The Words We Use: Transformational Vocabulary

(Essay originally sent to staff in November 2005. Revised April, 2017)

“A powerful agent, is the right word. Whenever we come across one of those intensely right words…the resulting effect is both physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt.”
-Mark Twain

Staff: the point of this message is that the words we use have a profound effect on our experience of reality and the reality of the people who are listening to us. As an example…please eliminate the word “upset” from your vocabularies in this office. Also, lose the phrase, “yeah.” Those TSR’s who have been around for a while know I am habitually bringing up this subject of using proper words.

This is important.

I’ve gone through just a few emails this morning and have already encountered one of the above mentioned words twice: one customer was “upset.” Another was “not upset.” The word conjures up the image of someone who is violent and impossible to console. Of course, never is that the case. If I was a supervisor, returning a call to a customer who was described in a 1550 message as “upset,” I would not be anxious to make the call. Would you? Remember that our customer service people must actively “put on a smile” when calling these customers back. I’m asking you to start the positive process by just describing the complaint differently. This theory of “transformational vocabulary” is a very simple thing.

Per Mark Twain’s thoughts about choosing the right words, instead of “upset,” let’s consider using the word “concerned,” or my favorite phrase, which even adds a bit of lightness: “a bit miffed.” How about the word “disenchanted”? But, don’t get me wrong here. Remember, when talking to a customer who is complaining, to truly share their concern and not minimize the situation to them with inappropriate levity. Be empathetic. What I am asking you to do here is to stop negative verbal momentum in its tracks by considering our internal operation and especially the people who must handle a customer complaint. Like so many other situations we face both at work and at home – and it’s the fundamental basis of call control – it’s a matter of not being subjected to OUTSIDE control. In this case, SOMEONE has to set the tone of our internal communications. Is it going to be the complaining caller or client, or is it going to be you?

So, it’s a matter of taking control and keeping things light, no matter the external stimulus. Make sense? We will always have complaints! There will always be callers and clients who are not in the most positive frame of mind. Let’s decide right now that we will take those future situations and personally take control, to turn those situations around by not perpetuating the customers not-so-positive frame of mind. It’s a simple thing: Just use vocabulary that will make things less stressful for ourselves, and avoid using vocabulary that escalates blood pressure levels.

Of course, to get this done, your tone must be light but firm.

“Upset” is just one of a few words that over-dramatize what we are trying to say. Think of some other blood-pressure-raising words and get them to me with your thoughts. We’ll get them on the Forbidden Phrase list. It’s kind of fun, actually. For instance, instead of saying “that stinks” say, “that’s a little aromatic.” Or, for the over-used, “ I’m overwhelmed!” try ” I am feeling some imbalance,” “I’m busy,” “I’m challenged,” “I’m SO in demand!” or “I am currently maximized.” Or, for “I’m SO stressed!” try “I’m feeling externally energized!”

Friends and Family?

Message to Telephone Service Representative staff from Sam Carpenter, originally sent in the spring of 2004. It was updated in the fall of 2005 and again in April 2017.

This message has to do with our policy change to avoid using callers’ and clients’ first names in favor of using “Mr.” and “Ms.”

TSR’s: Thank you for your feedback regarding our new effort to become more formal in addressing callers and clients. This move to more refinement doesn’t mean a change in “warmth.” That is always the argument in favor of using first names.

About ten years ago we made this same policy change but we’ve slipped back into informality over the last few years. I recently became aware of this slide into informality and it has been my own personal fault for not taking action sooner. So, here we go. Following is the reasoning behind the change.

We all understand the first name “warmth” factor in a one-on-one friendship or family relationship. However, at Centratel, we are not “family” with our clients and callers, and we are certainly not “best friends”. We’re a professional office and the callers and clients with whom we deal with every day also work for professional offices. The immediate dilemma is that in addressing these people, we have to choose one or the other: we either use first names or we use titles. There has to be a base from which to start. So, you guessed it, our base will be that unless we have a good reason, we stay on a professional level. If there are certain important exceptions, we will address them but, in general, we go with the more formal titles. At this point exceptions are limited to technical on-call people including nurses.

