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Call Center software, also known as contact center software, is the technology that call centers and answering services use to not only route and answer calls, but to also provide your callers with exceptional customer support. Call center software allows calls to be routed to the appropriate distribution (think “press 1 for English, press 2 for Spanish” options), but it also allows the virtual staff to push information through to your customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and manage omni-channel interactions, on top of the standard technology of entering data and placing callers on hold when necessary.

Since technology is ever changing, industries that use technology need to change with it in order to keep up with the growing market. But the problem for call centers is this: with so many entries into the marketplace, how do you know which software will work best for your small business? Great news! We made a neat infographic with a bunch of useful intel that just might help you decide.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Software
  • Can multiple agents work on the same case?
  • Is there an integrated knowledge base?
  • Is there a free trial?
  • Is the call center software CRM compatible?
  • Does the software handle inbound calls, outbound calls, or both?
  • Can the software be custom developed?
Standard Features
  • Case Collaboration
  • A Web Panel
  • Real Time Reporting features
  • Call forwarding
  • Virtual call queue
  • Easy integration with popular CRM software
Terms You’ll Want to Know
  • Case Collaboration: Allows employees to communicate and work together.
  • Web Panel: Allows sales agents to view and enter information about customers.
  • Multi-Communication: Enables e-mail, social media, and chat capabilities.
  • Knowledge Base Integration: Articles your agents may need to reference when taking a call.
  • Virtual Queuing: Allows calls to be placed on hold.
  • Text to Speech: A feature that allows text information to be automatically converted into spoken words.
  • Customer Information Display: When a call comes in, the customer’s information and any associated cases will also pop up.
  • Telephony Integration: Allows a cloud or virtual based service to communicate flawlessly with standard telephone systems.
Comparing Call Center Software Providers

Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud

Pros:

  • User friendly
  • Can integrate with Salesforce’s cloud.

Cons: 

  • Expensive
  • Only available as part of the Service Cloud package.

Key Features: 

  • Detailed reports
  • Multi-communication reduces labor costs
  • Native integration with Salesforce CRM

Contactual

Pros:

  • Award winning user interface
  • 99.99% uptime

Cons:

  • No free trial

Key Features:

  • Cloud-based
  • Professional service capabilities
  • Knowledge base integration

FrontrangeVoice

Pros: 

  • Excellent service
  • Multi-communication and click-to-dial features

Cons:

  • No knowledge base integration

Key Features:

  • Web panel displays all information needed by call center agents
  • Allows agents access to campaign management tools, reporting features, and recorded conversations

Telax

Pros: 

  • Great range of features
  • Offers disaster recovery services

Cons:

  • Cannot integrate knowledge bases
  • Self-hosted so no telephony integration

Key Features:

  • Service supports multi-communication and CRM integration
  • Some pretty robust report generating capabilities
  • Handles automatic case forwarding and virtual queuing

Incontact

Pros:

  • No annual service fees
  • Exceptional list of features

Cons:

  • No knowledge base integration

Key Features:

  • Cloud-based
  • Allows multi site or home office locations

Five9

Pros:

  • 24/7 support
  • Cloud-services

Cons:

  • No case collaboration
  • No knowledge base integrations

Key Features:

  • Training videos
  • Pricing structure varies by type of company

Connect First

Pros:

  • Can handle spikes in volume and load balancing
  • Cloud-based

Cons:

  • More basic than competitors

Key Features:

  • Business continuity through natural disasters, security emergencies, etc.
  • Load balancing
  • Call monitoring

Want more details and tips on call center software? More great news! Check out this white paper on call center software!

[html]
<img title=”Call Center Software Reviews Infographic” alt=”Call Center Software Reviews Infographic” src=”http://www.specialtyansweringservice.net/wp-content/uploads/call-center-software-reviews-infographic.jpg” width=”1024″ height=”5584″ />
<pre><em>Image originally posted on <a href=”https://www.specialtyansweringservice.net/call-center-software-reviews-infographic/”>The SAS Blog</a></em>
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The post Infographic: Call Center Software Reviews appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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Working in a call center can be stressful. However, it does come with it’s fair share of perks, like being able to speak to people all over the world and not having to take any work home with you when your shift is up.

To help put you in the shoes (or headset) of a virtual receptionist, we interviewed Krystle M., one of our long time answering service agents. Keep reading to hear some great stories and to get amazing tips for beginners on how to survive working at a call center.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, Krystle. 

I am one of the operators at SAS and have been working in the answering service industry for 10 years.

2. What’s your favorite part of being a customer service representative?

Being able to speak to people all over the United States.

3. Is it hard to talk on the phone when you get home?

Yes. I usually don’t answer calls at home, I only text.

4. Have you ever lost your voice from talking on the phone so much?

No, but my throat gets really dry, so I drink a lot of water all day.

5. What’s the hardest part(s) of working in a call center?

As in any other job, you can’t please everyone.

6. How do you handle stressful situations at work? (e.g., upset callers, being on the phone all day, etc.)

I just get up from my station and take a break to collect myself.

7. Describe the strangest call you’ve ever received at work.

I had a person call swearing someone was playing a prank on her by throwing dog feces all over her yard. Then she said that she has all of these holes all over my yard. Well come to find out she had her lawn aerated.

8. What’s the most awkward way a company has asked you to answer their phones?

“Sexual addiction hotline how may I help you?”

9. On average, how many different companies do you think you represent each day?

300.

10. In 10 words or less, how would you describe the work environment in a call center?

Roller coaster of emotions.

