Our Definition of a Snow Day – 16,470 Calls

A snow day means different things to different people.  For kids, it means, NO SCHOOL!  For those of us that head to work, it means cleaning off the car and navigating treacherous roads, snow plows (big and small) and then figuring out how to get your car into the parking lot once you arrive safely at work.  For an answering service it means, Game On!

Stella in full swing.

Winter Storm Stella was no exception.  As weather conditions worsened in the Upstate NY area, offices began to close up to allow their employees the opportunity to get home and off the roads.  In our company, just the opposite was happening.  People were being asked to come in because when a storm hits, the phones start ringing.  And they don’t stop!  We have teams in 5 offices and they all rolled up their sleeves and took on the task of being the voice on the other end of the line.

We have a remarkable team of professionals.  Our Customer Service Representatives, Supervisors and Managers were energized by what they knew was coming.  They proactively geared up for the storm and organized to make sure shifts were covered.  They went above and beyond to help each other.  They were car pooling with those that couldn’t get transportation, they picked people up that couldn’t get out of their driveways or manage the road conditions.  Others worked extra shifts to help distribute the load for their colleagues and yes…  we had 2 people spend the night in the office because they couldn’t get home.   Did any of them complain?  Nope.  Even more remarkable was the level of understanding that our clients gave our teams.

When we face these kinds of challenges, it becomes all about, ”Let’s see how good we can be.”  And when we got the stats about the numbers of calls we handled, we truly impressed ourselves.  Stella set records for snowfall totals all over Upstate NY and set a record with us too.  We handled the largest volume of calls in one day in our company history ~ 16,470.  Our prior record was 14,099, which was set back in January 2012.

This is what exceptional looks like.  Congratulations to all who stepped up, well done to those who spent the night, hats off for the positive “can do” attitude that was pervasive across our offices.  Enjoy the “thank you” lunches this week and THINK SPRING!

 

AnswerUSA Group Welcomes Answer Binghamton

Answer USA Group welcomes our newest location in Binghamton, NY.  Answer USA Group is a division of Finger Lakes Business Services, Inc. (FLBS), which recently purchased the answering service business of Tri-Cities Communications, Inc.   We will have the opportunity to serve 190 additional clients and welcome 11 Customer Service Representatives.    We anticipate upgrading equipment and growing in the region, providing additional offerings to our new Binghamton and Southern Tier clients.

This purchase represents the 13th answering service acquired by FLBS, which will operate at its present location as Answer Binghamton.  The company previously purchased operations in Auburn (NY), Ithaca (NY), Syracuse (NY), Oswego (NY), Rome (NY), Tampa (FL), Brandon (FL), Steamboat Springs (CO), Greeley (CO), Hotchkiss (CO), Watertown (NY) and Chatham (NY).  Answer Binghamton joins existing call centers: Answer Finger Lakes, Answer Syracuse, Answer Watertown and Answer Bay Area under the AnswerUSA Group umbrella.

2016 ATSI Award of Excellence

Our Outstanding Service Earns Award of Excellence ~

Each of our offices have been honored with the exclusive 2016 ATSI  Award of Excellence for Outstanding Customer Service.   Answer Finger Lakes and Answer Syracuse won for the 12th consecutive year.  Both offices achieving a TOP TEN rank.  Answer Bay Area won for the 7th consecutive year and Answer Watertown making its debut with its first award.

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AnswerUSA Group President, Gardner McLean receiving one of the 4 ASTI Awards of Excellence from Jeffrey Zindel, ATSI President

This award is presented annually by the Association of TeleServices International (ATSI), the industry’s Trade Association for providers of telecommunications and call center services including telephone answering and message delivery across North America and the UK.  Our company President, Gardner McLean was presented with the award at ATSI’s 2016 Annual Convention held at Hilton Downtown, Tampa, FL.

Independent judges are contracted by ATSI to evaluate message services over a six month period.  The scoring criteria includes:

–  Response Time

–  Courteousness of Rep

–  Accuracy of Call

–  Knowledge of Account

–  Overall Impression of Call

The award started 20 years ago as a means to improve the overall quality of the call centre industry by setting expectations and measurements to ensure a successful call handling experience.

We Have Moved into Our New Office

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Answer Watertown staff

Our Watertown office has relocated to its new site at 522-A Bradley Street, Watertown, NY.  The move took place in February and was necessary to provide additional office space to support an increased number of staff and conference areas.  Several renovations were needed to accommodate the needs of an answering service, including mandatory separation of the Operators’ room from other areas.  All of the AnswerUSA offices played a part in the relocation since the goal was to guarantee continuity of service for all clients.

