Internal Communications: The Fundamentals
Updated February 15,2016 (arf)
The tools of active communications:
- Electronic Voice Mail (EVM)
- Email (EM)
- Instant Messenger (IM)
- One-on-one via phone
- One-on-one in person
What method of communication should I use?
- Routine, not time sensitive: EVM, EM
- Time sensitive: IM, One-on-one
- “Getting all my thoughts in order” detailed explanations: EVM, Email.
- Personal and sensitive issues: one-on-one in person, or one-on-one via phone
- Documentation is necessary: E-mail or hard-copy.
- Information is complex/detailed: E-mail or hard-copy.
The Point-Of-Sale Philosophy
Point of Sale protocol for our internal communications and processes means, most of all, that when a question is asked of you, your response is immediate. For instance, avoid saving a voice mail message for a future response. If you must delay your response, take the time to respond to the message sender now to tell him or her that you will get back with a detailed answer at a future time (be sure to provide an approximate time and/or day they can expect your response). Understand that this approach is just as applicable to Email: the basic rule is to keep your inbox empty by dealing with the issue now. For all other processes, if at all possible, take care of it NOW.
The Centratel Gmail information system is the heart of our administration’s internal communications. The contact list and calendar are critical to staying organized and maximizing efficiency. Have the program open at all times and use it continuously to keep control of your day.
If you are working, it must be active. Be sure it is configured to turn on automatically when you log into your computer profile.
Reread your emails before you send them out. Are there grammatical errors? Is all the information present; Are you presuming the reader is a mind reader? Is the message clear, concise and brief?
Giving a Message Via Any Medium
- Not many people think about the way they communicate. Our entire existence as a company is to provide communication services so it’s our job to be good at it! Our marketing position is as “The highest Quality telephone answering service in the United States” and that can’t happen unless we unceasingly refine and improve our own communications as well as the communications services we provide: We think about it all the time. We analyze it. We refine it. We make it the best it can be by paying attention to details.
- Before you leave a message for someone, what needs to happen in your preparation in order for your message to be complete, clear and concise? Are you saying too much or too little? At Centratel we have many tools with which to communicate. Are you using the best method?
- Rambling messages that contain more information than is necessary, or messages that keep repeating the same information over and over, are a waste of two people’s time. The VM medium is particularly susceptible to too-long, inefficient messages. Whatever the communication method, remember this when sending a message: The frustration level of the recipient will rise proportionally to the degree of wastefulness within your message. Think: “A good message is a short message.”
- For TSRs, a very effective training process is to use our voice logging (voice recording) equipment to review his or her own conversations with callers and clients. There is usually a gap between what one thinks they sound like and what they actually sound like.
- With a language and protocol all to itself, giving a detailed, concise message is a work of art as well as a science. It takes practice and discipline just to pick the right medium, much less deliver the message effectively. For example, remember that 90% of routine voice mail messages can be fifteen seconds or shorter and, often a voice mail message is faster and more meaningful than an Email message. Think about your communication: Diagnose your own methods and study the possibilities. We are a communication services company and as such, we pride ourselves in our ability to communicate superbly among ourselves. We’re disciplined. We’re thoughtful.
Processing Voice Mail Messages
- ANSWER ALL MESSAGES IMMEDIATELY. If you do not have the information requested by the person asking the question, say so immediately. Then, tell them when they can expect to hear back from you. Create a reminder to get the answer and to follow through ASAP.
- Do not store messages in your mailbox! Delete messages as soon as you have responded to them. Work toward keeping your mailbox empty.
- Run the script of a message through your head before you record it. Don’t ponder the subject while recording the message. Know what you will say before you say it! Your recipient will appreciate that you are considerate of their time.
- State the information once. Spell names and give phone numbers once. Avoid repeating yourself. This takes discipline.
- Give the vast majority of your messages in 15 seconds or less. Be considerate.
- Eliminate 100% of “ummms” and “ahhhs.”