11. Do you have any tips on keeping a good tone throughout your shift?

Getting an angry tone won’t make anything better, so try to calm the situation.

12. What kind of advice would you give to a new hire?

Don’t take any calls personal.

13. Is it hard not to laugh if someone gives you a funny email address?

No, I keep it professional.

14. What do you do in between taking phone calls?

Check over accounts to make sure there is nothing that needs to be done.

15. What’s your favorite snack to eat at work?

Anything.

16. What do you do when you’re not sure how to answer a caller’s question?

I just apologize to them and explain that I am the receptionist and not qualified to answer their particular question.

The post Meet Your Virtual Receptionists: Krystle M. appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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So, you run a small business. You’re super busy every day and your to-do list is growing and growing. Sometimes it can feel like there’s no end in sight. You’re considering using a live telephone answering service to assist with daily activities like answering phones, scheduling appointments, capturing new leads and providing around the clock customer service. You’ve researched different services but still have questions. If you’re still wondering if a virtual receptionist is going to be right for you, we’ve put together the top 6 reasons why your business may need an answering service.

Defining “Answering Service”

An answering service does exactly what its name suggests: it’s a group of receptionists there to answer your telephone when you can’t – or just don’t want to. Typically, these calls are of a message taking nature; someone calls your business, you aren’t available, the receptionist takes a message on your behalf and sends you the details.  Every day businesses rely on answering services to provide personal, live customer service around the clock.

An answering service is often the first point of contact when you reach out to a small business. Customers need to know their request is received, and an answering service representative is there 24/7  with a warm, friendly voice to help.

Top 6 Reasons Why Your Business Needs an Answering Service 1. To Help Handle High Volume

As a business owner, you’re familiar with the days when the phone never seems to stop ringing. From the time you walk in the door to the time you walk out (and maybe even when you get home, too), your phone is poppin’. Whether you’re airing a new product or campaign and expecting high call volume, or your business is just amazing and naturally busy, answering services are a great tool to help alleviate some pressure on you and your employees.

Since answering services are equipped to handle thousands of customer interactions a day, they can seriously help level up your customer service game by giving each of your callers the attention they deserve. Think about it. If you let your callers wait on hold for too long or direct them to a voicemail, chances are they won’t be too happy. Sure, they could call back at a later time, or they could contact your competitor instead. Womp womp.

2. To Help Capture New Leads

As a small business owner, it can be hard getting your feet off the ground and growing your client base. If you don’t have enough staff members to ensure none of your callers are waiting too long for help, you can kiss potential business goodbye. Answering services are not only there to answer your calls quickly, but they can also act as an extension to your business. Instead of just taking messages for a return call, they can actually assist your callers and help turn them into long-lasting customers.

Another way answering services can help capture new leads is by making outbound phone calls to people who have previously expressed interest in your company, whether it be through your website or previous interactions. Usually you can simply provide your service with the list of people to call, and a script for them to follow. If you’re like most small businesses, you don’t have the time to make many outbound phone calls to try and capture new leads, so having an answering service help with this task is a great way to save time and get some new customers on board.

3. To Help Dispatch Urgent Calls

For businesses that may expect urgent calls (medical practices, HVAC companies, etc.), answering services can really come in handy. Since they are usually available to field calls 24/7, they will be able to help handle any emergency call that may come in and direct the caller to the appropriate person via an on-call dispatching system.

The way in which answering services will dispatch calls and messages may vary, but the premise is the same – you let them know who to call and when, and they will get the message to the correct person. If your on-call schedule rotates on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, most answering services are able to accommodate that as well by providing you with access to an online portal which would allow you to make the changes on the go, or by allowing you to call into the service to make changes over the phone. The last thing you want is for one of your patients or customers to have to wait until business hours for assistance when the issue they are calling in about is serious.

4. To Help Schedule Appointments

In addition to helping dispatch urgent calls and messages 24/7, answering services are usually able to schedule appointments as well. Services that give you multiple scheduling options will be your best bet, as you don’t want to have to limit yourself or spend the time switching over to a brand new system. In addition, if you are a medical practice you’ll want to make sure that the answering service is HIPAA compliant so that all of your patient information stays protected.

Even if you do not run a medical practice, many businesses still rely on appointments. Some different ways you can utilize appointment scheduling based off your industry include:

  • Beauty Salons: If you run a beauty salon, then you definitely need appointment scheduling. Depending on the way in which your answering service schedules, you may even be able to set up different services. For example, a cut and color may cost $80 and may last for an hour, whereas a simple trim may cost $10 and may only last for 15 minutes. Adding various services into your schedule will allow you to maximize your day and will also help your answering service learn more about your business.
  • HVAC Companies: HVAC companies also use appointments to map out their daily jobs. While they may not offer as many services as a beauty salon, another feature that would be compatible with HVAC companies is checking to see if a caller is in your service area. Some answering services can do this just by asking for the caller’s zip code, and others may be able to actually input the caller’s address into an app like Google Maps. By having the answering service gather and check this information, you and your team can save a lot of time by not having to weed these callers out yourself.
  • Law Firms: If you’re an attorney, chances are you spend the majority of your time meeting with clients or representing them in court, which means you aren’t free to schedule appointments yourself. As long as you give your answering service your schedule, they’ll be able to schedule consultations with new potential clients so that you don’t wind up missing any business opportunities.
5. To Help Place Orders

Whether you run an eCommerce company or if your business allows customers to purchase products online, answering services can rock your world too. While not all services can go out to your website to place orders, many of them can, so you’ll want to make sure you do your research before hand.