So, keep in mind, we’re not friends OR family. We’re a professional office and if we have to boil things down, we fit into the category of a secretarial and/or dispatch center. There may be some awkward times at first and the clients may note the change. It’s the price we have to pay at first to re-establish our position and to gain a higher degree of professionalism. However, clients will get over it and will appreciate it in the long term. They know we will be using titles for their callers too. Callers will have no problem with this and will appreciate the added respect.

This methodology absolutely applies to our customer service and management people. To answer the obvious next question: Yes, I personally follow this protocol, too.

We are informing our clients of this change toward higher professionalism so they will know why we are doing it and not question it. We will actually tell them that we are upgrading our level of professionalism and to please go along with it as they dialog with TSR’s. We are writing them the following in our upcoming newsletter: “You may notice that we are using courtesy titles as our TSRs talk to you. We are enhancing our level of professionalism, both for our clients and for our callers. Please work with us and understand that our TSRs are not being “cold” as they begin addressing you by your last name. In order to keep things simple for our staff we need to implement this change with ALL accounts and we ask you to go along with our change, understanding that it is not an attempt to push you away.”

Note that there is room for us to use first names and in the Startel, we can signify first name usage by enclosing the first name in quotes. We will do this on an individual basis and only at the strident request of the client. However, we are not to encourage it. We want to be able to go in ONE direction and not create confusion for staff. Again: We want to go with last names-it’s our default method of addressing clients and callers.

And, again, this move should NOT be seen as a move toward “coldness.” It is important: to point this out should you engage in a one-on-one dialog with a client about this issue. It’s really important that you support our new policy to our clients and to each other.

So, callous as it might seem on the surface, I absolutely disagree with the idea that “what sets us apart from other services is the personal touch, including the use of first names.” At this writing (October 2005), we have approximately 750 telephone answering service accounts and we can’t be “personal” in this way with them unless they are downright opposed to the idea. There are simply too many clients and too many TSRs to go part way with this change. And so, if we must choose between “personal” and “professional” we must choose professional.

Nearly all tiny “personal” answering services, having less than two hundred accounts, have gone out of business. Much of the reason for this is because it is impossible for TSRs to remember personal information for more than two hundred accounts and two hundred accounts just won’t provide enough revenue to insure survival. These small answering services were typically “friends and family” to their accounts and they were technically obsolete and, along with all telephone answering service services over the past 30 years, injured by the acceptance of pagers, voice mail and cellular services. They could not survive in a business that now needs at least three hundred accounts in order to be profitable (less than 300 accounts can work but the owners of the service will be taking most of the incoming calls, working 80-100 hours per week).

Did these smaller services go out of business because we now live in a cold and unfriendly world? No. They went out of business because there is a limit to how much a Telephone Service Representative can remember on the personal level and they would not make a move into a systematic methodology that demanded a more formal approach. Centratel made this change about ten years ago and it is evidenced in how each account is programmed into the Startel in exactly the same way. Each TSR knows exactly where to find information. They know the “language.” The personal “friends and family” approach simply won’t work and it’s not necessary. If the TSR knows how accounts are programmed and how to “speak” the language of answering at Centratel, the number of accounts that can be handled is unlimited.

What sets Centratel apart from other services is noted in our Strategic Objective. The Strategic Objective is at the very front of the Employee Handbook. Read it carefully and what I am saying here should make sense.

Note that I was not aware that we were not listing BOTH first and last names in Startel. So, we are now very busy adding last names to all main master cards in the Startel so you can find them easily. This improvement is happening now and will be complete soon.

