Introduction to Employee Handbook

Message From the President

September 29, 2016

Welcome to Centratel!

For the new employee, this “Message from the President” is a general orientation. The veteran employee can consider it an update, a sort of “State of the Company” report. For those who don’t work here and are interested in how we operate, this message gives a good overview of how we do things. I welcome your comments (email me at samc@centratel.com).

So, to our employees, note that there is a lot of information in this handbook: over 30,000 words total. It is far better to have comprehensive information immediately available to you rather than ask you to gain knowledge in bits and pieces via mind-reading and/or “osmosis.” In this site there is a search function so finding what you want should be easy.

If there is anything in this handbook that is not completely understandable, or you have any suggestions for making it better, please email me with your thoughts (samc@centratel.com). I want this handbook to be absolutely accurate and up-to-date.

There is a lot more information available beyond this handbook, too: Check the primary website (www.centratel.com).

I’ll say this here at the beginning because it is important: There is no question that thoroughly knowing this information is a key to personal advancement within the company and/or higher compensation.

These last five years have seen major advancements including restructuring of management, internal streamlining, marketing breakthroughs, new training/quality monitoring processes and, most of all, an awesomely hard-working and dedicated staff. Especially, the “systems methodology” strategy that has been in place since 1999 has produced great rewards. Our gross revenues are up more than 50% from five years ago; our staff has never been more capable and stable; compensation is higher than ever, and our quality of service to customers is superb. With plenty of supporting evidence, we confidently advertise Centratel as “the highest quality telephone answering service in the United States.”

Since December 1, 1984 I have been Centratel’s President, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager. I own 91% of Centratel stock. Since 2001, Sam Kirkaldie has been my partner. He is Vice President and owns the remainder of Centratel stock. The company has four operational and administrative departments:

  1. Telephone Answering Service
  2. Automated Services (paging and voice mail),
  3. Growth (Sales, New Account Services and Customer Care)
  4. Finance/Administration

Andi Freeman is COO and Answering Service Manager. Cheryl Trindle manages Finance (and is Chief Financial Officer). Marcello Scacchetti is our CIO. Teresa Abbas is Billing/Office Manager. Jesse Merickel is Director of Sales and Marketing. Andi and Cheryl report directly to me.

Jason Hoan is an IT Technician, but also covers a wide range of programming/software challenges. Sam Kirkaldie is part-time, in charge of Customer Care within the Growth Team. The Board of Directors of the company is composed of Sam Kirkaldie, Jesse Merickel, Teresa Abbas, Andi Freeman and me.

Each of our 1,300 telephone answering service clients, and 100 voice mail and paging customers, have decided that it makes sense for them to put extra energy into making their telecommunication system the best it can be. For the businesses who employ our services, we provide advanced-technology telecommunication services including:

  1. Telephone Answering Service (TAS). We have provided this service since the company’s inception in 1984. TAS comprises approximately 95% of total revenues. The average account pays about $250 per month for service (ranging from $59 per month to $2,500 per month)
  2. Voice mail (VM) services: provided since 1987: less than 2% of total revenues.
  3. Paging sales/services. less than 2% of total revenues.

Note that for many of our telephone answering service accounts, VM and/or paging are important elements of the service we provide them.

20% of TAS clients are in Central Oregon with the remaining 80% located throughout the United States. We have about fifty voice mail accounts in Medford and Grants Pass, the rest are in Central Oregon. All paging accounts are located in Central Oregon.

In the period from 1996 through 2002, Centratel grew mostly from the acquisition of eight smaller answering services, half of which were within Oregon. Since 2003 our growth has been due to direct marketing efforts, search engine inquiries, trade show appearances and customer referrals. We serve most of the medical clinics in Central Oregon, and many others nationwide. 99% of our customers are businesses or professional offices: We serve very few individual/residential customers. With the three telecommunications services we offer, we carefully build business communication systems that exactly fit each customer’s need for efficiency and professionalism. Either directly or indirectly, depending on your position with Centratel, your job is to help us provide those services.