In addition, you’ll want to make sure that the service is ISO 27001 certified and PCI compliant if they will be taking credit card information from your customers. The last thing you want is for one of your customers to experience fraud at the hands of your answering service, which could fall back on your company.

6. To Provide 24/7 Customer Service

Last, but not least, many businesses need an answering service to help provide their callers with 24/7 customer support. Many businesses aren’t able to stay open all the time, which means their customers suffer, especially if something happens over the weekend and no one is available to assist them. No matter what type of business you run, you can’t go wrong with giving your customers a number to call should they need help after hours.

If you don’t happen to have any sort of support after hours, the likelihood that your customers will leave your service or company in search of another one that IS available 24/7 is not a chance you should be willing to take. Unless of course you have too many customers and are trying to thin out the herd…said no business ever.

The post Top 6 Reasons Businesses Need an Answering Service appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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Small business owners are often bogged down from their day-to-day responsibilities, and can easily find themselves without enough time in the day to eat, breathe or blink. When they discover that using an answering service can relieve the burden of fast communication that customers have universally come to expect, their days as business owners become a little bit easier.

In our coloring book, you’ll find the story of Sue, a small business owner in a land not so far away, without enough time in the day to accomplish everything she needs to keep her growing business growing. That is, until, she finds an amazing answering service to answer her phones. We explore Sue’s story through poems and illustrations, showing how useful a virtual receptionist can be to any small business.

We hope you enjoy the doodles we created!

Download the “Out Of This World Live Answering Service Coloring Book” here.

The post Download Specialty’s live answering service coloring book. appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a virtual receptionist? Or what it’s like to work in an answering service? Is it stressful? Are the hours bad? Is it a rewarding job?

We thought it would be interesting to ask our agents about their experience as virtual receptionists, so we’re launching a staff Q&A series where you can meet the people behind the scenes that represent your business! To kick off this series, we’re introducing you to one of our answering service’s most experienced staff members, Michelle D.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, Michelle.

I’m one of the floor managers with SAS. I’ve been working in the answering service industry for the most part since I was 15 years old.

2. What’s your favorite part of being a customer service representative?

I enjoy when I can actually help someone even just a little, and I get to do that with some of our calls. It could be just to lend them an ear to vent, or help calm them down when they are upset.

3. Is it hard to talk on the phone when you get home?

Yes, I hate to talk on the phone when I get home at night.

4. Have you ever lost your voice from talking on the phone so much?

No, I’ve never lost it all the way, but have become pretty raspy at times.

5. What’s the hardest part(s) of working in a call center?

The hardest part for me would be trying to remember every single account.

6. How do you deal with call center stress? (e.g., handling upset callers, being on the phone all day, etc.)

I take a break for a few minutes. It helps just to step away from my desk and go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Then when I come back in I am refreshed and forgot about the last hard call.

7. Describe the strangest call you’ve ever received at work.

After saying the answering phrase a guy said “can I kiss your big toe?” I said “excuse me?” and he said it again. I was so taken off guard that I did not know what to say so I said “I am sorry but I think you have the wrong number.” He laughed and said “I am so sorry my wife works in the office and I thought you were her.”

I did have another strange hard call. It was back when I was probably 17. We answered for a certain hotline (that I won’t say the name of). A guy called needing to speak to a counselor, he had been drinking and saying he wanted to walk off the curb into traffic. I tried reaching everyone I could but nobody on call would answer their phones. I kept the caller on the line with me trying to calm him down telling him everything he needed to hear like his life was worth it, and he would be okay, that kind of stuff. I asked him for landmarks of where he was and figured it out. I called the local PD and stayed on the phone with him until they arrived. The guy called me the next day thanking me, I even received a letter of accommodation from the Hotline. That was a very good day!

8. What’s the most awkward way a company has asked you to answer their phones?

The hardest one was saying: “Sexual Addiction Hotline how may I help you?” They did end up changing the answering phrase.

9. On average, how many different companies do you think you represent each day?

Around 400-500 but I am not totally sure.

10. In 10 words or less, how would you describe the call center atmosphere?

Very fast paced and different.

11. Do you have any tips on keeping a good tone throughout your shift?

I have to remember that these callers don’t know me and I don’t know them. I also remind myself that a lot of them are having a hard day so I need to keep patient with them. The hardest calls are the hospice calls when a caller is notifying the company that their loved one just passed away. Those callers are never ever mean or anything but it is so sad to hear.

12. What kind of advice would you give to new call center hires?

I tell all new hires that they can’t know every single account, so ask questions!  I also tell them they are human so they will make mistakes, we all do but try to make sure you read every account as it says exactly what to do in there.

13. Is it hard not to laugh if someone gives you a funny email address?

Yes it is hard. I have giggled a few times, but so do the callers.

14. What do you do in between taking phone calls?

I do a board check. That is a way for us to check every account that has active messages. Then if something needs to be done, I do it.

15. What’s your favorite snack to eat at work?

I like to eat yogurt with granola in it. I try to keep it healthy especially since I sit all day.

16. What do you do when you’re not sure how to answer a caller’s question?

I let them know that I am the receptionist so I am not able to answer their question but I am happy to take a message and have someone who can call them.