A Career Operator

By:  Dee  (15+ years of answering service experience)

I remember my first day at Answer Bay Area.  I had no idea what an answering service did, with the exception of answering the telephone on behalf of companies and doctors’ offices.  I was amazed at the call volume and variety of call types that my instructor handled as I looked on.  Within hours I was answering calls with an experienced operator by my side.  I was so terrified that I did not think I would be back the next day.

I remember the first mistake that I made was calling a doctor with a routine appointment call.  He quickly realized that I was new but took a moment to encourage me.  He assured me that I would get the hang of it.  He did not know that made my day and I decided I would give myself a chance to learn the answering service business.

Once on my own, I realized that we are here to help people by taking a message, being compassionate to their needs or just being nice to someone. I have irate callers that I have to take deep breaths in order to be overly nice.  Surprisingly, some of them offer an apology for taking their frustrations out on me.

We receive sad calls from people whose spouse has passed away during the night and from hospitals notifying the doctors that a patient has expired.  We also receive the occasional funny story.  I took a call from a parent whose child had stuffed a green pea up his nose and the mother was laughing so hard she was having trouble giving me information for the doctor.

Over the course of my career, I have left the office realizing that I have helped someone each day, whether it’s a caller, a client or an operator.  It makes my job fulfilling each day.

AnswerUSA Group Honored with Multiple Association of TeleServices International (ATSI) Awards of Excellence for 2015

Finger Lakes Answering Service (Auburn, NY) has been honored with the exclusive Diamond Plus Award of Excellence,  marking its 11th consecutive year of recognition. This year’s achievement of finishing in the top 5 for the past 6 years is unprecedented.

Answer Syracuse/Communications Group (Syracuse, NY) has also received the Diamond Plus Award of Excellence, recognizing its 11th consecutive year of outstanding service.

Answer Bay Area (Tampa, FL) has been honored with the Pearl Award of Excellence for achieving its 6th consecutive year of excellence.  This marks a spectacular increase in ranking over 2014.

Independent judges are contracted by ATSI to evaluate message services over a six month period.  The scoring criteria includes:  Response Time, Courteousness of Rep, Accuracy of Call, Knowledge of Account and Overall Impression of Call.

Our dedicated team of professionals, lead by Karen Goodman (Auburn, NY), Jennifer Wiler (Syracuse, NY) and Dee Starling (Tampa, FL), work very hard to ensure consistent delivery of excellent service to AnswerUSA clients and their callers, year after year. The results make us very proud and motivate us to continue our hard work.

Finger Lakes Business Services, Inc./AnswerUSA Welcomes Answer Watertown

Finger Lakes Business Services, Inc. (FLBS) has completed the purchase of the Telephone Answering Service operations of S.T.A.T. Communications, Inc. (STAT).  (STAT has been in business serving the Upstate New York region since the 1950’s and continues to provide all its other services.)

This former STAT operation is now part of FLBS’ AnswerUSA Group Division and is known as Answer Watertown.  Its clients are being served from an office on Public Square in downtown Watertown, along with staff in 3 other offices (Auburn, Syracuse and Tampa).  The combination of offices provides additional support to assist with call handling.

“We are pleased to add the former STAT clients to our service area”, says Gardner McLean, President of FLBS.  “Most of the clients are located in the North Country and Utica areas, which fits nicely into our network.  We have gained a nice team of experienced staff to make the transition smooth.  We look forward to serving this new client base.”

Clients have been transitioned to the AnswerUSA system without interruption in service and are now benefiting from the continued investment in new technology and customer focus. .  The process of transitioning is extensive because of the unique scripting that the AnswerUSA system provides.  This includes a thorough analysis of each account and individualized programming for each client.  In addition to the STAT staff, the division has  hired several new employees  to compliment the new site.

This is the 11th answering service acquired by FLBS.  The company previously purchased operations in Auburn (NY), Ithaca (NY), Syracuse (NY), Oswego (NY), Rome (NY), Tampa (FL), Brandon (FL), Steamboat Springs (CO), Greeley (CO), Hotchkiss (CO), and now Watertown.

Answer Watertown is a full-service call center.   In 2015, the Auburn, Syracuse and Tampa offices were each honored with the exclusive 2015  ATSI Award of Excellence.  The Award of Excellence is a program that provides independent testing of quality in customer service levels.

