NAEO Newslinks-Oct08
membershelpingmembers
October 2008

Save the Date!

2009 NAEO Conference

March 1-4, 2009
Cancun, Mexico

For more details,
click here.




Betty Bouchie

From the Editor:
Fall, A Time of Change
by Betty Bouchie

I had the opportunity to take a very long drive today and was quite surprised that in some places the leaves have just barely started to change color. For anyone who has never had the opportunity to see a full spread of autumn leaves, it is a magnificent sight. It is also a visual reminder, just like the first snowfall, the first tree buds and the first pair of shorts, that change is inevitable. The leaves remind us that change can also be awe inspiring and dramatic. Those magnificent leaves will be shed in order to make room for new. Without the fall, we would not have the spring and a chance to be refreshed and renewed. So whatever the autumn change where you are, allow it to remind you to take stock and shed some of the old to make room for the new.

Back to Top


Scholarship Deadline: October 1, 2008

NAEO has two scholarship programs available to its members, but hurry – the deadline for submissions is October 1!

For information on either scholarship and to apply, visit www.naeo.org.

William & Eleanor Curtin Scholarship
NAEO offers this scholarship to individuals who demonstrate similar entrepreneurial traits. The applicant should be a motivated, curious individual who has chosen Telecommunications as a career.

The recipient will receive a $500 cash award to be used to attend a conference or educational course or for the development of an innovative approach to call center management in his or her office.

The Christina Collins Educational Scholarship Fund
The scholarship will be bestowed on a worthy employee from a NAEO member's office for the sole purpose of attending the annual NAEO or ATSI conference or any other seminar or training sponsored by NAEO (registration fee, room and board) within 16 months from the date awarded.

Back to Top






Be Inspired

"Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, which is why most people don't recognize them."

~ Ann Landers

Back to Top






Something to Smile About...

Q: How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?

A:
None. That's a hardware problem.

Back to Top



Gary Blair

Member Spotlight:
Gary Blair, President, Tele-Page

Q: Could you tell us how and when your business began?
A:
The company was started in 1970 under the name of Alert Answering Service Ltd. by my grandmother Florence and my parents, Ron and Audrey Blair. At the time, my grandmother had been working in the industry for some 30 years and – her words not mine – "at sixty-four years of age it was either retire the following year and wait to die or start her own service.” She decided on the latter, working full-time up until the age of 80, after which she enjoyed 20 years of very active retirement until she passed away in 2006 at the age of 100. The name Tele-Page was adopted in 1980 after we became a licensed Paging Carrier.

Q: What are your most common accounts?
A:
I’m starting to think we have no more common accounts. Actually, that’s not entirely true. We certainly have a strong base of traditional TAS business that represents the gamut of the traditional users, but as time goes on, we have more and more special needs business, much of it requiring more IT emphasis, customized reporting and a more sophisticated level of agent.

Q: When did you start using Amtelco equipment and why?
A:
We installed our Infinity in April of this year and almost immediately began using it for specific stand-alone voice mail and paging applications. We made the decision of going IS from day one for each and every account and have our official cut scheduled for late October. We chose Amtelco equipment because of its reputation for reliability and the company’s commitment to innovation.

Q: When did you join NAEO and why?
A:
We joined NAEO when we signed for our system in November of 2007 in order to learn and share and hopefully, one day, to be able to return the same to others – be they newcomers or some of the long-term Infinity operators – as I’m of the firm belief that everyone has something to contribute and should. In the interim, my contribution is in the form of the quotes used for the Newslinks "Be Inspired” section.

Our team - the heart and soul of Tele-Page

Q: When did you begin in the business?
A:
I joined the firm full-time in 1977 after graduation but, being a family business, I had always been active in the business on one level or another. I think my first responsibilities included washing floors, folding and stuffing invoices and anything no one else wanted to do.