The post Meet Your Virtual Receptionists: Michelle D. appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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Accurate accounting is the backbone of every successful small business. Scratch that. It’s by far the most important part of running any small business. If your accounting is out of whack, your small business will suffer. As a small business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun side of running a business, like tweaking your marketing or spending hours on hours designing the perfect product or service. However, to be successful, you need to understand your numbers. You need immaculate record keeping. You need to understand regulations. You need to understand profits and losses.

Whether you have a bookkeeper or an accountant handling your financial transactions and producing financial statements, or if you’re trying to juggle the numbers on your own – you need to know what’s going on with your company’s financial health. So, what do you do? To help owners and entrepreneurs alike, we’ve created the Ultimate Guide to Small Business Accounting. This eBook is perfect if you are working with a bookkeeper or an accountant and need an understanding of their responsibilities.

In this eBook, we cover the fundamentals of small business accounting:

  • Basic Knowledge: Learn about The Balance Sheet, The Profit and Loss Statement and The Cash Flow Statement, which are the 3 classic financial measures that all businesses can be judged by and that should be included in your business plan.
  • Accounting Methods: Learn about the two types of accounting methods and determine which will be most suitable for you and your small business. The Cash Basis may be easier to understand, but the Accrual Basis is mandatory by the IRS if you hold inventory.
  • Activities & Timelines: See what tasks need to be done on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual timeline in order to keep  your accounting practices streamlined and organized. For example, daily tasks would include recordings all transactions, whereas monthly tasks would include bank reconciliations and payroll management.
  • Types of Taxes: Learn about the types of taxes you will have to plan for as a small business owner. Some examples of taxes could include income taxes, employment taxes and various federal forms.
  • Required Documents for Tax Preparation: From basic financial statements to meal and travel expenses, figure out what documents you’ll need to have prepared for your accountant.
  • Tax Mistakes to Avoid: Taxes can be tricky, but this section will help steer you in the right direction in terms of mistakes to avoid when filing your taxes, like combining personal and business expenses or not choosing the right business structure (choosing to set up as an S Corporation instead of a C Corporation).
  • Bank Reconciliation: In order to better understand your cash flow position, bank reconciliations need to be done on a daily or monthly basis, and can help you locate and correct errors.
  • Top 5 Do’s and Don’ts: A summary of the top 5 do’s and don’ts for new business owners.

Please click on this link “The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Accounting” to download the ebook.

The post The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Accounting appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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How often do you sign up for something for free and never use it, or use it once and forget about it? We were asking the same questions and wanted to identify what time is the best time for a business to take advantage of an answering service’s free trial. Truth be told, there’s a lot to consider when choosing the right answering service to partner with for your business, and a free trial is a really great tool to see if that service is right for your company.

Let’s say you’re in the market for a live answering service. You’ve done your homework, you’ve researched the best vendors out there, compared them on price and platform, and have a few providers you want to sample. Just remember that an answering service is more than just a tool to have your phones answered around the clock. It’s the voice of your business. It’s your reputation. So what do you do next? You try the service out before you buy!

Just like you would test drive cars before you made your final decision, you can do the same with answering services. Most answering services will offer some variety of free trial period. Maybe it’s a month, maybe it’s only a few weeks, maybe it’s for 7 days – but it’s going to allow you to test the service, get to know the virtual receptionists you’ll be dealing with, and decide if that answering service is right for your business. To help ease the process, we’ve put together a list of the 8 best times for your company to take advantage of an answering service’s free trial period.

1. During the Holidays

One of the best times to sample an answering service via a free trial period is during the holidays. Instead of bah humbugging around your office, you can divert calls to an answering service and spread holiday cheer. Why hire and train seasonal employees when you can save some money (and time) by having your calls answered for free!

While there are many holidays throughout the year that could potentially increase your call volume, we typically see the most volume between the months of October through December. Even if you’re not an eCommerce company, a lot of people skip town during these three months, which usually means less people available to answer your phones. If you happen to be a medical insurance provider, then November and December will bring in hundreds of open enrollment calls. Yikes! Whatever the case may be, using an answering service for their free trial period during these times is a great way to get your calls answered at no extra cost.

2. When You’re Going on Vacation

Vacations are another great time to test out an answering service. Most answering services will give you at least 7 days free, but the trial period could last all the way up to a month – depending on the provider. So, whether you’re going on a quick getaway or a 3 week backpacking trip across Europe, you can rest easy knowing that your phones are being covered.

Before you go, though, you’ll want to make sure your answering service is up to speed with your business protocols. The last thing you’ll want is to go away and have your answering service still thinking you’re available. So, we recommend taking a few days prior to your trip to get acquainted with the service and the people handling your phones so that you can feel confident that your customers will be taken care of. Some things you can do beforehand include:

  • Memorize your forwarding number: The answering service will provide you a unique telephone number to forward your lines to. Whether you are forwarding your lines to that new number or advertising it so your customers call it directly, it’s important that you keep this number handy. If you are forwarding, you run the risk of your line coming off of call forwarding while you are away (typically this can happen during storms or if you happen to lose power). Since you won’t be in your office to re-forward the lines, you’ll have to rely on your phone provider to get the line connected again. However, they won’t be able to do this if you aren’t able to tell them what number to send the calls to.
  • Test your line: After your account’s been programmed, you’ll want to test the line a few times just to make sure everything is set up how you envisioned. Testing the line will give you a feel for what your callers will hear and experience, so you’ll want to make sure it’s up to par with the customer support you’re used to providing.
  • Make changes if necessary: If you find discrepancies, you’ll want to get those issues addressed as quickly as possible. Get in touch with your answering service’s customer support department so that they can come up with a plan to iron out all the kinks. Typically issues can be traced back to the way your account was initially programmed. So, a little TLC with a programmer can usually do the trick and get your account up to speed.
3. When You’re Launching a New Product or Service

Launching the new hotness? You may experience a spike in call volume whenever you launch a new product, a new service, update your privacy policy or TOS, or even a launch new company website. So, if you are planning on putting something new on the market, an answering service can seriously help capture new leads and generate more business for your company.