Courtesy/Professional Titles For Clients and Callers

For TSR’s, Supervisors, Managers and all Customer Service Personnel

Originally written in October 2003. Updated 4/25/2017

  • Male clients and callers, other than doctors, will be referred to as “Mr.” unless the caller or customer assertively asks to be addressed by their first name
  • Female clients and callers are to be referred to as “Ms.” unless they specify otherwise or you have a solid indication that “Mrs.” is in order.
  • Do not use “Miss.”
  • Never ask a caller their gender! Duh.
  • If in doubt about someone’s gender, DO use their first name
  • We prefer to address clients per the above and will gently avoid first-name informality: Never encourage clients to go to a first name basis.
  • For clients, it is OK to use first names for technicians or on-call people. If the owner is on-call, use the formal title as noted above
  • If the individual specifies how they are to be addressed, that request will always take precedence. Discourage clients from using 1st names: tell them, “it is easier for us to not have to remember exceptions.”
  • “Dr. Steve” is OK if that is what the physician insists. Otherwise, never refer to a physician by first name or by “Mr.”
  • It is OK to ask the caller or client how they wish to be addressed i.e. “Do you mind if I call you Ms. Johnson?”
  • If the client specifically asks to be addressed by first name, we will program the Startel so the first name is enclosed by quotation marks. TSR’s should pass these requests on to their Supervisor or Team Leader so the change can be made in Startel.

Matching and Mirroring

This is a very simple concept made popular by Tony Robbins in his book Unlimited Power. If the client says “Have a great day! Goodbye”, don’t just say “goodbye” in a monotone. Say something like…”Well, you have a great day too! Goodbye!” If, on the other hand, the client is fast, efficient and pleasant, you should be fast, efficient and pleasant to the same degree they are (and don’t embellish your response beyond the tone that they’ve set). You’re matching and mirroring when you do this. You can mirror and match in voice volume and tempo too.

The bottom line is this: “people who are alike, like each other. ”

However, if the caller or client is grumpy don’t reflect grumpiness back (do I really need to say that?). Remember that of two people in a conversation, the happier one will most usually end up lifting the spirits of the other, less-happy party. In any conversation there is a subtle matching and mirroring that takes place…each party to the conversation will come closer to the other naturally, with the most positive party being the one most likely to dominate.

The key here is your degree of subtlety. Obviously, if someone speaks slowly, you would come across as obnoxious if you raced along like an auctioneer. If you talked too slow, you would annoy your faster talking listener. As you use this principle, don’t be too obvious and don’t be a manipulator.

Are You a Robot?

Of course you’re not a robot, so don’t sound like one! You know that you have to talk to callers and clients so, if you have to do it anyway, why not put a smile on your face and in your voice? Trust that it will lift your own spirits faster than any other technique, drugs, new love or a lottery win! Also, it’s a requirement of the job… your only tool – the only part of you that the caller and the client encounters – is your voice. Be good at it.

Remember the “2 in 100” Rule

As you put that smile in your voice keep in mind that, in life, 2 people out of every 100 you encounter will be unpleasant. One is having a bad day. The other is always that way. Remember this when you have to deal with someone who is grumpy that it’s a “numbers game.”

Getting the Job Done

9/28/2005, revised April 24, 2017

Centratel’s success is built around three premises: We employ great people, pay them well, and then we provide them with excellent tools and systems. And, within this success formula is an employee’s “ticket” to advancement within the company. The trait I look for is “can you get the job DONE?” Can you decipher what needs to be done and then actually get it done without a lot of hand-holding?

So, this is what I want to know: Can you get the job done?

What are the guidelines for someone who is serious about “getting the job done”?

  • A task is fully understood and very often described on paper prior to commencement.
  •  Assigned task deadlines are met without excuse. If there is a problem meeting a deadline, the time to speak up about it is when the task is assigned. Once the task and deadline are agreed upon, the manager is expected to deliver. Missing a deadline can be a silent, seemingly non-important issue. That perception is always a mistake.
  •  If a deadline can’t be met for unforeseeable delays that crop up, the manager who has issued the deadline is informed prior to the deadline. The reason the deadline cannot be met is valid and documented. An alternative completion date is submitted. This should be a rare occurrence.
  •  A project/task is completed as assigned.
  •  Projects are developed, delegated and completed by the individual on a regular basis. The staff member doesn’t leave it up to the supervisor to initiate tasks and projects. The radar is constantly working.
  • A valuable staff member is aware of tasks that need to be handled and does something. Here’s the crux: It is better to do something and make a mistake than to do nothing at all, waiting for someone else to give direction.