Q: Tell us a little personal information about you, your family and your hobbies or interests.
A:
In my precious spare time, my partner Earl and I run a private foundation called the Art for Healing Foundation. We started it six years ago after a good friend of ours died in-hospital. As art collectors, we both felt that the hospital environment he passed away in left much to be desired in terms of a "healing” environment and so the foundation was born. Six years after its inception, Earl now works full-time on the foundation and to date, we have hung just over two thousand works of art in 23 hospitals, geriatric centers and other health related facilities in and around Montreal. We’re also expanding and have just begun our very first project outside Quebec, in Toronto, Ontario. For anyone interested in knowing more about the foundation or to see some of our projects, you can visit us online at www.artforhealingfoundation.org

Q: What is one thing about you or your business that is different or unique?
A:
Tele-Page is located in Montreal, Quebec, the heart of French-speaking Canada. A little known fact outside of Canada is that Montreal is the second largest French-speaking city in the world. As such, our center is fully bilingual and one of our very strong niche markets is providing French language services for other centers across Canada and the U.S.

Back to Top



Top 10 Reasons to Never Miss an NAEO Conference!
by Kelli Harrigan, Conference Chair

In the great Letterman tradition, here’s your NAEO Top 10 list…

10. Experience a new location. Be inspired by new sights, sounds and ambience. Cancun in March – how can you beat that? (Of course this is being written by a Wisconsinite who will be ready to escape the great white north by then!)

9. Refresh and recharge your batteries – get away from the office and the day-to-day crisis management to recharge your creative and professional juices by being among industry leaders.

8. Meet with Amtelco staff to talk about where you’ve been, where you’re going and how they can help get you there.

7. Re-connect with industry friends and meet new friends who will remind you that you are not the only person dealing with staffing issues, personality conflicts, scheduling problems, customer service issues and constantly changing technology.

6. Bug Kevin Beale with a million wishlist items that he just HAS to get into the next version of Infinity!

5. Network! Networking doesn’t end when the sessions do – there is caucusing to be done at the social events, around the pool, on the beach, at the golf course, at the bar, even in the Jacuzzis! Sometimes the best ideas come up when you least expect it. And one big idea can be the return on your investment in attending the conference.

4. Learn new tips and tricks to make your system sing and your staff excel! You simply can’t make it through an NAEO conference without at least one AHA! moment.

3. Get a peak into the future of our equipment and our industry

2. Brainstorm with your industry peers about solutions to all of those staffing issues, customer service issues and equipment issues that torment you!

1. Discover 1 (or 2 or 3) new ways of growing your business and earning more revenue, saving costs or just more effectively managing your business or department.

Plan now to join us in Cancun, March 1-4, 2009 at the Cancun Palace.Don’t forget to get your passport now if you don’t already have one (click here for an application wizard).

Registration brochures will be in the mail soon and we will be having a drawing for prizes for registrations received by November 15 – more details coming soon!

See you in Cancun!

Back to Top



Setting Appropriate Volume Rates in Call Centers
by Gary Pudles, The AnswerNet Network

Setting rates for call center services is an art form based on resource costs and agent utilization rates. It is different than rate-setting for traditional telephone answering services because call lengths often vary widely. As those in the telephone answering services industry know all too well, pricing accurately to account for agent productivity and meeting financial margins is a challenging process. How do you set your rates for agent time and how will volume affect those rates?

Historically, answering service rates were based on a per call basis. Most people knew that the average answering service call lasted about 40 seconds and if you charged per call you could back into a large per minute rate by charging for inbound and outbound calls including no-answer calls. More and more people are now billing by time.

However, these rates are not realistic for large call center accounts. Answering service rates tend to be higher because the call volume is generally low. Most of your answering service clients do not generate enough call volume to affect your agent utilization rates. But when a large volume client with incoming calls at almost all times of the day enters the picture, per minute rates are cost prohibitive to that client. If these rates are presented to a potential large volume client, the client will have to decide between paying a higher rate per hour or open his own call center.

This is why, when setting rates for large volume clients, the per minute rate is often lower than it is for low volume accounts and answering service accounts. When you know the calls will be coming in consistently, an hourly rate not only makes sure your agent utilization rates are being met, but also ensures the potential client sees the value of outsourcing his contact center needs instead of keeping the work in-house.

Back to Top


 

 

 


Attitude is What YOU Make it
by Dee Hawkins, A Better Answer

A good attitude seems to be the hardest thing to keep consistently positive. In an effort to remind staff periodically, we pass this out and ask everyone to read and do the exercise. It’s fun and it really works. We got this somewhere, added our own words and passed it on. So from my house to yours, sharing…

Attitude is What YOU Make it

Ask yourself these questions:
How do you react in the face of correction?
Do you face it, fix it and go on?
Do you get angry, grumble, pout or get negative?
Do you ever comment positively when others do normal tasks correctly?
Do you even pay attention to the regular things going on around or just take everything for granted?