4. When You’re Hosting a Seminar or Conference

Seminars, conferences, or any business event are going to generate some call volume – and pull you out of your office and off of your phones. Some different ways you can use a trial would include:

  • Setting up an RSVP line: Answering services are great at taking routine tasks off your plate. Handling RSVP calls can be boring and time consuming, so what better way to get the job done without having to do it yourself, and at no extra cost? You’ll of course want to prep your answering service with information before hand, so that they can help answer callers questions regarding the event, as well as RSVP for the appropriate event (if there may be more than one event that callers are inquiring about).
  • Handling event registration calls: Similar to RSVP calls, having your answering service handle event registration calls is a big help. They can assist with signing callers up online, taking payments, and may even be able to offer bilingual support as well.
  • Handling calls while you’re busy: If you just need the answering service to handle calls while you’re participating in the event, then they can help you with that too. Your virtual receptionists can simply take messages, or they can do more like schedule appointments and transfer calls.
5. During a Product Recall

Recalls happen in almost every industry. If one of your products has recently been recalled, your staff is not going to look forward to getting slammed with phone call after phone call. A great way to save money and help alleviate staff stress during a product recall is to utilize an answering service’s free trial.

From having 24/7 availability, to being able to handle high volumes of phone calls daily, answering services are huge assets to have in the face of a recall. They can answer questions, help customers through the return process and ultimately help save your brand at no extra cost.

6. If You’re Running a Charity Telethon

If you run a non-profit organization, finding extra help can be tough, especially if you don’t have the funds to pay for it. However, using an answering service for their free trial is really cost effective, especially if you’re about to air a new pledge drive.

While answering services may have limits to their free trial (usually they’ll last for a certain amount of time or up until you hit a certain volume), you can still take advantage of their offering. Before you send your calls over, take some time to get your service up to speed with your charity. To help streamline the process, check out our tips when using an answering service to handle  your charity telethon.

7. At the Start of Your Busy Season

If you run a seasonal business, then you know when your volume typically starts to pick up and die down. For example, a lawn-care company will usually start getting slammed in the spring, while an oil delivery business will usually start getting hit in August. So, if you’re gearing up for your busy season, you can get a lot of use out of an answering service’s free trial.

Whether you run an HVAC company and need to schedule appointments and have someone field urgent calls, or a landscaping company in which you need to provide quotes, answering services can help make your busy season feel a little less crazed and may help you keep on top of your ever growing to-do list, like cleaning all the dust off of your equipment.

8. If You Know You’re Going to be Short Staffed

Office short staffed? Whether a handful of your employees are going on vacation at the same time or all suffering from a stomach bug, send all your calls to your answering service for free to help alleviate some of the pressure.

Since answering services can often do more than just take messages, to really get the most out of your trial period you’ll want to see what your answering service can do for you. Some examples could include:

  • Schedule Appointments: If your employees typically schedule appointments with  your customers or patients, then see if your answering service can help fill the gap. The way in which they schedule might differ from your normal routine, or they may be able to integrate with your software for a seamless interaction.
  • Place Orders: Often times answering services can also go out to your website to help callers place orders, which is another great way to take advantage of the features your answering service offers. You’ll just want to make sure that your service is PCI compliant and ISO 27001 certified if they are taking credit card information from your customers.
  • Dispatch Urgent Calls: If you need some extra help after hours to dispatch urgent calls or messages, answering services can help you with that as well. Some services may even give you access to an interactive online portal which would allow you to customize your on-call procedures on the go.

The post 8 Times You Wish You Activated An Answering Service Free Trial appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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Finding the right source of funds to start up your small business can be hard. Besides having the next great idea, finding money to help grow that idea is usually the first problem small business owners and entrepreneurs will face. Since there are many different funding options to choose from, it can be frustrating finding the method that will work for you and your startup. From choosing a method of funding, to building your brand, to actually keeping it afloat is a daunting task for even the most eager entrepreneur.

As an answering service for small businesses, we want all of the bootstrapped businesses we answer for to succeed. That’s why we created a guide to assist you in finding the right source, or sources, of funding that will help drive your small business towards success. In this guide (as well as the infographic that follows), we’ve listed 11 sources of small business financing. The list progresses from more conventional and proven ways to fund a business, to those that you should initially avoid until your business gains some traction.

Personal Nest Egg Method

What is it: 

  • Dipping into your own savings
  • Borrowing from friends and/or family

Pros:

  • It’s affordable and hassle-free
  • With a vested interest, you are more likely to be serious about making your small business a success
  • There is a better chance of attracting other investors later, as you have put your money where your mouth is

Cons:

  • If your start-up fails, you don’t have a financial backup to tap into
  • When borrowing from family and friends, misunderstandings or a failed business can mean financial strain and ruined relationships

Pro tip: When borrowing from friends and family, have a formal agreement rather than a verbal one. In addition, you’ll need to decide if it will be a loan or if you will give them some of the profits.

