The March 2013 Issue of TAS Trader

Ron Violante can help you buy or sell your telephone answering service

Call Distribution Priority: Should You Be Fair or Pragmatic?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Call me an idealist. I think life should be fair. This applies to answering calls. According to my perspective, call distribution needs to be fair, too. Everyone should have an equal chance of being answered quickly – or at least subjected to the same length of hold time if they need to wait. The call queue in my perfect world would be classless: first in, first out. That, however, is utopian; answering services exist in the real world and face real issues.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

If your answering service follows my ideal of fair, I applaud you. If you don’t, I understand. Here are some reasons you might want to forget about being fair and be pragmatic instead.

Company Lines: The speed and efficiency at which you handle your business lines (main number, sales lines, check-in accounts, and customer service) form your callers’ perception of the level of service provided to their callers. It’s this perception that attracts new business and retains existing clients; it may be one of your best marketing initiatives, and it has a direct effect on profitability.

Account Types: Equality aside, certain account groups are more important than others. The determining factors vary: client profession, caller urgency, dollar value of the call to the client, type of service provided, or your answering service’s specialty – that is, if your focus is medical, give those clients priority and work in the commercial accounts around them.

Chronic Complainers: This results from a natural reaction to the squeaky wheel syndrome. In theory, giving a higher priority to chronic complainers and demanding clients would seem to mitigate their criticisms about service. While this seems clever, it’s actually self-defeating to reward clients who complain. Plus, these may be your worst clients in terms of how they treat operators or hassle your customer service and support staff.

In fact, consider giving them the lowest priority. After all, they’re going to complain anyway. Plus, when you factor in their drain on customer service resources, they’re probably your least profitable clients. If they cancel, you may be better off.

The Net Result: For each account you elevate in priority, you effectively demote another. This occurs whether or not you actually make a programming change to that account. After all, only half of your clients can receive an above-average response time – and the other half will statistically experience below-average results.

An Alternative: What if you assigned call distribution priority based on the profitability of each account?

Here’s the logic: At a busy time, some callers are going to hang up; it’s inevitable. Which call would you prefer to lose, a call that will bill $2.25 a minute or one worth only $0.49 a minute? It’s as if someone is holding out both hands, with a dollar bill in one and a quarter in the other. If you can take the money from only one hand, which will you choose? The dollar, of course! The same should apply to answering calls: Grab the profitable ones first; don’t let them get away.

When properly staffed, some callers will hang up before you can help them. It’s a fact. So if you’re going to lose some calls, wouldn’t you prefer to miss the least profitable ones?

Implementing call distribution priority based on profitability will allow you to earn more money by doing the same amount of work.

And it you want to fine-tune this strategy even more, find out who the slow payers and chronic complainers are. Even if they’re profitable on paper, they have less value because they harm cash flow and overuse support resources.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader. Check out his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Making a Case for Empowerment

By Barbara Bradbury

Last year I received a pair of boots for Christmas that were too small. Anxious to wear them to a luncheon the next day, I was the first person in the store on the day after Christmas. Finding the right size, I took them to the counter, along with the original tags and receipt. The clerk pointed to a sign that read “No Returns or Exchanges Dec 26” and advised me that I would have to return the following day.

Having spent thirteen years in retail, I fully understand why retailers discourage returns and exchanges on the day after Christmas. Re-tagging and stocking items takes time and can frustrate shoppers who are waiting in line to spend their Christmas cash. But I was the only person in the store!

When I asked the clerk why he couldn’t help me, he pointed to the sign and said it was company policy. Unwilling to give up, I asked to speak to a manager, only to hear the same response. When I explained the rationale behind the sign and pointed out the foolishness of the situation, the manager sheepishly made the exchange. Although I got what I wanted, the experience kept me from shopping at that store, and I am still sharing this story a year later.

Contrast that to my experience at lunch with my mother. As she was ordering her salad, she noticed one being delivered to another table and, realizing the salad would be much too large for her, she asked the waitress to give her a moment to select something else. Without hesitation the waitress offered to bring her a half-size salad for half the price. By empowering their employees, that restaurant gained a happy customer – one who has returned many times since and brought her friends.