Every two weeks you receive a paycheck.
Every time it’s supposed to be correct – you expect and need it to be correct.
Every once in a while, there might be an error (hours short, etc.)
We get yelled at or corrected for even the most minor mistake.

A good example of professionalism is:
Your check is correct: When we prepare checks, we double-check everything to make sure it’s perfect. When we discover we made an error before you receive it, we fix it immediately because we know how important your check is to you – perfect the first time. It’s money for food, rent, gas, school and more.

Your check is wrong: We get criticized because we made an error…sometimes you’re frantic we made a mistake—sometimes you’re angry, sometimes concerned—but you are always anxious to get it fixed immediately.

How do we react?
We are surprised we made a mistake on your check. We’ve worked hard to make sure everything was perfect but this time it wasn’t. We double check to prove you’re right. We apologize for your inconvenience. We immediately correct the check and get it right to you. We get criticized because we made an error…but we still go on positively and correct the problem. We didn’t get an attitude about having to listen to you, didn’t get an attitude about you that you were just too picky, didn’t tell anyone you had an attitude about a small mistake on your check, didn’t get an attitude about having to fix it, didn’t get an attitude about having to fix it immediately, didn’t get an attitude about having to put a stop-pay ($15 fee charged to us by the bank) because you lost your check, didn’t get an attitude. And all those attitudes we didn't get were BAD ATTITUDES.

Assignment: Cross out everywhere the words "check” or "payroll check” appears. Write in message or customer service. What did you learn?

Back to Top


 

 

 


Modified Operator Statistics Report (Interval)
by Dan Gill, Anserphone, Inc.

Below are few points of explanation regarding Anserphone, Inc.’s operation:

  • We pay on time plus authorized breaks.
  • We are a one-call center with a blend of TAS and Inbound Telemarketing calls.
  • We do not have dispatchers.
  • We use auto connect.
  • We have very few clients using perfect answer.
  • We have one generic male and female perfect answer.
  • We have full- and part-time remote operators on all shifts except midnights.
  • WE USE THE WEB PORTAL TIMECLOCK AND APPS EXTENSIVELY.
  • We modified the canned Operator Statistics report to provide statistics for our operator staff that were easily understood. Additionally, we wanted to highlight those parameters which are important to Anserphone and clearly provide metrics for the employee to judge their performance versus their co-workers performance.

The most important stat for Anserphone is the percent on time. Our goal is 98% or greater. One could assume that since this is also the basis for the operator’s payroll, it would also be important for them, but unless it is presented to them in a fashion they can understand, you never know!

Our next important parameter is percent talk time. This stat is a good indicator of staffing efficiency. It also bypasses the masking of highlighted disconnect contributed by operators excessively fetching accounts to avoid a call, in a one-call environment. Heaven forbid! Our goal is 40 – 45%.

The next important stat for us is the percent disconnect. Our goal is 20% or below. Operators who perform tasks not related to answering calls request a time adjustment. Currently they use the built-in Timeclock mechanism. Formerly they used a message form in an admin account to request adjustments.

At this point, we look at the remaining statistics to a much lesser degree since the operators have little control over them:

A few months ago JCL Communications offered a report to the NAEO list that we have also modified and adopted. Thank you to JCL Communications!

The report is published on our website for our operators' access and is a great tool for performance reviews since all operators are compared equally for the same parameters.

Back to Top



Smile...It May be the Boss Calling
by Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor

The week of August 11 is National Smile Week. Yes, I’m serious. And there’s rarely a program I present that someone doesn’t ask me if smiling is really that important – either on the phone or in person. People actually ask me: "Nancy, can you really hear a smile?" Yes, you can really hear a smile. And your caller can hear the lack of a smile as well. So this is a column about smiling and the reasons for it. Now, if you happen to already be a smiler, you might want to pass this article on to someone who isn’t, or doesn’t know that you can hear a smile. First, let’s take the word smile from Webster’s Dictionary:

Smile: To smile, be astonished; to have or take on a facial expression, showing pleasure, amusement, affection, friendliness, irony, etc...and characterized by an upward curving of the corners of the mouth and a sparking of the eyes

See!! It’s something most everyone can easily do.