Crowd Funding Method

What is it:

  • Funding from the general public
  • Sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter specialize in this

Pros:

  • You retain control over decision making
  • If you have other creative ideas to incentivize backers, you don’t need to give away equity in your company.

Cons:

  • Convincing a large group of mostly unknown people about the viability and prospects of your idea can be tough

Pro tip: Make sure to include a professional video in your crowd funding campaign. Campaigns with a pitch video raised 239% more money than those without one.

 Angel Funding Method

What is it:

  • Funding from a wealthy individual
  • Usually in exchange for equity in the company

Pros:

  • You’ll have early stage funding along with mentoring
  • A lot of angels even take up an active operating role in the company

Cons:

  • You often have to shell out a large equity stake for a very low valuation

Pro tip: Look for an angel investor whose business ideals match yours. It is not just about the amount of funds you can generate, but the additional value the angel brings to the table.

Government Grants

What is it:

  • A loan given by the governement
  • Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) are two common examples

Pros:

  • You don’t have to pay it back
  • You are not diluting stake in your company

Cons:

  • It’s best suited for technology and research oriented start-ups
  • The application process and filtering criteria can be stringent

Pro tip: When applying for grants, hedge your bets. Multiple agencies may be interested in the same technology but for different applications. In addition, it’s a good idea to hire a consultant to help you navigate the complex application process and paperwork.

Bank Loans

What is it:

  • Receive funding from a bank
  • Credit unions are great for small businesses

Pros:

  • Loans come in all shapes and sizes, so you will most likely find one that suits your needs
  • Having a pre-approved overdraft facility with a bank can be a great cash flow cushion

Cons:

  • There are stringent qualification criteria and documentation requirements
  • Depending on the nature of the loan, there may be a lien on your assets, raw materials and finished goods
  • They may want a personal guarantee, which would mean your personal assets could be at risk if the business fails

Pro tip: Approach smaller community banks as opposed to large banks that may have strict qualifying criteria and documentation requirements. 

Small Business Administration Loans

What is it:

  • Not actually lent by the SBA, but by other financial institutions that is approved by the SBA
  • Most popular type of financing

Pros:

  • Up to 85% is guaranteed by the government

Cons:

  • There are some restrictions on the usage of funds. You cannot pay off creditors, cash out investors, or invest in real estate

Pro tip: Before applying for the loan, be clear on what you will use the funds for. 

Venture Capitalists

What is it:

  • Investors who provide capital to startup companies
  • Similar to angel funding

Pros:

  • Most venture capitalists also offer mentoring and bring with them a wealth of prospective clients in addition to funding

Cons:

  • You will have to give up a share of your business
  • They will want a clear exit plan, at which point you will have to go public or buy back the stake

Pro tip: Venture capitalists are typically interested in game changers or high growth businesses. In addition, be prepared for the change in power dynamics during board meetings. Your business will no longer be “your baby.”

Asset Backed Lending

What is it:

  • Allows you to secure a loan for an asset
  • Assets may include a vehicle or machinery

Pros:

  • You can spread your cost against the productive lifetime of your purchase

Cons:

  • Such an agreement effectively means that you rent the machinery or asset from the lender until you have paid off your loan
  • You have to demonstrate that your business can afford the asset, and try to show how securing the loan will support the growth of your business

Pro tip: Asset finance can spread out your costs but beware that such a loan can be accompanied by high interest rates

Factoring or Borrowing Against Receivables

What is it:

  • Selling your accounts receivables (outstanding invoices) to a 3rd party for a discount
  • Helps free up capital that is stuck in unpaid debts

Pros:

  • The invoices can be for anything from manufactured goods to medical services

Cons:

  • Factors have the first lien on cash flow, so factoring is difficult if there is a judgement against your business, or if the bank has a blanket lien on your assets.

Pro tip: Some banks have factoring practices, and there are many established stand-alone factoring firms

Purchase Order Financing

What is it:

  • Financier that fronts money and takes a cut of the check afterwards
  • The financier could pay a portion of the total cost of supplies or 100%

Pros:

  • You can leverage purchase orders for cash or credit advances to your suppliers
  • You can accept new business from clients even when you don’t have the operating capital to fund the job
  • It’s a great option for companies who have average credit

Cons:

  • Because the PO shop assumes the supply-chain risk, the cost of those funds is typically steeper than what factors might charge
  • PO shops prefer to work with wholesalers and distributors
Merchant Cash Advances

What is it:

  • Allows financiers to give cash today in return for a % of their future credit card sales
  • Offers fast access to capital

Pros:

  • Unlike a loan, which is fixed over a set period of time, MCAs involve a target repayment amount, collected over as long a period as necessary until it’s paid off.

Cons:

  • Deals are structured so that based on a customer’s past performance, the MCA shop gets its money back – plus a handsome return – in 6 to 9 months
Geographic Expansion

The last stage in your business venture would be the geographic expansion of your company. This occurs when you are ready to expand to other geographic locations and is more relevant for physical products and brick and mortar establishments. However, if you sell a digital product online the entire world is your customer base.

If you’re writing about sources of funding for small businesses on your own website, please copy the code below to use this infographic:

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<img title=”Sources of Funding for Small Business Infographic” alt=”Sources of Funding for Small Business Infographic” src=”https://www.specialtyansweringservice.net/wp-content/uploads/sources-funding-small-business-infographic/sources-of-funds-small-business-infographic.jpg” width=”1024″ height=”13256″ />
<pre><em>Image originally posted on <a href=”https://www.specialtyansweringservice.net/sources-funding-small-business-infographic/”>The SAS Blog</a></em>
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The post 11 Sources of Funding for Small Businesses Infographic. appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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If you run a medical practice and use a telephone answering service to handle patient communication, then it’s important to make sure your answering service is up to date on all HIPAA regulations. Why? Because if they aren’t, you’re going to end up spending mega bucks on fines levied against your practice for HIPAA violations.

