The New Communications Service Bureau

By Roy Emmett

The majority of people who read this magazine are in the communications business to make money. That being true, it bodes well for all of us to explore just what it is that the business world really needs and wants, that makes sense for us to provide, in order for us to make money in our chosen profession.

Simple logic and first-hand experience can provide some substantial clues about the changing needs of today’s small- and medium-sized businesses, which are, after all, our prime prospect base.

On the side of logic, we can gauge that what our prospects want is help. Help in streamlining their business and in reducing overhead. Help in bringing their businesses in touch with how the rest of the world is communicating. Help in some or all of the functions of running a business. Help in getting new business.

From first-hand experience, we can see that what they don’t want is yesterday’s solutions and older ways of doing things. Astute businesses want what’s going to take them into the future, but based on practicality and common sense, not futuristic, far-flung ideas that don’t relate to today. We can easily recognize the first-hand experience category, since we’ve all been watching as countless businesses have shifted from the traditional methods of communication into the trends and leading-edge services being used by the world at large.

All these being accurate factors in the contest to attract new business, it’s easy to suggest that a whole new concept in communications service bureaus is at hand. Actually, there hasn’t been a lot of communication service bureau alternatives available for businesses to select from. Truth of the matter is, the only true service bureau with any history has been the telephone answering service. Interconnect companies, paging and cellular companies, and voice mail companies haven’t yet matured into full-fledged service bureaus, per se.

When you actually stop and think about it, the business world hasn’t ever had a real support team, like an in-depth service bureau to help them as a professional communications consultant. Companies have simply sold and provided service for answering telephones, for providing paging service or cellular service, or for installation of new hardware. But, there has always been a void in the area of communications assistance where someone was available to function as a resource to help businesses zero in on the best overall options and help plan unique solutions.

The reason? There have never been so many options. There has hardly ever been any option to just plain phone service. Today, there are so many variables and price differences, almost nobody knows what all is available or what will work best in each situation.

That spells opportunity in an age where telecommunication is redefining how businesses function. Consider all the home-based businesses and the concept of the Virtual Corporation. Look at how many businesses are networking together and how many very small businesses are starting where communication is a key element. Take a look at how communication is spilling over into advertising and marketing support services and how the Information Age has created the demand for access to information on demand. Look at how fax and computers have integrated with the telephone and how many advantages there are for small businesses in using specialized communication.

Think about all the types of pagers and soon-to-be-new wireless products. The telephone itself is undergoing renovations with many phone company features, as well as specialized services that voice processing technology is adding, that all fit in with our potential service bureau offerings.

Add to that, the influx of new services evolving from the Telecom Reform Bill that Congress passed. Competition in long distance and 800 number service will bring about all kinds of change. New 800 number services and One-Call services are already creating special niche features and service categories. And, just wait until video spreads its wings with new inter activity and computer-to-voice mail video capability. Business-to-business communication is entering a whole new era and the “Communication Service Bureau” has an opportunity to play a major role.

Enter The New Service Bureau For Business Communications

A new aura surrounds the new service bureau. It isn’t a telephone answering service … it’s much more, in reality and in image. It isn’t a “just anything” business. It is a “resource” for assistance in providing specialized communications, as well as marketing support services, customer service enhancements, clerical support functions, information services, and a variety of networking services.

The main engine of this new service bureau will be a feature rich, commercial grade voice and fax processing system, outfitted with special software to provide highly customized communication services. Specially trained operators will form an additional engine for this new hybrid service bureau, although many service bureaus won’t have operators on staff. Central operator services will undoubtedly become available as a resource to operatorless service bureaus, to supply the real people required for those unique services. Already we are seeing this work very well with alpha dispatch services for paging. Many such automated service bureaus are opening up and could use a good operator service with 800 number access. Anybody out there got a package for us?

Like it or not, automated communications services are the new way of the business world. True, automation won’t replace the many applications where real people are an absolute necessity in a communications link. But as a result of cost factors alone, most of the new elements of communication are designed to bypass real people whenever possible. The new generations of wireless products are designed to communicate directly, person-to-person, without any intermediaries of any kind. But the default, in case a recipient is unavailable, will always be a form of “voice mail.” Cost, efficiency, and now diverse features in automation are the logical reasons.