And if it’s that easy...don’t you wonder why more people don’t do it? Haven’t you ever been in a store, or just been walking around, and see that people aren’t smiling. Even when you start talking with them?

A recent New York Times review by Roxana Popescu of the book A Brief History of the Smile written by Angus Trumble asks a very good question – "Why do English speaking people say 'cheese' to make you smile, but Chinese speakers say 'eggplant'?" And Trumble continues, "The spontaneous smile of the little child is essentially truthful."

"Certainly we all know, not saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is usually considered rude," says Friedman, "but the list of rude behavior is much longer than those offenses. I’m not sure why we constantly need to be reminded to smile," she continues, "but we do. You’d think it was common sense to smile when you’re with a customer." Ah, but common sense is not that common now, is it?

Will a smile help? "Well," says Friedman, "as my mother used to say, 'It couldn’t hurt.'" Friedman also suggests keeping a mirror by your desk. "That," she says, "is yet another good reminder to keep a smile on your face when you’re talking with customers."

My husband and I are in airports a lot. We’ve made a conscious decision to keep a slight smile on our face when we walk through them. Why? Because when we looked at the faces coming toward us... mouths turned downward, looking worse than sad – almost mad...we decided we didn’t want to look like that. Sure, it may feel a little funny keeping that little smile on our face, but we both know we look better for it.

Smile Week reminded me of a story a skycap told me a few years ago. You’ll enjoy it.

Joe, our friendly skycap at the St. Louis airport told me this story. He was walking through the airport a while back and came upon a woman sitting hunched over on her luggage – mouth turned down as far as it could be turned down. She looked – in his words – terrible. He decided to go over and ask her if she was OK. "Excuse me, M’am," he said, "are you OK?" The woman looked up – mouth continuing to be turned down, and grumbled a mean "yes." "Well," he said, "notify your face."

So remember, if someone comes up to you and asks, "Are you OK?" it probably means you don’t look very happy.

Now say..."Cheese."

Back to Top



Scheduling Infinity Holiday Mode
by Marie McGuire, AnswerTel

This setting is system-wide, so please be very careful in choosing the dates and times for this to be effective. Based upon the programming of your accounts, this will affect the schedules for auto-actions as well as the day/night behaviors. This will also default the greetings to NIGHT.

Go into Infinity Supervisor / Schedule:

Click on ADD; and from the drop down box, choose HOLIDAY. Then determine what date and time you want the Holiday mode to begin. Put a check mark in the HOLIDAY MODE box in lower right corner. If you would like the Infinity Lady to say a greeting, you may choose one from the lower central part of the screen. Click on SAVE.

Be sure and schedule the HOLIDAY OFF mode; also, determine what date and time you want the Holiday mode to end. Uncheck the HOLIDAY MODE box in lower right corner. This will cause all normal activities to resume.

Again, be really careful as this is a system-wide event. Watch your accounts that may fax all undelivered messages and then deliver them. This may cause operators to think calls have been dispatched to the proper on-call person, when they really have just faxed or emailed to the office. As Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's can cause some offices to have really strange office hours, I have found it makes it easier to sometimes change the UltraComm code to fax or email the undelivered messages and NOT mark them delivered. The staff can then file them as needed when they do message checks. We found the extra time taken in doing this is much better than making a mistake.

Back to Top



Hurricane – Lessons Learned
by Deborah Wohlt, Monroe Telephone Answering Service

So, there’s something brewing in the Atlantic and you might be in the cone of predicted landfall. Do you:

  1. Assume it’s a false alarm, never to come your way, as it’s been twenty years since the last one – like we did with Rita in 2005;
  2. Believe the forecasts that it’s going somewhere else and you need not worry about it – as with Humberto, September of 2006;
  3. Sit tight and plan on riding it out as it is only a tropical depression – which was Edouard at the beginning of August, 2008;
  4. Comply with the mandatory evacuation because media frenzy has your staff spooked – that was Gustav at the end of August, 2008; or,
  5. Evacuate to a safer location when everyone is certain it is going somewhere else – as they did with Ike in September, 2008.