Since answering services are considered to be business associates, they adhere to all guidelines outlined by HIPAA as they would have access to your patients’ private health information (PHI). For example, if your patient calls your number that is forwarded to the answering service and the receptionist jots down their name and medical issue – that’s PHI. A business associate would include any person or company that produces, receives, communicates or maintains PHI on behalf of a covered entity, like a health care provider.

If your answering service says they are 100% HIPAA compliant, then there are some things they shouldn’t be doing, as well as some things that they should be doing. We’ve listed both sets of points below.

5 Things Your Answering Service Should Never Do:

To maintain HIPAA compliance, there are 5 things a HIPAA compliant answering service should never do. If you experience any of the below, then you’re in danger of being able to answer the question ‘How your answering service can get you fined by HIPAA.’

#1: Your Answering Service Shouldn’t be Texting Protected Health Information

If your answering service is texting you protected health information, they could be violating HIPAA regulations. Unless your business is not governed by HIPAA, you need to make sure that all patient information stays protected. While cell phones may have passwords, they can easily be stolen or hacked into, thus revealing patient information that would no longer be protected.

If you are receiving texts from your answering service, they should either be encrypted, or they should simply be alerting you of a new message, devoid of any PHI. At which point you should be able to log into a secure web portal or a secure mobile app to access those messages. If your answering service does not have a web portal or a mobile app, usually you would be able to call them back to retrieve the information verbally.

An easy way to encrypt your text messages would be download the app called Signal, which is available for both iPhone and Androids. However, in order for you to maintain encryption and security, both parties would have to have the app. So, this may be difficult if you’re working with a third party like an answering service.

Pro tip: While you may get written consent from a few patients to disclose PHI via text between yourself and the service, you may not get it from others. So, you’d have to see if your answering service has the capability to distinguish between those messages. Otherwise, they’d all have to be sent in a uniform format. 

#2: Your Answering Service Shouldn’t be Emailing Protected Health Information

In addition to texting, answering services should not be emailing any protected health information either. So, if your answering service is emailing you, the message should either be encrypted or it should just have a standard alert which instructs you to log into your secure portal to view the information (or to call back for further details). If the patient has given written consent that information can be sent via email from the service to your practice without being encrypted, you’ll want to check with your service to see if emails for those specific patients can be customized accordingly. Otherwise, they’ll also have to be sent in a uniform format.

Similarly, this also goes for your answering service’s customer support department. Sometimes, if calls get escalated or if customer service needs to intervene, they may send a follow up email that contains the caller’s information. However, this could also be considered a HIPAA violation. A good support team will direct you to your online portal to view the details of the call.

The only way to really ensure that your emails are protected would be to have them encrypted. Some standard encryption methods are:

  • Transport Layer Security: TLS encryption is composed of two layers; the TLS Record Protocol and the TLS Handshake Protocol. The Record Protocol provides a safe and secure connection, while the Handshake Protocol allows both users to verify each other and to agree to a specific encrypted system before any data is passed through.
  • Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions: S/MIME encryption is a method of encryption that uses two types of keys, both private and public, which provides a specific function to protect your data. In addition, it allows you to add a digital signature to your emails which would verify  you as the legitimate sender.

#3: Your Answering Service Shouldn’t be Paging Protected Health Information

Like texting and emailing, sending PHI to an alpha pager would also be considered a HIPAA violation. Since the information that is passed through to the pager is not encrypted, the data is not safe. In addition, alpha pagers are not protected by any sort of password, like a cell phone could be. So, if you happen to set your alpha pager down somewhere outside of your own office, there is a chance it could be stolen and the messages on it would be susceptible for anyone to see.

While sending messages via alpha pager is a no-go, there are some HIPAA compliant pagers on the market which would be appropriate to use. However, as paging is no longer a common form of communication, your coverage area may be limited.

#4: Your Answering Service Shouldn’t be Leaving Protected Health Information on a Voicemail

If you’re having your answering service reach out for urgent situations, there is room for HIPAA violation here as well. If your answering service does not reach you, they should either leave no message, or at the very most they should leave a call back number so you can contact them back to retrieve the information. If your answering service is leaving patient information on your voicemail, they are violating HIPAA.

Essentially, your answering service should not be leaving PHI on any sort of device that is susceptible to data breaches, whether it be as a text, email, page, or voicemail. Ironically, though, sending patient information via fax is considered to be HIPAA compliant.

Pro tip: Similarly to emailing and texting, you may be able to leave PHI on a voicemail if the patient consents. Again, this information would be passed between the answering service and the physician, and the patient would not be involved. If they are okay with this transaction of information, you’d have to check with your service to see if they can customize protocols accordingly. 

#5: Your Answering Service Shouldn’t be Giving out Medical Advice

While this one isn’t necessarily a violation under HIPAA, it is still a huge liabilty for any medical provider. Under no circumstances should your answering service be giving out medical advice to patients, as they would be doing it on behalf of a trained physician but with no real consent from the doctor to do so.

