Telephone Answering Service Considerations

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1 TAS Considerations Our goal of this document is to provide you with insight that we hope will allow you to make an informed decision when choosing your Telephone Answering Service (TAS). A discussion of the various billing methods used by TAS companies is covered first. Then, other service and company considerations are discussed. We have included a TAS consideration comparison worksheets that we hope you find useful in your research Dexcomm All Rights Reserved

2 Because service considerations and billing methods are closely related, a discussion of various billing methods used by TAS companies is covered first. Other service and company considerations are then covered. Jamey Hopper President There are many variations within each of the individual categories. Two companies quoting the exact same price and the same pricing structure may end up billing the customer vastly different amounts for the same time period and traffic usage. This is due to different TAS equipment tracking minutes or calls in different fashions or even different TAS offices with the same equipment using different methods to calculate minutes. For example, one office with a very low per minute rate includes ring time and nonworking hold time in its time calculation. Another issue is that some TAS companies bill on a 28 day cycle resulting in 13 invoices a year, while some bill monthly resulting in 12 invoices per year. The most significant issue with the different methods from a TAS perspective is the training that is given to the operators. With a flat rate, message count or service unit billing method it is to the TAS advantage to have the call end quickly. The incentive is to take a limited amount of information and terminate the call. With time-billing the incentive is to be thorough with the information taken from the caller. Clearly either system can be taken to extremes by the individual TAS. The largest component of TAS expenses is employee salary and benefits. There is an incentive for the TAS to reduce the amount of time an operator spends on a call. Some of the billing methods encourage a setup where the customer would realize a reduction in TAS billing by automating systems or by the customer taking on certain service steps such inputting on call information rather than having the TAS perform this function. Voice mail on the front end of any variable rate system (that is, all except flat rate) will also generally reduce customer billing.

3 Billing Methods Flat Rate Message Count Service Units Dedicated Operator Time Usage Other ANSWERING COMMUNICATION SERVICES Flat Rate Message Count Service Units Pro Allows for budgeting as the amount of the monthly bill is known in advance. Con Usually a higher rate per billing cycle as this method carries more risk for the TAS. Brief This method is usually associated with small or poor service TAS offices. Flat rates generally do not allow the TAS to cover their variable expenses, which are primarily operator related, so customers may unexpectedly find their account in the hands of an unfamiliar provider as the flat rate TAS either goes out of business or is bought by a larger service. The rate must be adjusted periodically as call traffic changes. Pro Ideal for business who may only need someone to collect a name and number and no other information. Con Most of these services count every call as a message, including hang ups, wrong numbers, etc. The customer service representatives will simply make a message ticket for lady hung up or man will call back as the complete message. Brief Was used throughout the industry in the days of handwritten messages. Used much less now with the availability of sophisticated scripted messaging software. Pro A client with limited people on call and every message sent to their smartphone would be ideally suited for this system. Con Generally each point of contact is a unit. That is, each call, page, fax or , text message, each customer check-in, etc. Brief This style of billing is ideally suited for simple service accounts.

4 Billing Methods Flat Rate Message Count Service Units Dedicated Operator Time Usage Other Dedicated Operator Hourly Pro Dedicated operators usually become more skilled when handling only one type of call. Con Difficulty in matching call traffic to number of operators staffed. Can become expensive for the client as occupancy rate of dedicated operators is lower than pooled operators: however, when there are too few dedicated operators their occupancy rate can become so high as to lead to errors and burnout. Brief Operators are dedicated to one client only. Frequently requires a hybrid system with some dedicated operators and some overflow to a general operator pool (for example for overnight and midday call traffic). Time Usage Pro The training focuses on thoroughness in message taking, rather than brevity. This can lead to more complete messages, and also to higher billing due to longer time of operator involvement on a call. Con Generally the billing clock is on when an agent is actively working on a call. Brief Used by the vast majority of TAS offices, especially in the premium service level group. Other Charges Brief Many TAS offices will include additional fees. Some examples include: Holiday surcharges, delivery, fax delivery, message storage, caller ID, monthly reports, response, voice mail, yearly line charge, paging or alpha dispatch, SMS text delivery, web access, monthly maintenance, etc.

5 Service Considerations Staffing Occupancy Distribution QA Dispatch Training HIPAA Systems Staffing Ratios Staffing too low will lead to long ring times and poor service levels. Staffing too high can lead to poor service due to operator boredom as well as high prices. Occupancy Rates The ideal occupancy rate for our industry is between 55% and 65%; higher than that level will lead to mistakes and burnout. Extremely high occupancy rates do not allow time for coaching, training, quality & performance reviews. Distribution and Routing Some use a general distribution system in which any call can be routed to any operator. Some services use sophisticated call routing systems. A sophisticated skills based routing system will direct calls for a particular customer to an operator, or a group of operators, trained in handling that specific account or account type. Quality Assurance (QA) Systems Most TAS companies grade calls regularly. Some offices have sophisticated QA systems, insuring consistent grading and statistically significant results. Many TAS offices have extensive call logging systems and store the text and voice recorded messages for various periods of time.