Beaumont, like Houston, is located in Texas’ gulf coastal plain; and like Houston, much of the area is built on forested land, marshes, swamp, or prairie. Also like Houston, we have an inland port, and the waterways leading to them attract hurricanes. Living my entire five decades in the Houston-Beaumont area, I have both a healthy respect for these storms and a lot of experience dealing with them.

I sweated out my first hurricane, Bonnie, a category one in 1986, as manager of my family’s business. I had been through other hurricanes growing up – such as Carla (1961) that adults would always afterwards swear had hit our rooms when demanding that we straighten them up. I knew well the drill of taping/boarding windows, stocking up on batteries and canned goods, filling bathtubs full of water, etc.

Hurricane Alicia in 1983 marched right up the ship channel and wrecked havoc on Houston, especially the glass panes in downtown skyscrapers. While we had already made the migration from cord-boards to a micro-computer system, we were still tied by technology to our location. All we could do during Alicia and Bonnie was watch the trees fall, wait for the power to come back on, and hope for the best.

RITA
We honestly didn’t think Rita was coming our way until almost the last moment. We made a lot of mistakes and new friends, solved a lot of problems by thinking "outside of the box,” and got by mostly on luck, determination and faith. Our experiences, over a three month period, are another story; one I shared later with colleagues in Houston. In a nutshell, we learned:

  • If an evacuation is called by your local authorities, expect most of your staff to leave before the order goes into effect – and if you don’t have a destination in mind for your employees, they will scatter to the four winds;
  • Paying them in advance doesn’t assure they will return. They will either call you constantly wanting money or you never hear from them – neither of which is a predictor of whether they will return nor when;
  • The government cannot be counted on to help you much after the storm. You can only count on your insurance company to try to get out of helping you any way they can, but adversity will certainly show you a staff person’s true character;
  • If you plan to provide service to your clients during the evacuation and afterward, you need to have a detailed plan and the technology in place ahead of time to do so – but don’t expect them to be grateful, understanding, cooperative, or even to pay you;
  • If you are going to have either your staff or someone else’s work using your equipment, you need to have it in a co-lo or multiple working generators at your site with someone baby-sitting them, and anything that can go wrong – will; and,
  • You should make your plans well in advance, communicate them regularly to your staff and customers, and assume you haven’t thought of half what you will need to do.

HUMBERTO and EDOUARD
After Rita, we devised a plan to evacuate our staff to another answering service’s office. We would put our staff in nearby hotels, use both staffs to handle calls, and use their equipment to get into ours. I would provide a safe place to stay and the gas to get there. My clients would be served by operators who knew their wants and needs, and my staff would continue to earn a paycheck no matter how long things lasted.

Our insurance agent told us that we could only be reimbursed for our costs if we "allowed” the other service to pay our costs including labor, as our policy could pay them but not us directly. This meant placing someone else financially at risk, someone who would have to bill us and hope that they would be paid. If the insurance company paid, as they had with Rita, the other service stood to make a profit. But what if the insurance company refused?
Of course, we could bill our clients for the costs, but what if we had no clients? This is exactly what had happened to a friend of mine in Florida when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992. He had done everything right he thought to protect his business and keep it up and running before, during and after the storm. His employees came back – but not his clients.

Humberto was supposed to be a tropical storm headed toward Houston that turned suddenly in the night and came ashore as a category one hurricane headed directly toward us. Many of our supervisory and senior staff had remote operator capability and were able to log on from home to handle the unexpected spike in call volume.
We knew in advance that our clients were going to be closed for tropical storm Edouard, so we were able to arrange to have excess staff available to handle the high call volume. Our habit with severe weather conditions is to pay our staff double time during the period of the unusual call activity (a strong inducement to make it to work when our clients’ staff doesn’t), and pass that cost on to our clients.

GUSTAV
As it became apparent that we might be forced to evacuate for Gustav, we faced a dilemma: impose ourselves on another service, as planned; or, do something else on our own. My sister-in-law in Shreveport was willing to let us use her home, with room for those employees evacuating without family, so I needed hotel rooms for those with children. I delayed making reservations and in a single hour, the situation changed from plenty of rooms available to none to be found.