For example, it would be fine for one person to give another person advice to take Aspirin if they had a headache, but not as an entity that is talking to patients on behalf of a medical provider. This is because the patient could later come back and say that “Joe from the answering service advised me to take this” even though that person didn’t have any background knowledge of the patient’s health history.

Really, the only medical advice your answering service should be giving is to call 911 if it’s a true medical emergency. Otherwise, they should inform the caller that they cannot give advice since they are the answering service, but that they can take down their information to have their call returned by a licensed medical physician.

5 Things Your Answering Service Should Always Do:

While there are several things that your answering service shouldn’t be doing in terms of HIPAA, there are also a handful of things that your answering service should be doing to keep your patients’ information safe. For example:

#1: Your Answering Service Should be Secure

Ensuring that your answering service is secure is very important to maintain the privacy of your patients. An answering service that claims to be HIPAA compliant should be ISO 27001 certified and should be able to prove it.

Having a secure call center is more than just having secure systems and software. This also means that the operators handling your calls should be in paperless environments so that they cannot write any information down, and they should also be free of their cell phones while at their computers. This eliminates the chance of them texting or taking pictures of private health information.

#2: Your Answering Service Should Have HIPAA Training

Your answering service should have at least one HIPAA Compliancy Officer on site that is available to train all of the agents handling your calls on current HIPAA regulations. While the agents may not need an extensive 6 week course on HIPAA, they need to at least know the basics so that they can handle your calls properly.

Additionally, your answering service’s HIPAA Compliancy Officer should be kept up to date on all HIPAA regulations via training seminars and be able to provide periodic training to the operators so that they can be kept up to date as well.

#3: Your Answering Service Should Have Procedures in Place for Data Breaches

In the event that data is breached, your answering service should have a plan in place and they should be as transparent as possible with their customers. For example, if one or all of their systems gets hacked into, the first thing they should do is have their IT team shut everything down so that no further access can be made into the system except for them. Then, they should try to determine what information was stolen, if any.

From there, they should send out correspondence to all of their customers that it affected letting them know of the breach, what information was or could have been stolen, and ways to go about protecting their information from here on out. For example, allowing your customers to purchase identity protection on your dime for a certain time frame after the incident occurred (e.g.,  6 months to a year) is a great way to say that you’re sorry. While it doesn’t fix what happened, it’s a step in the right direction and may encourage your customers to stay customers.

#4: Your Answering Service Should Enter into a Business Associates Agreement with Your Practice

An important step of partnering with an answering service is to enter into a Business Associates Agreement (also known as a BAA) so that you can disclose protected health information (PHI) securely under HIPAA. Once the contract is signed, you are then able to disclose PHI with your answering service safely.

However, if your practice is not protected under a BAA and your answering service happens to violate HIPAA, your medical practice could be held liable and face up to a million dollars per violation. So, imagine if you get 10 calls in one night, and each one incurred a violation, you’d be facing up to 10 million dollars in fines and a severely damaged reputation.

#5: Your Answering Service Should Have a Secure Means of Retrieving Your Messages

As stated briefly above, your answering service should give you a secure method to retrieve your messages. Typically, services will give you access to a secure online portal and/or a secure mobile app that you would have to log into to retrieve message details. In some cases, you may even be able to add other users that would be able to log into the portal as well in the event you are not in or if there are several physicians that should be receiving the messages as well.

If your answering service does not offer an online portal or a mobile app, then usually you would be able to call them  back to retrieve the messages verbally. However, keep in mind that this may be considered billable usage on your line so it’s important to confirm those details prior to signing up, in case that will not work for you and your practice.

The post The Top 5 Ways Your Answering Service May Be Violating HIPAA. appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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Want to test your knowledge on the answering service industry? See if you can answer all 10 questions correctly. If you're feeling real lucky, test your knowledge with our telephone trivia quiz next!

1. When was the first call center created?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is B. 1957

  1. 1930
  2. 1957
  3. 1985
  4. 1919

2. Who owned the first call center?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is C. Time Inc.

  1. Sport's Illustrated
  2. The Government
  3. Time Inc.
  4. American Express

3. What decade were call centers moved from manual to automatic systems?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is C. 1970's

  1. 1950's
  2. 1960's
  3. 1970's
  4. 1980's

4. Approximately how many calls do answering services handle each year?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is D. 46 Billion

  1. 1 million
  2. 500 million
  3. 3 billion
  4. 46 billion

5. Around how many call centers are there in the U.S?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is C. 60,000

  1. 500
  2. 8,000
  3. 60,000
  4. 100,000

6. What state has the largest number of call centers?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is A. California

  1. California
  2. Hawaii
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. Texas

7. On average, what percent of business interactions do call centers handle?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is D. 70%

  1. 15%
  2. 35%
  3. 50%
  4. 70%

8. What does IVR stand for?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is B. Interactive Voice Response

  1. Intense Virtual Reality
  2. Interactive Voice Response
  3. Immediate Voice Recognition
  4. Interactive Voice Recognition

9. Approximately how many people are employed by call centers in the U.S.?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is A. 2.5 Million

  1. 2.5 million
  2. 10 million
  3. 800,000
  4. 4 million

10. What percent of telemarketing companies comprise the answering service industry?    Show Me the Answer! 
The answer is C. 80%

  1. 15%
  2. 75%
  3. 80%
  4. 25%

Answers: 1. B,   2. C,   3. C,   4. D,   5. C,   6. A,   7. D,   8. B,   9. A,   10. C

The post Answering Service Quiz: Test your Knowledge Of The Industry appeared first on Specialty Answering Service.

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