6 Service Considerations Staffing Occupancy Distribution QA Dispatch Training HIPAA Systems Take and Dispatch System Some TAS companies have the operator taking the call also dispatch the call. This has the advantage of having the operator able to answer a question should there be information requested that might be difficult to include in a message (like the demeanor of the caller). A take and dispatch system has the advantage of a single operator gaining experience with message delivery, knowing where the different company employees are at each time, knowing how they like to be reached and being able to review the message and correct any mistakes or unclear aspects of the message itself. Training Program All TAS offices have some form of training. Some companies train on the operations floor, some train in a remote training office. Some companies have ongoing training, specific customer training, customer type training.examples: training for home health customers, funeral home customers, physicians or any other industry type HIPAA Protocols Many TAS offices are hiring consultants and enacting extensive HIPAA provisions. Some TAS offices are less aggressive, while some are doing nothing at all. System and Software Capabilities Some TAS vendors provide complex scripting software allowing for extensive customized messaging for individual offices. Other systems provide alternative messaging systems such as inbound and outbound faxing, voice mail, & SMS text message, linkage with database applications (for example the ability to provide clock in and clock out services with a voice mail system) and allow real time backup capability.

7 Industry Association of Teleservices International (ATSI) Canadian Call Management Association (CAM-X) Regional Southern Telemessaging Western States Great Lakes Others Groups National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) Startel National Users Group (SNUG) Others Associations Joining and actively participating in the various associations generally results in TAS companies with better systems and procedures. Most of the associations focus on educational programs for their members, including the topics mentioned in the section above. Awards Award of Excellence ATSI & CAM-X offer Award of Excellence programs. These are essentially mystery shopper programs where a shopper will call a TAS and grade the operator on up to 28 different criteria for each call. A TAS averaging over 80% on the ten calls graded during a six month period will win the Award of Excellence. Certifications ATSI and CAM-X offer various levels of certification. Site Certification is designed to insure 99.9% up time of the TAS. Site Certification also examines: compliance with labor laws, EEOC guidelines, policy manuals, insurance coverage, etc.

8 Company Considerations Associations Awards Certifications Preparedness IT Management Staffing Ownership Preparedness In addition to Site Certification some companies have taken large steps to insure continuing operation in the event of a disaster. Some TAS companies have detailed Disaster Plans and extensive backup systems, including redundant switches, servers, telephony and Internet providers, etc. IT Management Some TAS offices have full time in house IT staff while others engage outside contractors for IT support Ownership Some TAS companies are owner operated, some are owned by large companies. Some of the large companies hire professional managers to run an office; some of the owners of small services are attentive but untrained in many aspects of business management. No model would appear to be perfect in all circumstances, but it is something that should be examined carefully.

9 Billing Compairsons Flat Rate Message Count Service Units Dedicated Operator Time Usage Billing Consideration TAS #2 TAS #3 TAS #4 Flat Rate Not available at this time Message Count n/a Service Units n/a Dedicated Operator n/a Time Usage Pricing structure is based on the time used on your account. Other Charges Optional customer selected features Billing Cycle Monthly Holiday Surcharge No holiday surcharge

10 Service Compairsons Staffing Occupancy Distribution QA Dispatch Training HIPAA Systems Service Consideration TAS #2 TAS #3 TAS #4 Staffing Ratios Monitored weekly Occupancy Rates Monitored hourly Distribution and Routing More than 10 levels of operator distribution Quality Assurance (QA) Systems Our QA department reviews thousands of calls every month scoring each call on more than 30 criteria which are regualry reviewed with staff and management Take and Dispatch System Yes Training Program Once hired, new employees participate in extensive classroom based training under the supervision of a dedicated and experienced training department HIPAA Protocols Yes System and Software Capabilities Monitored on site by our dedicated IT team

11 Company Compairsons Associations Awards Certifications Preparedness IT System Mgmt Ownership Company Consideration TAS #2 TAS #3 TAS #4 Associations Awards Certifications Preparedness IT System Management ATSI, CAM-X, NAEO, Southern Teleservices Association, National Federation of Independent Business, BBB (Baton Rouge, LA and Lafayette, LA), Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Partners1 Trade Organization, Trust Acadiana, Crescent City ATSI Award of Excellence , CAM-X Award of Excellence , LSU Top 100 Fastest Growing Tiger Businesses ATSI 24/7 Gold Site Certification, ATSI Customer Service Representative Certification Equipped with a super fuel tank, generators, and dedicated on-site server rooms and on and complete fully-redundant, real-time onand off-site backup systems Three full-time employees that include a Systems Engineer, Systems Developer and an Application Analyst Ownership Owner operated

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