Designing the Telecommunications Center of the Future: Part II

Reported by Christine Michaels

A panel discussion by: Frank D’Ascenzo of Axon Communications; Barb Willis of Comverse/Startel; Jack Baldwin of CadCom; and Donna West of Focus Telecommunications. This discussion was presented at the OPXPO in Dallas, TX Oct 9 -12, 1996.

How can a telephone answering service position themselves so that it can move into the future and take advantage of the opportunities available?

How do we position our business to take advantage of this? Where is the road going to lead us and how are we going to get there? These were some of the questions posed to this panel at the OPXPO, October 1996 in Dallas, TX. Jack Baldwin of CadCom Telesystems will continue the discussion:

Jack Baldwin: I will be talking about wireless communications, video conferencing, and Internet connections which will all be affecting us in the future. A lot of systems currently in use are set up to interface with Open Architecture, as Frank D’Asceno from Axon Communications previously discussed. I agree that the future seems to point toward Open Architecture.

There are two words that start with the same meaning, telephone and television; they both start with tele. What you are going to see in the close future is an interaction between these two industries. How many of you have already read that NYNEX in the New York area has been buying up cable companies? You have read about So. Bell, who are also looking at merging with long distance companies. The reason for that is because a lot of the cable companies who run coaxial right now are installing fiber optics. Fiber optics are now being run into many areas of the country because of the bandwidth.

Televisions will now be available with computers built into them. In the future you will see credit card swipes on the side of your television. And if this occurs, then somebody is going to have to justify and take those orders. This can be done through an Internet provider, which can be us, because somebody has to take it back out, give it back to the company, and run it through the credit card process.

What we are looking at is an integration of video, phones and television, all in the same fiber optic cabling. This will give us the bandwidth to run all of it.

The next thing you will see are phones with video. The next generation of equipment development utilizes both of these. Thus, when your client checks in for messages they will be able to see your operator. Several different companies offer the capability of accessing your client’s email, which can be delivered to your operator and then this email message can be paged, faxed etc. to your client.

Time Warner and TCI Cable are installing in all of their new services É coaxial, phone line, and Ethernet, which are all built into one cable. Thus, when you are at home, you can do everything through your television or through a computer. There will also be wireless keyboards.

Wireless phone systems are already being used in Europe and that is where we are headed. Everything will be transmitted through a satellite. For example, you can download information from a website to your television which will be connected to a PC. This is a one-way communication. However, two-way communication will become available and a lot more affordable in the future.

The definition of today’s answering service will evolve over the next couple of years into a “communications center.” Services must specialize and thus get into a “niche” market, providing a better service than anyone else. That is what we are going to see in the next few years.

Donna West: What I am hearing from these presentations so far is “spending money.” We are going to need to spend some serious money. Are you ready for that? If you’re not, go home and raise your prices. And while you are at it, take a chunk of that money and give it to your operators! Because, we need to bring our service center’s opportunities above where we are now if we are going to bring about the changes that are presented here. And we can do it!

For awhile, I was one of the cheapest services in town. Since, I have no intention of being that, I raised my prices 27% all at once. I don’t think I lost more than twenty customers. The kind of customers that we’re going to be getting don’t care about nickels and dimes, they care about quality! If answering services TRIPLED their prices, that still wouldn’t add up to 1% of your client’s revenue set aside to pay the bill.

Stop undervaluing what we do! LET’S GET IT UP AND OUT. We have operator services that will never go away. The technology presented here today will still be needed and wanted in the future. If we can provide that, and provide it on a professional basis, your services are going to be worth a whole lot more!

Barb Willis: What I hope to do is to give you some ideas of things you can do within your community that are probably going to be the best market bets for the next couple of years. As the technology continues to change, we need to look at the customer base and continue to be able to move and “tweak” the services we provide.

So, let’s talk about some of the services you can provide with the existing operators that you have with excising staff, knowing full well that you will make an investment in some technology, so that you will be able to do it better.

Have you thought about offering a help desk, first level service to corporations and companies in your community? What this means is that you are simply following a set of instructions, asking a set of questions, and passing the information onto the correct expert.

If you look at companies that are selling products, they usually have a service department. Within that service department, someone has to answer the phone. If you can show a company that you can answer the phone, do it consistently better, and save them money, you will win their business. It doesn’t mean you are going to fix the product; it means directing the call to the appropriate person.

Have you thought about working with a sales department within a large organization? Let me give you your messages anywhere in the world, i.e., send them to your lap top, fax, email, pager, etc. If you start to look into corporate America, and you look at the different departments within the corporation, there is a fix between what you currently do today in taking messages and how you can help that corporation get their job done.

Probably one of the biggest words today in large corporations is “outsourcing.” Corporations realize that they can’t do all things and be successful; they are now realizing the value of a message.

Corporations are starting to out source and to look for someone who can take a message consistently, with quality, and at a rate they are willing to pay. Do consider this application. One of the names by which this service is called is “remote receptionist,” and/or “alternative answer.” For example, a service can provide overflow answering for a corporation.

An answering service would provide this when the regular receptionist is on break, out to lunch, sick, on vacation, after hours, etc. Because, when the receptionist is unable to answer the phone, someone else at the corporation must do it. It is usually someone who doesn’t have the time, has other job functions, doesn’t have the desire to do it, and is being paid a lot more than a typical receptionist. Thus, it is possible that the quality of messaging has gone down in that corporation and they are spending more money for that single function. You could also provide assistance in overflow traffic at that corporation. This service is being done today!

On the East coast, we have a customer who has done an extremely good job of marketing this application to Fortune 100 companies! This is not a 55¢ per-message call; not even close to that. This is thousands of dollars a month, to periodically answer and transfer a call, then take a message. Companies are willing to pay it because it saves them money and provides a quality of service which they need.

Another application within a company is alpha numeric transcription. If a company has a number of employees wearing alphanumeric pagers, who is doing that transcription? Is that a service you could provide 24 hours per day, 7 days per week?

Start taking pieces of the messaging business, identifying them, and selling them to a variety of customers. This will, hopefully, let you know where the “niche” market is and where you should be expanding your services. Be in the loop of the “one number, follow meany where” concept, so that the answering service can direct the path of the call for the customer.

As you put together your business plan, think about where you want your business to be and continue to think about services that involve your operators (the best asset that you own today), you will continue, as technology changes, at being successful in what we are currently calling, the “Telephone Answering Service”.

[From Connection Magazine, May 1997]

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