According to industry sources, AnswerUSA ranks in the top 5% of all 3,000 answering services in the country in terms of size, with over 1,300 clients and 70 employees.  Answer Watertown joins existing call centers: Answer Finger Lakes, Answer Syracuse, Answer Bay Area, under the Answer USA Group umbrella.

Answering Service First Impressions In Syracuse, NY

Making An Impact

By:  Brie (3+ years of answering service experience)Answer USA Group Logo 4-15-13

First impressions can be tricky, nerve-wracking experiences – I know a lot of people who rely heavily on first impressions to give them a sense of who a person is, how they operate and what to expect from them in the future. We spend a lot of thought, time and energy on first impressions. Now that I think of it, humans spend a lot of time just thinking about first impressions and worrying about how first impressions will impact their relationships with others.

In this business it is important to make a good impression on every call you take and surprisingly, most people won’t recognize your voice even if they’re a repeat caller. I’ve had cases where I had taken a call for someone and get them on the line again on a different account for the exact same type of message.  They don’t recognize that I had just been speaking with them. I see this as another opportunity to change their day.

Whenever I have someone on the line I think about how I am impacting their day. This really helps me keep things in perspective. Time really matters in this situation – I try to improve the callers day in the short time that I’m speaking with them. If I’m only going to be on the phone with this person for 1 – 2 minutes I really have to be attentive to make an impact. One of the most important parts of my process is focus– I strive to give my callers my full attention. People can tell when you are multi-tasking (even over the phone) or if you are distracted and unfocused. So many callers are appreciative when you gather and confirm details they’ve mentioned that are important to them.

Manners are extremely important to me in my personal and professional life. Working in a call center environment has changed my life for the better. I always try to use my manners and I have had compliments on my manners in my personal life. For me, it’s all about consistency – everything we do is a practice. I’ve made manners my practice – both at work and at home. A genuine thank you impacts every day interactions on a very large scale.

How Will I Be Billed By My Answering Service?

When evaluating Answering Services, it is important that you understand exactly how you will be billed for their services. In particular, be aware that, when it comes to pricing, you may be comparing apples to oranges. In general, Answering Services either bill on a per call or per minute basis, but they may also bill on a per message, per unit or fixed rate plan. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages depending upon the types of calls you receive, the types of messages you would like taken and delivered, and how you would like them delivered.

Per Call Plans
Questions to Ask / Things to Consider
What is my current call volume including hang-ups and wrong numbers?
What is considered a call?
Are both Inbound Calls and Outbound Calls billable?
How will I be billed for Text Messages, Emails, Faxes, Pages?
If I have a billing plan that includes a certain number of calls per billing period, how will I be charged for calls that exceed my plan?

Per Minute Plans
Questions to Ask / Things to Consider
How long is my typical call?
Can the service screen incoming calls with prerecorded message so that I have the option to reduce the number of calls that are answered by an operator?
How are minutes calculated? Are they rounded to the nearest minute? 15 seconds? 6 seconds?
What activity is included in billable minutes? Most services bill for Live Operator Time, but some will also bill for Wrap Time (time required to complete and double-check the message after the caller hangs up) and some bill for Screen Time (time unrelated to any call when the answering service staff have an account open on their screen for various reasons.
How will I be billed for text messages, emails, pages, and faxes?
If my billing plan includes a certain number of minutes for each period, how will I be billed for overage minutes?

Per Message Plans
Questions to Ask / Things to Consider
What is included as a message (Some create a message for every call, such as “no message” or “caller will call back”)?
If a plan includes a certain number of messages, how will I be billed for overage?

Per Unit Plans (These are the most complicated and vary among answering services)
Questions to Ask / Things to consider
Do they provide documentation showing how the units will be calculated?  Sometimes a call = 1 unit, but perhaps some calls (i.e. an outbound call) might = 2 units. Sometimes an email, text, page, or fax might be a unit, as well.

Fixed Rate Plans (There are answering services that will provide fixed rate plans)

Questions to Ask / Things to consider
Will my rate increase if my call/minute count exceeds a certain level?  Be sure that you understand what will trigger a rate increase?
If there are automatic triggers for increases, make sure you understand if there are automatic triggers for rate decreases as well, so that an unusually busy period won’t cause the fixed rate to increase forever?

For more information on our billing terms and conditions, please contact us at (800) 308-5544 x225


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