We can support our contention that we are “the highest quality answering service in the U.S.” with solid evidence including growth and profitability, staff compensation, error rate statistics, client longevity/satisfaction and service rates that reflect answering and customer service quality that is, quite simply, second to none among our 2,000+ U.S. competitors. The average telephone answering service account stays with us over six years. You are employed by a super-elite telephone answering service.

Centratel distinguishes itself from competitors in three fundamental ways:

  1. We relentlessly focus on the systems of the operation. We operate through an inter-related set of highly refined, thoroughly documented, process-oriented system protocols. This “system of systems” is hard-and-fast yet flexible; the systems themselves are management’s focus of attention. We constantly analyze, improve and document these processes that encompass everything from staff training to telephony equipment maintenance to customer services to marketing to accounting. We want every employee to know exactly what to do and what is expected from him or her; customer service is immediate and consistently excellent; internal system improvements are frequent. In the Spring of 2008 I published a book entitled Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less in which I discuss the mechanics of Centratel. (Now in the third edition, it’s been the genesis of several spin-off businesses including leadership-level one-on-one consulting, group coaching, software and on-line educational products. Here is the website.)
  2. Staff wage/benefit packages average substantially higher than industry competitors. This insures top quality performance from long-term, career employees.
  3. We aggressively apply carefully orchestrated and highly effective marketing campaigns.

There have been numerous Central Oregon telecommunications companies that have gone out of business over the past dozen years. Twelve years ago we purchased the two competing Central Oregon telephone answering services, leaving our company dominant in the region. And there are few paging or voice mail companies now, as most have consolidated or simply ceased doing business. Despite this general washout in telecommunication service providers, Centratel has experienced solid growth, with gross receipts and the number of employees more than tripling in the past ten years.

Beginning in 1996 we began to look for accounts outside the region. Finding a surefire, reliable way to transport long-distance client calls to Bend, Oregon was an extensive and expensive trial and error effort. But, accomplishing this has been critical to our success: In the last twenty years, and despite Central Oregon’s geometric growth (the population here has more than quadrupled in that time), the number of local answering service accounts has dwindled from over seven hundred to less than two hundred.

To insure elite-quality service, a stable staff is critical. Sam Kirkaldie and I share the belief that we must employ super high-quality people and then do what we need to do to keep them employed long-term. Our expectation for each staff member is very high. For all of our staff members, here’s “the deal”: You give us 100% and we’ll compensate you generously. Would you want it any other way?

I want this message to be positive, yet it must be forthright too, so I will briefly discuss two issues that are critical: First, our drug policy is tough. If an employee tests positive in one of the several random drug tests we give per year, dismissal is 100% guaranteed. It’s happened. Also, if a staff member is under the influence of alcohol, the same thing will happen. Another important item is the use of internet facilities. Centratel is totally dependant on the internet and connectivity is integral to the services we provide our customers. Outside-the-office instant messaging or emailing can’t happen, nor can random web surfing, except on your breaks and at the workstations specifically set up for that purpose. Keep in mind that we are the #1 quality answering service in the country and that doesn’t come easy.

At Centratel, we give persistent, near compulsive attention to every detail including the methodology of how we communicate; the thorough documentation of procedures; the unremitting “tweak” of every aspect of the organization itself, and intense, methodical and careful equipment maintenance. We provide continuous staff training and individual/team performance evaluation. Each month, approximately 80% of our answering staff receives substantial quality bonuses.

The Centratel culture includes a willingness to be flexible and adaptable to change and permeated with a “friendly efficiency. “Regarding every-day methodology and attention to detail, I like this quote by author Michael Gerber from his book The Emyth Revisited:

“The best of the best I have known are extraordinarily grounded people; they are compulsive about detail, pragmatic, down to earth, in touch with the seamy realities of ordinary life. They know that a business doesn’t miss the mark by failing to achieve greatness in some lofty, principled way, but in the stuff that goes on in every nook and cranny of the business – on the telephone, between the customer and a salesperson, on the shipping dock, at the cash register…”

Centratel is intensely procedure-driven which means that we provide our employees with specific and comprehensive “black and white” written guidelines about how to perform their jobs, often in simple 1-2-3 step formats. Providing a clear understanding of what is expected of each employee is only fair: We don’t expect staff members to be mind readers. A good example of Centratel methodology is this Employee Handbook. It is to-the-point yet highly detailed and comprehensive, providing clear information about what we do and what is expected. For more information, check out the rest of this website as well as my personal Blog at www.centratel.com/blog.