- Be cautious about sending broadcast messages: If your message is of marginal importance you will have wasted the time of many people.
- Speak clearly!
- Generally, when leaving a message to someone outside Centratel, leave information in this order: name, company, number and then message. When leaving a message for a Centratel staff member, just leave the pertinent information without saying your name or giving the time/day.
- If the message is truly urgent, say so. The question to ask when deciding on whether the message should be considered urgent is this: Is the information time sensitive?
- When answering a message always begin with “In reference to your message concerning…”
- If you are sending someone a message simply to give them information and it’s critical information, tell them in the message that you want a confirmation that they have received it. Confirmation of message receipt is not necessary for “group” messages.
- “Give” messages when necessary. Always preface your given message with a comment. However, it is often better to paraphrase the original message and deliver it in your own words. It’s almost always faster for the recipient that way. Always, when sending or giving a message, consider the time factor for the person receiving the message. Be considerate.
- If you call someone to speak to them directly but get their voice mail, always leave a message! It’s why the voice mail is there! All communication is about information transfer. Always use the options available to you to keep the information flowing.
- “Simultaneous two-way conversations” are great but the alternative, “sequential two-way conversations” provided by voice mail (or email, for that matter) are a great second choice. In fact, non-simultaneous, sequential voice mail conversations have special advantages including giving the message recipient time to consider carefully what is being said without the pressure of tending to the other party’s expectation of an immediate response. The advantage to the sender is that he or she can compose and deliver thoughts carefully without having to meet the time expectations of the listener.
- Keep your greetings short, don’t self aggrandize, pontificate or go overboard trying to convince your caller how much you care.
- Return calls ASAP! Make it a #1 priority.
- If answering the main line, answer “Centratel, this is _______” Then, when you find out who is on the line, immediately jot down the caller’s name and company name.
- Handle call details per Point of Sale protocol.
- Keep all conversations minimal and to-the-point.
- For Administrative staff, all messages received prior to one hour before the end of your shift are to be returned the same day.
- If you miss the caller’s name (you shouldn’t, per #2 above) ask “your name again?” not “what was your name.”
- Use Email when voice mail is insufficient because there is too much detail, there is too much complexity or there must be a tangible record.
- Be cautious of wasting time. Complex information transfers can often be accomplished faster via voice mail or one-on-one by telephone. Also be cautious about sending broadcast messages: If your message is of marginal importance you will have wasted the time of many people.
- If it is a message from an individual, let the sender know you got their message. This is not necessary for group broadcast messages
- In Gmail, create appropriate labels to store important messages.
Commonly Used Terms
- Answering Service, Telephone Answering Service or TAS: 3rd party handling of a company’s telephone communications. See “Definition of A Telephone Answering Service” elsewhere in this appendix.
- Call forwarding: The telephone company option that allows calls to be routed to an alternative destination. There are four distinct types of call forwarding. See appendix, “Four Types of Call Forwarding.”
- Caller: the individual who is calling the client.
- Channel, Talk Path: On a T1 this is the circuit that carries an individual call. There are 24 channels on a standard T1, 23 on a PRI T1. See DID, PRI “One Number” and T1.
- CLEC, Competitive Local Exchange Company: See Telephone Company.
- Cross-connect. See “Patch.”
- CO, central office, CO switch: The Telco computer system that controls telephone traffic in a given geographic area. In Bend, it is housed in a large brick building on NW Kearney Ave., one block north of our offices.
- Customer, client, account: The businesses and individuals who purchase our services (99% of our services are sold to businesses).
- Dial-tone: This is the “access portal” through which the caller can program the CO to route a telephone call to a specific destination.