I found a rental company with a five bedroom house with the utilities on. My sister-in-law, Cathy, hand delivered my cashier’s check and got the key, but from the first moment she saw the house, knew it was a mistake. With staff already set to go there, I was determined that we would make the best of it since we seemed to have no other options. Cathy spent countless hours trying to make the house livable.

On their way to Shreveport, my staff encountered heavy traffic and reports that Gustav was on a direct line for Shreveport, over 200 miles inland. Then my staff got to the house, and quickly agreed with Cathy that it was no solution. Instead of focusing on getting their families settled so they could get to work and relieve the ones left back in Beaumont, my staff was in a highly agitated state worried about their families and doubting they had done the right thing in coming to Shreveport.

Cathy is a Realtor/closing agent, so she contacted a client who had a home for sale suitable for our staff and asked them if they would be willing to rent it. This was a big risk to my sister-in-law’s reputation, a position I would never have put her in if we weren’t so desperate. To my staffs’ credit, they left the place better than they found it, and the owners were happy with the extra cash.

James, our tech, had arrived ahead of the first shift of operators to evacuate, and worked hard to transform Cathy’s garage into an answering service. He bought a couple of window units to cool the area, set up tables and chairs he had brought, and laid out equipment. He worked with Larry, who stayed behind as always, to get the computers talking to the Infinity and other servers back in Beaumont. Leslie, my assistant manager, had followed James so he would have an operator available to test all the stations.

Anxious to get out of town, those who had worked while the first shift of operators evacuated, were ready to get on the road as soon as they knew the others were in Shreveport. I was the last to leave, with a couple employees riding with me. I arrived in Shreveport late at night, so I parked my RV at the Wal-Mart rather than wake Cathy’s neighbors.

The next morning, we arrived at my sister-in-law’s to find that Leslie had ended up working all night and she was exhausted. Cathy was busy feeding my staff, a sleepless James was running around putting out fires, and my cell phone was ringing nonstop. Tensions were high among family members of operators who were strangers to each other but thrown into sharing a house together.

Getting the second shift of evacuated operators on the phones at Cathy’s, I took the first shift with me back to the other house for a meeting. With their family members listening but not participating I: thanked everyone for coming and apologized for the confusion; reminded everyone just why we were here together and why they had chosen to work rather than stay in a shelter; allowed them to voice their concerns and complaints; and, with their agreement, established a plan of action.

While the operators headed back to Cathy’s to relieve their co-workers, I took selected family members with me and allowed them to purchase some groceries for the household, and saw to their other needs. My cell phone battery refused to die while I fielded call after call of wants, needs, questions, opinions, and attitudes.

As my staff settled down into a routine and strangers became friends, learning to make the best of their situation, I reviewed my mistakes. Watching Gustav make landfall at New Orleans, I had the unshakeable certainty that I was reliving August-September 2005 (Katrina followed by Rita) all over again. A much calmer and rested James discussed with me what we had learned from our experience and we formulated a plan for the next time we had to evacuate.

Lessons of Gustav:

  • All that was really needed was a hotel with a meeting room at a location where the hurricane is not likely to follow you, but that is less attractive to everyone else evacuating;
  • Make your hotel reservations early, looking for a place that has refrigerators and microwaves in the room along with cable TV so they can monitor what is happening back home;
  • Don’t assume that your staff has reliable transportation and/or the funds to make the trip, and devise a way that they can easily recognize the vehicles traveling in their group along with a group leader who remembers to keep everyone together;
  • Make a schedule of who works and when they evacuate, taking into consideration that the traffic they encounter will be heavy and they will need to get some rest before getting back on the phones;
  • Wherever you send your staff, be there before they get there, and know where they can find the places they need most, like Wal-Mart.

IKE
For me, Ike was very much a "same song, second verse.” So much of what we experienced with Rita, including the path Ike followed, was the same. The only difference was that we were totally prepared for Ike.

Sunday, as Ike made its lazy, meandering way across the Gulf of Mexico, I found a hotel with a meeting room and a swimming pool, continental breakfast, microwaves and refrigerators in every room, cable TV and high speed Internet, and additional space for my motor home in Temple (central Texas). But not enough rooms were available when needed, meaning half my staff would be in a second hotel three miles away; which doesn’t sound like much when you are unaware of the road construction that will add miles and frustrations to every trip.

