as well.

UltraComm3

Under "Doc#/Description/etc” click on the "Add” button. Select the document and click "Add”. The document will be assigned as Document # 1. You can optionally add a description of the document that will be displayed in UltraComm Supervisor:

UltraComm4

UltraComm5

Any additional documents for this account can be added in the same manner and will appear as Doc - #2, #3 etc. Save the changes.

In the Infinity Message form, set up the following lines:
ADR: #
DOCUMENT#: #

UltraComm6

You can have multiple DOCUMENT#: lines to attach more than one file to the e-mail.

When taking the message, enter the caller's e-mail address in the ADR: line between the colon and the #, and enter the document # between the colon and the #. The document number can be pre-entered on the form if a particular document is always or frequently sent.

Set the account to auto "send one time” to UltraComm.

COMPLETE LIST OF IMBEDDED COMMANDS:
ADR: E-mail address
FAX: Fax phone number
RMDR: UltraTalk reminder phone number

WHEN: Date/Time schedule formatted: 08/16/2002 13:45
SCHED: UltraTalk schedule formatted: 1600000001345 (16th of month at 1:45p)
or 0001111101345 (Monday-Friday at 1:45p)

SUB: Subject of e-mail
NAME: Name (attention to) of e-mail
COMPANY: Company Name (to) of e-mail
MEMO: Additional memo text for e-mail

DOCUMENT#: Number of document (as assigned by UC) to attach to fax/e-mail

All imbedded commands are designed to be used with a space following the colon (:); however, they will work with no space. The WHEN: command looks for the first 17 characters after the colon, which typically includes the space immediately after the colon.

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Selling Telephone Answering Service: Handling the Incoming Sales Call
by Bill Smith, Answer One

In the telephone answering market, there is much competition. Unfortunately, ours is the type of business where it is difficult for the inquiring person to tell the difference between companies. Since most incoming sales inquiries are on the telephone, the caller does not have the opportunity to see an office or staff before making a decision about what company to go with.

In order to support your business, you should decide to price your services at a level that ensures your continued ability to stay in business. This might place you moderately higher than some of your competitors. Ours is also the type of business that allows competitors to open up virtually in their kitchens and supply answering services. Of course, these people cannot supply some of the services, or give the level of service, that we provide. The market has more than its share of people who only care about price and will gravitate to the lowest priced supplier. You also may find that these "low price” people are the most difficult people to deal with. Decide in advance where you will go in terms of pricing and hold your ground. When you are dealing with a valued customer, you will find that while they are interested in price, they are more interested in the quality of the person who will be handling their calls. The desired customer realizes that when we take a call for them, we are representing them as well as bringing them business or professionalism.

Because of these factors, your philosophy when dealing with an incoming sales call should be to quote the price last. Most of your marketing efforts - be they Yellow Pages, direct mail, Internet or broadcast faxes - are not designed to make a sale. These things are designed to get the prospective customer to call you, to allow you to make the sale. You will find that a person loves to buy, but does not like to be sold. Because of this, when you take a call, you must give the caller just enough information to allow him/her to make the decision to come to you.

When you take a call, you should try to make a quick connection with the caller. Be as professionally casual as possible – as if you were talking to someone you know. Don’t use slang, of course, but try to convey to the callers that you are concerned about them.

  • First, ask them how they heard about you… if they say Yellow Pages, mail, Internet or fax, make a note for your information. If they say they were referred by an existing customer, that is the best. Try to get the name of that customer.
  • Ask what type of business/practice they have. Mention that you have a number of clients in that same field (name some if you know).
  • Ask some probing questions such as, "Do you have a service now?” If they say no, ask, "Do you know how a service works?” If not, give them a quick education on how they "call forward” their phone. If they answer yes, ask "Why are you calling us?” This will help determine what problems they are having with their current service. They may have unrealistic ideas about what a service can do (ie: answer all calls on the first ring) or they might be looking for a lower price. Either way, this gives you an idea of where they are coming from.
  • Assume that they are calling around to other services and know that their decision to go with your service depends directly on you. Your voice and your attitude must give them confidence that you can do the job for them.
  • NEVER OVER-PROMISE! The worst thing that you can do is give a customer unrealistic expectations of what can be done for them. A salesman once told a customer that they had operators who could speak Patouir, which is a Caribbean French/Island language. Needless to say, one angry customer left with nothing good to say about the company.
  • LISTEN and ADVISE. Many callers will not know what they are looking for, so allow them to tell you what they want to accomplish. Ask probing questions about what they would like done, and then tell them how you can help them. In order to do this, you must be extremely familiar with what it is that you can do, and how you do it. Some callers will sound confused and some will be arrogant, but you must stay calm and focused.

Once you have done all of the above you can discuss pricing. Give your basic pricing structure and tell the caller that you can fax or e-mail them your pricing and something about your additional services. Many times you have already made the sale by this point, so you don’t want to give the caller the ability to delay the decision by asking for the fax information. At that point, volunteer to make up a service proposal (pricing) and fax it out with a customer information form. In either case, you could volunteer to personally visit the caller, or invite the caller to visit your office to discuss it further.

Follow-Up
At this point, the most important item is quick follow-up. Although sometimes you will get call-backs from people who you spoke to months before, every day that you allow to pass after an initial contact allows the caller to get colder. While you shouldn’t be a pest, a call to see if they "got your fax” or "need any additional information” shows that you are interested in the caller. You should have a good follow-up procedure so that, at any time, you are handling new calls and doing second and third follow-ups on previous calls.

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SusanFronk
Susan Fronk
Gathering Fuel
by Susan Fronk, President and CEO, MRA - The Management Association

I've just returned from a national conference with leaders of other employer associations around the country. My thoughts have settled in a familiar place. Before these events I always think, "I really don't have time for this. There's too much going on. This is just crazy." Afterwards, I realize that despite the craziness, the phone calls in the hallway, and the overflowing in-box that greets my return, attending was a good choice. As managers and leaders, we are particularly prone to putting off personal and professional enrichment activities, but that choice provides neither a good model nor the fuel we and our employees need to continue to excel.

Too often our daily activities seem like triage – immediate activities requiring immediate attention. There's no shortage of that. When we focus on those immediate things, it can seem impossible to get away. But feeling like you only address the "issues of today" can also be a sign that you might be bypassing the strategic issues. We miss the forest because of all the trees in the way!

Certainly there are times when we cannot be out of the office. But I think many of those times are self-imposed. This is where your own ability to be organized, to delegate, and to have clear lines of established command becomes very evident. I have spoken with leaders who felt they could not get away (even if the end result would be to enhance business) and that situation highlighted the fact that they had no succession plan in place, no #2 who was equipped to (or recognized as able to) keep high-level things moving.

We all agree that continued development – among all employees – is essential to innovation, to engagement, and to business growth. I believe that team outcomes are directly related to team inputs, and to starve inputs is to weaken outcomes. Clearly, I'm not saying that you and every employee must attend a week-long conference in Hawaii (tempting as that might sound, especially to us in the still-chilly Midwest!), but I am saying that opportunities for growth and exposure to different ways of thinking need to regularly occur and work best when modeled by you as manager or leader.

To increase the impact of your training and conferences, share the high points when you return. Create action steps. Show employees how your time away might influence business objectives. And make it a priority to have employees do that as well to underscore the importance and value of such activities, and to better distribute the learning achieved, like ripples on a pond.

If we all wait until we aren't busy to connect with peers or to learn new things, it will never happen. Investing in you is just as critical as investing in your employees. Lead by example, and you will find that the beneficiaries of your time away will extend far beyond the office walls.

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