This will open the door of opportunity for highly specialized operator services that will bear little resemblance to the answering service of today. Good people cost good money. The services supplied by real people won’t come cheap. As with the phone companies, connections to a real person will be charged at a premium.

I foresee the operator relationship in the new service bureau being more of an assistant to a business with greater personal contact and responsibility. An entrepreneur could build a business around such a resource who could supply in depth support via computer and through all aspects of personal contact on behalf of the clients being represented. Such services could start at $500 a month and legitimately replace the need for a receptionist, a database manager, an inventory clerk, a follow-up correspondent, and probably a host of other special responsibilities.

Even entrepreneurs in a home-based business environment could explore this opportunity. A talented person with telephone and computer skills could handle 4 – 6 accounts on an 8 am – 6 pm basis and bill $2000 to $5000 a month with select clients. Could be a whole new concept in specialized services.

The communications service bureau of this new era will have at its disposal the full range of business communications services. A proposal to a prospect would logically include 24-hour message service, information service via fax, audio, Internet, and coming up, even video. You would include automated order-taking, advertising requests for literature, even pre-recorded sales presentations. You will have a link to special discount long distance service, 800 numbers, and a variety of specialized telephone calling cards – all with passive income potential to add profits with no liability.

You will include pagers with a variety of enhanced services to make more money in paging than just paging provides. You can recommend cellular services and make money in a special relationship with a wireless service provider.

Your fully connected voice and fax processing system, the real bread and butter winner, will allow you to bring an incredible variety of services to the market that right now, today, are hardly even exposed to the business world. I suggest that you could add a good 20 to 25 services to your mix that will direct you toward a whole new audience for profitable communications services that are not pro-actively offered by the phone companies, or by virtually any other type of communications companies in existence.

Now, combine your complete resource program with a close personal relationship to your market. This is not a Yellow Page marketing effort. This is selective marketing at its classic best. Positioning, image building, application selling, niche marketing – these are all terms that spell the new focus of what the new service bureau is doing to grow whole new tiers of business.

This is becoming a dynamic opportunity for the Professional Communications Consultant. It has reached a point where you cannot logically separate the various services as individual specialties. They all work together in a cohesive program to bring about the desired results for each client. Not bringing all these services into the picture as a package presentation is to miss out on some very serious profits. Perhaps you could even stand to lose business as clients begin to expect a cohesive, interlocking program to maximize efficiency and minimize costs. The image of the new service bureau is designed to preclude that from happening.

Service bureaus that redirect their efforts this way can expect to be leaders in a volatile new dimension in the world of communication. Rather than being at the mercy of radical change that is sure to come, we can be at the forefront of change and introduce new ideas as they evolve, making money as a result. If we get pigeon-holed as a specific service company, we may never gain a toe-hold in the vast new era of telecommunications.

How Big Do You Want Your Company To Grow?

Silly question, isn’t it? Not really. A lot depends on what you want to become. A company that bills $50,000 a month and has an overhead of $45,000 a month isn’t as much fun as a company that bills $25,000 a month and spends only $5000 in overhead. Empire building, where you plan to expand into multiple markets with an aggressive plan to grow substantial revenues, requires a completely different set of priorities.

Your personal life style, your plans for retirement, your desire to play golf or travel and enjoy life – they all should have a place in your plan. Being in the new era of telecommunications has some distinct advantages over all other businesses in which you could engage. The main advantages are recurring revenue, subscriber-based services, as well as passive income. But a service bureau is not a business where you simply sleep-in and occasionally check-in on your automated system and monitor your bank account. It’s hard work and it involves developing business relationships that should last forever.

Defining what you want to be, how big you want to grow, and how fast you want to get there, are all crucial elements in your business plan. As you set up your plan to start a service bureau, or redirect the one you already have, keep in mind that today is the time. So much is happening to change the way the business world works. Service bureaus that specialize in working with businesses to support them through all the change that is here and yet to come will be building an incredible future. What was in the past is about to be forever changed. That means that the opportunity to begin today can put you on almost an equal footing with those who have been around for years. You might even have some advantages.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1996]