If you are new to Centratel, your first few weeks – or even months – on the job will be confusing and sometimes overwhelming. There is a lot of information for you to learn and we don’t expect you to have working knowledge of your new position as you begin. But, what we do expect from you is an open mind and a hunger to learn new information. Ask a lot of questions and don’t be frustrated: Our business is complex and it takes a while to become familiar with the details and procedures. When you applied for the position you were thoroughly interviewed, screened and tested. We would not have hired you if we thought there was a chance you would not be able to meet the challenge. So, be patient with yourself as you are “assertively inquisitive,” keeping your eyes and ears open. On average, we review something close to 50 resumes before selecting maybe four applicants for one-on-one personal interviews. You are the one who came out on top of those 50 resumes and four interviews. Pat yourself on the back….

Thoughtfully review our Strategic Objective: It’s a cross between a mission statement (which typically is just a short “feel-good” document without much practical information) and a full-blown, voluminous three or five year business plan (which would be of dubious value as the telecom/communications environment changes almost daily). For staff decisions, and Board of Director decisions, the Strategic Objective document is our guide. Over the years it has been “tweaked” a bit but the basics have not wavered. It follows this letter.

In Part 3 of this handbook are supplements that will provide you a comprehensive overview of the telephone network and the equipment we use to process calls. The supplements are good background information and are key to your advancement within the company.

Again, here’s an insider’s tip: If you want to advance at Centratel, you will spend time studying and reading. Unlike a lot of successful businesses, documentation through the written word is at the heart of Centratel’s organization: Yes, it will take many hours to absorb all the information that we have made available to you, but it’s “all here.”

As a new employee, you will receive two copies each of our “Receipt and Acknowledgment” and “Confidentiality” statements and we ask you to carefully read and then sign them both. One is for you to keep and the other will be held in your employee file.

Regarding what my partner Sam Kirkaldie and I personally expect from you: Yes, we ask 100% effort and in return we promise you will be well compensated and we’ll do our best to provide a great working environment. Give your full attention to the job while you are at work. Then, go home and relax! Although Sam and I expect your focused attention while you are on the job, we recognize that your position with Centratel is just a part of your world. Stay balanced. Have a life beyond your job!

It is company policy to take good care of our clients and our employees. In fact, it’s clear to Sam and me that if we take care of our employees as our first priority, our clients will naturally and automatically receive the benefits of our hard-working, dedicated and satisfied staff. I am always ready to hear your suggestions (in fact, it is vital that if there is anything confusing to you, either in this handbook, in other documentation, in your training, or in general, please say something!).

Regarding day-to-day questions about your job and about policy, rely on your immediate supervisor to answer your questions. Again, thanks for working for us!

Sam Carpenter, President and General Manager

Strategic Objective Summary

Updated slightly, September, 2016

Note to Staff: The Centratel Strategic Objective is the basis for all corporate and individual decision making. Trite mission statements that say, “We want to be the best and we want our customers to be happy,” don’t provide meaningful direction and do little more than make company stockholders feel good for the moment. And voluminous multi-year work plans can’t account for the day-by-day changes of the telecommunications world.

Instead, the Strategic Objective gives us an overview of general strategy, describing our direction, who we are, and how we function. By following its guidelines, growth and success will take care of themselves. In the spirit of simplicity, we limit the length of the Strategic Objective to one page. We’ve modified it through the years, but the fundamentals have never changed.
-sc (slightly updated, 9/29/2016)

We are the highest quality telephone answering service in the United States.

Our guiding documents are the Strategic Objective, 30 Principles, and the collection of Working Procedures.

Centratel’s primary offering is 24/7/365 telephone answering service for business and professional offices throughout the United States. Peripheral services are voice mail and paging for the Central Oregon region only.

Through intense commitment to our employees, we are dedicated to the success of our clients. The consequence of having loyal, smart, hardworking, long-term and well-compensated employees is superb quality service to customers.