- DID, Direct Inward Dial service: The oldest of our two primary call routing protocols, and used by Centratel since 1985. DID numbers are “rented” to Centratel from the phone company. When these numbers are dialed, calls travel down “DID trunks” to our Startel TAS system. The DID numbers are issued individually to clients who either call-forward their office phones to their specific DID number, or the DID number is dialed directly by callers. When a call travels down the DID trunk, it is preceded by an electronic coding of the last four digits of the seven digit DID number. The four-digit number has been programmed into the Startel switch with each customer’s specific routing and call-handling instructions. The switch recognizes each individual number and then routes the incoming call to either a Telephone Service Representative who has the specific information for handling this particular account or, the call is routed to one of our voice mail systems which also has been programmed with specific information for that particular DID number. From the phone company Centratel leases several thousand separate DID numbers and a total of three DID trunks. Each trunk is capable of handling 23 separate and simultaneous incoming or outgoing calls via 23 “channels” or “talk paths.”
- Gold service: Voice mail assisted telephone answering service. The call is initially processed by voice mail. However, if the caller wishes to speak to a TSR, he or she can initiate a transfer from the voice mail system to the Telephone Service Representative. Most of our medical, veterinary and property management accounts use Gold Service. For these types of accounts it is more convenient to the caller and less expensive for the client.
- LEC, Local Exchange Company: See telephone Company
- MEL, Market Expansion Line: See RCF
- PAA, Personal Auto Answer: A feature universally used by top-quality telephone answering services to handle the occasional times when the number of incoming calls exceeds the number of available Telephone Service Representatives (TSRs). This is how it works: An incoming call that rings more than three times is placed in a “hold” position while a brief greeting informs the caller that “You have reached (business name). One moment please, your call is being transferred.” Music will play for the caller and the call is held and then released to the first available Telephone Service Representative. Callers know they have reached the correct destination because of the personalized greeting. And, they know that a “live” person will soon help them. The actual wording in the greeting was carefully considered because it suggests that “something is happening” rather than simply stating the caller is going to be in a static “on hold.” The PAA system replaces our previous “manual on-hold” system in which a Telephone Service Representative would place a caller on hold in order to take a new incoming call (in order to avoid over-rings on the new incoming call). The positive aspects of PAA, over the previous manual on-hold system, are that callers never hear over-rings and TSR’s, once talking with a caller, will never put that caller on hold to pick up a new call. PAA was installed in early 2005 and was a tremendous improvement for our TSR’s piece of mind. The old system was nerve-wracking.
- Patch, cross-connect: A call connection between the client and the caller made possible through Centratel’s Startel equipment. Instituted by a TSR, this connection is through the Startel switch and “ties up” two of our lines (one incoming and one outgoing).
- POTS, POTS line: “Plain old telephone line” (really!). This is the standard telephone line used by most small businesses and nearly every residential Telco customer.
- PRI (“One Number”), Primary Rate Interface service. An alternative to the DID call-routing protocol mentioned below. This relatively new Telco service was implemented in March 2002. With this technology, telephone answering service customers in a given area call-forward their lines to us via a single telephone number provided by Centratel. The Startel system identifies these incoming calls via caller ID information provided by the telephone company (the caller ID information is attached electronically to the incoming call, in front of the ring portion of the call). For the very few of our customers who distribute their DID number for their callers to call directly, or who terminate their own toll free numbers at Centratel, DID service must be used instead of PRI (“One Number”). PRI (“One Number”) has been a key element in serving customers in regions outside Central Oregon.
- PRI (“One Number”)/DID: Both DID and PRI (“One Number”) calls travel down the same Telco trunks into the Startel switch. The switch processes both DID and PRI (“One Number”) calls on the same dual-purpose “cards”. Our Startel system can simultaneously receive both types of calls. The other major system used by competing services cannot process both types of incoming calls. This gives Centratel a significant advantage in the marketplace.
- Quality Manager: In the telephone answering service, the manager responsible for critiquing and maintaining call quality.
- RCF, Remote Call Forwarding; MEL, Market Expansion Line: This is a Telco telephone number that is routed to another telephone number through the Central Office. The RCF, or MEL number itself does not ring at a phone but is simply forwarded to another telephone number.