Over several days, while Ike couldn’t make up its mind what direction it was going, local authorities were reluctant to call for another mandatory evacuation. My husband/partner, Larry, was sure my reservations were a waste of money, but I stuck to my guns. My staff agitated on whether they would go or not, but nonetheless signed up for hotel rooms so fast I had to find more. I was certain Ike was coming, but uncertain when, and therefore how soon to start the reservations and our evacuations.

I went to bed on Wednesday not knowing whether they would call for a mandatory evacuation, but with my van loaded up with equipment. James called in the middle of the night with word that the authorities would order an evacuation and close the schools in a few hours. My graveyard operator had four kids and no vehicle, so I agreed to wait until her relief arrived so they could ride with me. As I left Beaumont, my RV towing my van, morning shift operators were busy calling the evening shift to get them on the road a few hours behind me.

It was early Thursday afternoon when we arrived in Temple. Leaving James to get the equipment set up in the meeting room, I took care of checking into both hotels, and creating room assignments. The problem was, I had miscalculated how soon everyone would want to leave once the order was given. With the town full of evacuees from all over the full length of Texas’ Gulf Coast, it was impossible to have enough rooms immediately for everyone who had decided to come along with family/friends I hadn’t counted on.

Based on Gustav, I had planned to put several staff members who had evacuated to Shreveport without family/friends into one room. Unfortunately, in Shreveport co-workers had discovered who snored so loud that others couldn’t sleep. Then there was the employee who brought the cat that a co-worker couldn’t sleep in the same room with. And of course, all the extra family/friends who suddenly needed a place to stay because Ike was an actual threat to Beaumont.

Instead of following the back-road path that I had taken to Temple, the evacuating evening shift operators were given directions that took them into conflict with Galveston’s evacuees. Anxious day shift co-workers, ready to grab their children and follow, ended up working longer than anticipated waiting for their reliefs to arrive in Temple. It was late at night before they finally arrived and we were short on rooms. One operator bedded down in the meeting room with her kids.

The next day was very different from our experience in Shreveport. True, for that day and the next, until our hotel with the meeting room had more openings, I shuttled back and forth between hotels, making sure everyone had what they needed. But even though they were bone-tired, the morning shift was back at work. James still had technical issues he and Larry were trying to work out – but several employees had elected to stay behind, which made a difference. Allan Fromm supplied us with a few more operators, which helped with the load.

My staff settled into a routine, and everyone was much happier than they had been in Shreveport. The hardest part was watching what was on the TV, fielding the most outrageous calls imaginable (which actually were quite funny – like the lady in Galveston complaining that her water pressure had decreased while the eye of Ike was less than 15 miles off the coast of Galveston. Followed by a man complaining about no water pressure while the eye of the storm was over Galveston), and not knowing when we could go home.

I had intended to stay with my staff the whole time, but just like with Rita, we developed generator problems. I had to again bring the motor home back to Beaumont immediately after a hurricane so we could use its generator to keep the business going. Over the next few days, some of my staff came back to town on their own for various personal reasons and got right back to work at our office.

The majority were still in Temple, biting at the bit to get home and not wanting to hear how bad the conditions were – no electricity, no water, no sewer and a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place. The authorities, including FEMA, did not want anyone in Beaumont for weeks. Without electricity, it was very dangerous to drive around town. Yet some needed to come back to meet with FEMA representatives about the conditions of their homes.

Once the mandatory evacuation order was lifted, we then had to organize our staff for the return trip. The same factors as mentioned above had to be taken into consideration, so that the clients continued to receive service and operators had a chance to rest between shifts and traveling.

Lessons of Ike:

  • Make more hotel reservations than you think you could possibly need, one for each employee, and make them for earlier than you think you will need them. Assume everyone will show up on the same day.
  • Find out their preferences for king or two doubles, smoking or non-smoking and whether they will they need additional cots.
  • Encourage employees to limit those they bring with them to immediate family only and remind them that they are responsible for the conduct of those they bring, including any extra charges to the room.
  • Require that all employees you evacuate to a safe site share the workload evenly on a daily basis.
  • Recognize that while they are your employees, they are probably also someone else’s parent; their children will need a babysitter and activities.
  • If you evacuate your staff, remember that you will have to house them, feed them, transport them, and see to their child care, shopping, financial assistance and medical needs.
  • Assume your staff will bring more family members than they think they will, because as the threat grows nearer, their family becomes larger.
  • Keep multiple spares for the generator parts that will commonly break and are almost always simple to fix, such as belts.