Our business is complex, with many human, mechanical, and computer systems in simultaneous motion. Success depends on refined communication and organizational systems, dedicated staff , documented point-of-sale procedures, first-class office space and equipment, rigorous quality control with continuous measurement, assertive innovation, intense system maintenance/system improvement, assertive and measured marketing, and relentless attention to detail in every nook and cranny.

Competitive advantages include a near-flawless level of message processing accuracy, products designed around the unique needs of the customer, assertive yet thoughtful customer service that is immediate and consistent, the latest high-tech equipment, rigorous marketing, and personal/corporate integrity.

To grow, we proceed with an “If we build it, they will come” philosophy, juxtaposed with assertive marketing efforts.

Although we tightly control Centratel’s operation through guiding documentation, we will modify that documentation immediately if an improvement can be made: “Our operational framework is constructed of rigid steel, but that framework can be modified instantly.”

We segment responsibilities into specialized “expert compartments” with appropriate cross-training among departments. We have backup personnel for all management and staff positions. We use extraordinarily efficient communication tools and protocols. We constantly refine and improve all internal systems.

Primary vertical markets include medical, veterinary, home health/hospice, funeral home, HVAC, hi-tech, 24/7 on-call, front office/receptionist, and utility.

The Highest Quality Answering Service in the U.S.

Centratel is an elite telephone answering service. Quality is the crux of what we’re about. In 1984 when I began the business, my overall premise was this: “…Certainly there are customers who will be willing to pay more for the best. The high quality of our staff performance will provide Centratel a higher income; this higher income will support higher quality as this income is routed directly back to answering staff who will be paid according to their individual and group performance. A vital element in the formula will be to hire superior people and then keep them a long time..” It’s a simple formula that, within our industry of approximately 2,000 answering services nationwide, puts us in a very, very small circle of elite competitors.

In early 2005, after over 20 years in business, we coined ourselves the “highest quality answering service in the United States.” It’s a bold statement but not over the top: If the quality of service is not the best anywhere, it’s very close. Tangible evidence of this claim is that our quarterly “reported customer error rate” is typically only one error for every 10,000-12 message transactions. What better indicator of quality than the direct feedback of current customers?

In order for our Telephone Answering Service (TAS) to provide a consistently superb level of service, we must constantly monitor Telephone Service Representative (TSR) quality on an individual basis with a system of regular and routine call reviews. The Logged Call Review process involves measurable standards of performance. Each TSR receives evaluations of twelve randomly selected calls per month. The telephone answering service Quality Manager reviews the evaluations with the individual TSR and makes recommendations to achieve the highest quality performance. TSR’s scoring an average of 90% and above on Logged Call Reviews are eligible for substantial bonuses as outlined in the Compensation and Benefits section of the handbook.