- Remote site: A location outside the Central Oregon region that is not accessible to our offices via local Central Oregon telephone service.
- Revert. With a voice mailbox, this describes where a call is programmed to go should the caller not press a digit on the key pad.
- Startel switch: Located in our Centratel HQ offices, this switch routes incoming calls to TSRs and to our voice mail system. It also processes outgoing calls and “patches” calls together (see #19 above), etc.
- Startel, Startel system: The Centratel switch mentioned above, as well as the additional computer hardware and software necessary to process telephone answering service calls. It’s the system that TSR’s use to process calls.
- “Straight” voice mail. These are simple voice mailboxes rented to end users in which there are no ties to our telephone answering service services (such as Gold Service).
- Supervisor: In the telephone answering service, in the absence of the telephone answering service Manger, supervises TSRs and solves problems with clients and callers.
- Switch: The computer system that allows calls to be directed according to the dialing instructions of the caller. This term can be used to describe the Central Office switch or to a smaller Startel switch like the one we have housed in our office.
- Switched Network: The standard “land-line” telephone network as opposed to internet and cellular networks. This is the network that uses long distance lines, local lines and central offices. With numerous redundant, backup systems, it is profoundly reliable: The system in the U.S. is arguably the best in the world.
- T1: A group of 24 ”channels,” each of which can carry an individual conversation. A PRI (“One Number”) T1 carries 23 conversations with one channel reserved for data transfer.
- TAS: Telephone Answering Service
- Team Leader: On a given shift, if the telephone answering service Manager or a Supervisor are not available, this is the person who manages TSRs, trouble shoots complaints and acts as liaison between the TAS, on-call personnel and clients. In the absence of the telephone answering service Manager or a Supervisor, the Team Leader is the most senior Telephone Service Representative on a given shift
- Telemessaging Center: Centratel is a telemessaging center, a kind of enhanced telephone answering service. A telemessaging center offers a variety of services including telephone answering service, paging, and voice mail. The equipment is state-of-the-art. Pay rates and benefits are typically higher than in a “straight” TAS, or other telecom companies. A traditional telephone answering service sells answering service only. For the most part, voice mail and paging companies, as well as traditional answering services, sell their own product against other telecom services. A telemessaging center offers all these services and works to configure customized systems that exactly meet customer needs. Combining all services under one roof leads to efficiency, flexibility and economy for the client and for Centratel.
- Telephone company, Telco, Local Exchange Company, LEC, ILEC, Competitive Local Exchange Company, CLEC: The large telecommunications business entity that supplies “dial tone” telephone service to a specific geographical region. A LEC or ILEC is usually the primary, historical telephone service provider in an area, often the outgrowth or remnant of a past “baby-bell.” A CLEC is a smaller “competitive” telephone company that competes with the LEC and other CLECs. In Central Oregon, there is Century Link(LEC), RIO and BendTel (all CLECs).
- Trunk: see Trunk Group below, and Channel.
- Trunk group: a bundle of phone lines, each individually called a Trunk, routed to the same location. Each individual call travels down a “talk path” or “channel.” See DID, PRI (“One Number”) and Channel
- TSR, telephone service representative, agent, telephone secretary, operator: The Centratel employee who takes and delivers messages in the telephone answering service portion of the company. TSRs are the heart of what we do, and the quality of what we provide…
- Voice Logger, DVR, Digital Voice Recorder: With one unit for our administration phones and one for the telephone answering service, these devices record conversations between callers and Centratel representatives. If there is a question about what exactly transpired on a given call in our TAS, our supervisors can replay both sides of the conversation. It is also a key element in training and quality control.
- Voice over IP. Voice over Internet: calls travel over the internet in packets, not over the traditional “switched network” provided by telephone companies. However already a vital part of telecommunications on the traditional “switched” network, it’s probably the future of infrastructure telephone systems everywhere.