With each and every experience, we battled Murphy’s Law to the hilt. At one point James quipped, "Murphy switched from the baseball bat to the shotgun – with scattershot.” We found ourselves regularly questioning whether it was worth the effort. All I can say to that are the following two examples of comments from clients:

  • Two years after Rita, while discussing other matters with a client’s District Manager, she commented on how much she appreciated our efforts to keep answering calls for them before, during and after the hurricane and expressed amazement on how we could achieve such a feat; and,
  • Another client recently stated, after Ike, that "we lost our building and if it were not for you keeping our business running I would not know what to do and you are wonderful. Thank you all very much.”

The simple gratitude of the mother of an employee who showed up at my office after returning from Temple to thank me personally for taking such good care of her and her family made it all worthwhile to me. This business is my and Larry’s life; it wouldn’t exist without our customers. But we couldn’t do it without our dedicated staff. By taking care of our staff, they are free to concentrate on taking care of our clients.

If you are facing a situation that can cause an interruption in your business, you need to decide:

  • Are you going to try to continue providing service in spite of the situation, or do you choose to wait until the interruption is over and assume your customers will still be there or come back?
  • If you choose to continue providing service, do you try to do it on your own or do you ask for help?
  • If you do it on your own, are you determined enough to overcome any obstacle that comes your way, because you will quickly become overwhelmed with them? And/or,
  • If you ask for help, do you outsource your entire service or do you only want/need supplemental help?

If you evacuate:

  • Determine how much of the costs to evacuate you are willing to pay, but remember that this will influence how well your staff members cooperate and focus on taking care of your clients;
  • If you are paying their fuel and other costs, how do you intend to do this? You will need to supply them with cash, credit cards or pre-paid debit cards as they probably do not have the resources to pay and wait for reimbursement;
  • Delegate responsibility for meeting your staffs’ needs to someone other than yourself who is not needed on the phones, as this is a full-time job and you need to concentrate on keeping your business up and running; and,
  • Have a lot of financial reserves in place to meet the unexpected costs that grow exponentially over several weeks while you are not receiving any income from your clients.

If you stay behind:

  • Have plenty of water to flush toilets, along with an alternate method should the sewer system shut down;
  • Have plenty of bottled water, especially the 3-5 gallon water bottles;
  • Have plenty of food and places to sleep for those who "sit it out” at your office;
  • Keep your vehicle full of fuel as this becomes extremely difficult and time-consuming to acquire;
  • Have spare parts for vital equipment, and methods to keep them from overheating; and,
  • Remember to take care of your own health because medical services are virtually non-existent.

If you are unable to return immediately:

  • You will need to figure out how you are going to handle your payroll, or at least fund your employees with some cash for living expenses;
  • You will need to contact your vendors and arrange to skip or delay as many payments as you can since, if you can’t come back, your clients probably can’t either, which means a delay in getting paid; and,
  • You may need to invoice your customers during this time, so you will need to be prepared in advance to do so.

If your town is impacted by a disaster, you need to know that:

1. The littlest things in life that you never realized you counted on will probably be gone, like:

  • traffic lights;
  • phone service – including cell phones;
  • open fuel stations with fuel;
  • open grocery stores and restaurants that take more than cash;
  • the freedom to travel after dark.

2. The simplest things become a real chore, like:

  • finding your way around town;
  • getting your mail;
  • making bank deposits and withdrawals.
I have purposely left out technical details. Not only is that a long story in itself, but also because what works for us might not work for others. For more technical information on how we did it, you are welcome to contact Larry at mlc@monroesvc.com.

Back to Top



© 2008 National Amtelco Equipment Owners. All Rights Reserved.
NewsLinks is distributed quarterly to NAEO members.

National Amtelco Equipment Owners
www.naeo.orginfo@naeo.org
1000 Westgate Drive, Ste. 252, St. Paul, MN 55114
800-809-6373 • Fax: 800-809-6374