-Sam Carpenter

Centratel’s 30 Principles

Updated May 7, 2016

  1. Company decisions must conform to the Strategic Objective, 30 Principles, and Working Procedure documents.
  2. We are the highest-quality answering service in the United States. We do whatever it takes to make sure the quality of service to our clients is unmatched anywhere.
  3. We draw solid lines, thus providing an exact status of where things stand. Documented procedures are the main defense against gray-area problems.
  4. “Get the job done.” Can the employee do his or her job, or is there always a complication of one kind or another? This ability to “get the job done quickly and accurately without excuses or complications,” is the most valuable trait an employee can possess.
  5. Employees come first. We employ people who have an innate desire to perform at 100 percent. We reward them accordingly. The natural outcome is that we serve our clients well.
  6. We are not fire-killers. We are fire prevention specialists. We don’t manage problems; we work on system-improvements and system-maintenance in order to prevent problems from happening in the first place.
  7. Problems are gifts that inspire us to action. A problem prompts the act of creating or improving a system or procedure. We don’t want setbacks, but when one occurs, we think, “thank you for this wake-up call,” and take system-improvement action to prevent the setback from happening again.
  8. We focus on just a few manageable services. Although we watch for new opportunities, in the end we provide “just a few services implemented in superb fashion,” rather than a complex array of average-quality offerings.
  9. We find the simplest solution. Ockham’s Law, also called the Law of Economy, states, “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity…the simplest solution is invariably the correct solution.”
  10. The money we save or waste is not Monopoly money. We are careful not to devalue the worth of a dollar just because it has to do with the business.
  11. We operate the company via documented procedures and systems. “Any recurring problem can be solved with a system.” We must take the time to create and implement systems and procedures, but in the end, it is well worth it. Our staff must know what management expects and if there is a recurring problem, a written procedure must be created to stop that problem from happening again. On the other hand, we don’t bog down the organization with systems and procedures that target once-in-awhile problems. Sometimes we elect to not create a procedure.
  12. “Just don’t do it.” Eliminate the unnecessary. Think simplicity. Automate. Refine to the smallest amount of steps or discard altogether. Would a simple “no” save time, energy, and/or money? Sometimes, elimination of a system, protocol, or potential project is a good thing.
  13. Our documented systems, procedures, and functions are “off the street.” This means that anyone with normal intelligence can perform procedures unassisted. The real-world evidence of this is we can hire an individual “off the street” who has good typing skills, and have him or her processing calls within three days. Before we implemented our systemized training protocol, it would take six weeks to train a TSR. For this result, systems have to be efficient, simple, and thoroughly documented.
  14. Do it NOW. All actions build on “point-of-sale” theory. We don’t delay an action if it can be done immediately. Just like any major retail outlet, we “update inventories and databases at the exact time the transaction takes place.” There is no paperwork floating around the office after a physical transaction. We ask, “How can we perform the task NOW without creating lingering details that we must clean up later?”
  15. We glean the Centratel mindset from Steven Covey’s books including The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, First Things First, and The Eighth Habit. As well, we consider From Good to Great by Jim Collins; The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, and Release the Giant Within by Tony Robbins.
  16. We pattern personal organization upon Franklin Covey theory. We use personal organizing systems that are always at hand. We prioritize, schedule, and document. The system is always up-to-date and we use it all the time.
  17. Sequence is critical. We work on the most important tasks first. We spend maximum time on “non-urgent/important” tasks via Steven Covey’s time-matrix philosophy.
  18. We double-check everything before its release. If a penchant for double-checking is not an innate personal habit, then it must be cultivated. Double-checking is a conscious step in every task, performed either by the individual managing the task, or someone else.
  19. Our environment is spotless: clean and ordered, simple, efficient, functional. No “rat’s nests,” literally or figuratively.
  20. Employee training is structured, scheduled, and thorough. Assertive client contact is also structured, scheduled, and thorough.
  21. We are deadline-obsessed. If someone in the organization says they will be finished with a task or project by a certain date and time, then he or she commits to finishing by that deadline (or, if legitimate delays intrude, advises their co-worker well in advance that the deadline is impossible).
  22. We maintain equipment and keep it 100 percent functional at all times. If something is not working as it should, fix it now—fix it now even if it’s not necessary to fix it now. It’s a matter of good housekeeping and of maintaining good habits. This is just the way we do things.
  23. Mastery of the English language is critical. We are aware of how we sound and what we write. We do whatever we can to improve. We are patient as a co-worker corrects us.
  24. We study to increase our skills. A steady diet of reading and contemplation is an important part of personal and job self-development. It is a matter of self-discipline.
  25. As opposed to “doing the work,” the department manager’s job is to create, monitor, and document systems (which consist of people, equipment, procedures, and maintenance schedules).
  26. The CEO/General Manager oversees department heads and systems. It is the CEO/GM’s job to direct, coordinate, and monitor the entire operation.
  27. We avoid multi-tasking activities. When communicating with someone else, we are 100 percent present. We give full attention to the person in front of us. We focus on listening and understanding. Read the classic Treating Type A Behavior and Your Heart by Meyer Friedman. “Mindfulness” is paying complete attention to one thing at a time: Read Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
  28. When in the office, we work hard on Centratel business. We keep our heads down; we focus, and, in turn, the company pays very well. That’s “the deal.” The workweek is a maximum of 40-45 hours.
  29. “Complete” means complete. “Almost” or “tomorrow” is not “complete.” In particular, this is germane to administration staff’s use of Outlook task functions.
  30. This can’t be legislated, but we strive for a social climate that is serious and quiet, yet pleasant, serene, light, and friendly. Centratel is a nice place to work.