Annual ASTAA Conference

Reported by Jannemieke Keener

The Atlantic States Telephone Answering Association (ASTAA) held its annual conference October 16-18 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Our (borrowed) theme was “Show Me The Money,” and Atlantic City was the place to be. Bill Grubert, conference chair, and Nell Norris, executive secretary, did a fabulous job organizing this conference for the 58 attendees who represented 29 member companies. In addition, we had 12 vendors who not only joined us, but also contributed to our conference in the way of food, drink, and supplies! Startel contributed convention keepsake booklets for all attendees.

We had a very special guest, Irv Seltzer from Phonepower. Irv is the grandfather of ASTAA and a true icon in the industry. He is building a museum dedicated to the history of telephone answering services and we were thrilled to learn that in 2004 we can hold our conference at the museum.

Our first speaker was Tedd Smith who gave us an update on ATSI and all the exciting programs that are rolling out, including the much-discussed “database of deadbeats.”

Gary Pudles with AnswerNet then entertained and educated us on his famous “bar napkin” business model: Percentage of expenses to revenue. Bottom line: Employee expenses should be no higher than 40% and EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) should be at 24%. Gary’s motto is that we all sell people time and system time, and should charge accordingly.

Dennis O’Hara from Associated Call Center gave us a refreshing new talk about creating revenue from the Internet, after which Jannemieke Keener shared about a sales tax audit done for her by the state of Virginia. Since she faithfully charged taxes on all equipment sales and remitted it to the state, she wasn’t concerned. However, it turned out that the real audit was about taxes she paid (or did not pay) to out-of-state companies. When you buy equipment from an out-of-state company and they don’t charge you tax, you still have to pay sales tax to your own state.

Amtelco sponsored our cocktail party that evening, after which everyone went out and caught up with old – and new – friends. In addition, ASTAA has eight new members this year, and those who attended were impressed that we, as competitors, came to share our knowledge.

On Thursday, the program was presented by Carolyn West Price. She spoke about the “Ten Cardinal Sins of Call Center Marketing.” After a delicious lunch, compliments of Telescan, Netware Logic talked to us about revenue producing software, and Steve Mitchell, with Alston Tascom, did a great presentation on IVR, which, in his words stands for Immediate Value Return!

Jannemieke Keener shared her disaster prevention ideas. She recently purchased an Iwatsu office phone system that has an extra T-1 / PRI card and effectively serves as a back up for her Startel switch.

Friday brought us a renewed discussion on Bernie O’Donnel‘s plan for selecting the ideal employee, and John Howell, with Phonepower, discussed ASTAA’s website (which he created). Former ASTAA president Pat Scott, along with Sandie Olson, graciously offered to organize a supervisor training seminar for ASTAA members in the spring of 2003.

Paula Ford of Answer Center in Virginia Beach summed it all up nicely, saying that everyone left invigorated with “new friends, new ideas, new hope, and strategies that allow us to be fearless in the face of unreasonable customer demands.”

Next year’s ASTAA conference will be held in Annapolis, Maryland.

Jannemieke Keener is president of ASTAA. For more information about ASTAA, please contact Nell Norris, Executive Secretary, at 800-718-1712.

[From Connection MagazineJan/Feb 2003]