Empowering staff to make win/win decisions not only keeps customers coming back, it also leads to referrals that help businesses to grow.

What do you need to do to empower your answering service staff?

Barbara Bradbury is VP special counsel at Answer Plus Communications Inc ( She recently shared this in the company’s customer services tips e-newsletter.

Why Hiring Often Fails…and How to Improve Your Results

By Brad Remillard

Most people have been taught that interviewing is all about the candidate’s skills and experiences, with the focus on their past. For example, “What have you done in this area?” or “Have you ever done X?” Those trained in behavioral interviewing will take those same questions and convert them into requests for examples: “Give me an example where you have done Y” or “Tell me about a time when you had Z as an issue.”

However, when a candidate shows up to work, you no longer care about all the things they have done. You only care about whether they can do the job you are hiring them to do. Nothing else matters now. They may have the best skills and all the right experiences, but if they can’t effectively apply them to do your job, then you really don’t care about their skills and experiences.

Have you ever hired a person that had all the right skills and experiences? He or she interviewed well, gave all the right answers, had a resume that read like the job description – yet after you hired them, they fell flat on their face.

Why does this happen? It’s usually because the person’s skills and experiences are not primary indicators of their ability to do your job. These are at best secondary indicators and may be misleading. Yet these are what most hiring managers rely on.

Instead, focus the interview on the primary reason for interviewing: “Can this person do this job?” The key to successful hiring is having a methodology that puts the candidate in the job before you hire them. It is not about determining if the candidate has the right tools; it’s about determining if they can use those tools effectively to get your job done.

This is why behavioral interviewing often falls short. Behavioral interviewing was once a quantum leap forward in how interviewing was performed; however, it too has run its course. Great interviewing is more than getting examples of past performance; it’s about performing well for you. The tag line for behavioral interviewing, “Past performance is an indicator of future performance,” isn’t always the case.

A good hiring methodology shifts the focus from the person’s skills and experiences to how he or she will use them to do your job. If the individual can’t use these effectively in your company and your position, while he or she may be a great person, that person isn’t the right candidate for you.

So how do you put the candidate in the job before you hire the person?

Stop asking questions that start with “What,” “Have you,” “Tell me about,” and so forth. These are all fine questions, but should be used for probing after the example instead of as the example. The typical who, what, when, where, and why questions are for probing more deeply; they are not appropriate opening questions.

Start with “How” questions. Beginning to ask “How” questions first is one of the biggest challenges facing hiring managers. For example, “How would you react to an irate customer?” “How would you end a call on a positive note?” “How would you work with a teammate who irritated you?” Then probe deeply with the five Ws. It’s easy for a candidate to talk about their skills and experiences. Some might even embellish their answers. It’s much better for them to explain how they would apply those skills and experiences to your company and your culture.


Professional Teledata Enhances PInnacle Web Portal
Professional Teledata has announced an enhancement of PInnacle Web Portals Message Management Center: Clients can comment and add information to existing messages and notify dispatchers as they see fit, all in real time. This customized feature has proved to be an asset to answering services and their clients, which include nurse triage, oil companies, towing companies, and medical equipment companies. “We are excited to give this powerful flexibility and freedom to our end users,” said Pat Kalik, president of Professional Teledata. “Something so small allows our customers to offer enhanced services to their clients, in turn generating more revenue and increased customer loyalty.”

Startel Voice Services Extends to the Soft Switch
Startel Corporation announced that its Voice Services solution is now available on the Startel Soft Switch. With this integration, Startel Soft Switch users can more effectively manage customer communications from one platform. “We are excited to offer our Soft Switch users an enhanced solution to meet their business needs and the needs of their clients,” said Bill Lane, president and CEO of Startel. “This integration is the first step in providing our Soft Switch users with the features, capabilities, and capacity needed to enrich the customer experience and achieve operational efficiency.”


[Posted by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD.]