For any leader, it is not easy to find people who have, instilled in their bellies, the kind of self-discipline required to get the job done. But, many times the hesitation to take action is simply the fear of making a mistake. So, a penchant for “getting the job done” and being self-disciplined can be learned characteristics: Remember that making a mistake is better than not taking action. A self-starter has courage.

The people who have a powerful internal understanding of this concept will always be the ones at the top of the organization, earning the highest incomes and enjoying the greatest freedoms. Notwithstanding integrity and loyalty, there simply is no other trait that comes close to the importance of this one.

Sam Carpenter, President

Your Command of the English Language

Memo to Staff
-Sam Carpenter, revised September 18, 2005. Updated May 21, 2010, and April 2017

This is about improving our personal and collective command of the written and spoken word. As with just about everything else that makes Centratel special, this is about details, creating and perfecting systems, embedding within ourselves new habits while discarding old habits, and simply paying attention to what we are doing.

Based on any number of statistics, ranging from Customer Reported Error Rate, to client satisfaction, to service rates to employee compensation and retention, Centratel has established itself as the highest quality answering service in the United States. Clearly, our overall use of the English language must be exemplary: What we say and how we say it has a tremendous impact on the satisfaction of our clients and ultimately, the success of our business.

In our culture, the spoken word is often not spoken very well…and, the written word is not often written very well. I think it has to do with deficiencies in our educational system – and what we expect from our children as students – as well as our reliance on TV, smart phones and other electronic media/entertainment which has led to our general negligence of reading. I am especially aware of this as my father was a junior high school English teacher. Even back then, Dad spent a lot of time harping about the lack of emphasis on the fundamentals within our local schools system.

Before continuing, I will say that my use of the language isn’t superb. So, I will qualify all this by saying “I find myself the leader here and it’s my job to address problems, even though part of the problem is mine.” It’s dirty work but somebody has to do it!

Here’s something important for you personally: Your progression up through the ranks of Centratel will be very much related to your command of the English language. The company is growing. You have a great opportunity to get ahead here and speaking and writing well will help you climb those steps. To boot, it is unquestionable that your above-average expertise in using the spoken and written word will help you in all areas of your life outside Centratel.

So, finally, let’s get serious about this English language business. Do not underestimate the negative impact of grammatical sloppiness or poor sentence structure. How does one measure the business lost due to the customer perception that we either don’t care, or don’t have intelligence? The fact that we can’t measure the losses means that we tend to underestimate the damage and it’s my guess that when we’re not speaking and writing well, the losses are more than what we might imagine. Remember that people tend to draw negative conclusions quickly, and they draw them on very limited information such as the brief email you send or the few words that you speak. In our telecommunications business, it’s simple: Negative judgments lead to the loss of accounts.

At this point, I know of several people within the company who range from “good” to “excellent” as editors. Ask your supervisor who these people are. Let’s call these people “editors.”

For the immediate future, and maybe beyond, all written correspondence to clients and vendors, both hard-copy and email, are to be reviewed by one of the editors. Send your letter/note to one of them via email or hard-copy. Your editor will make necessary changes and explain them to you. This is to ensure customers, vendors and associates are getting great written work and that you are having a learning experience.

We have established a bank of “core” letters and memos that you should use for routine correspondence. They are stored as read-only in our computer files. Use them to build your letter or memo but you must copy your modified text to your own desktop or another file in order to be able to use them. Be careful with your modifications as you add and delete to customize your letter or memo. We have put much time and thought into producing these basically flawless templates for your correspondence; please craft your memo or letter with the same attention. The letters are in three files:

Sales letters
NAS letters
Admin letters

If you are in a bind and must send an email out immediately, do so but be sure to run the message through an editor immediately afterward. Obviously, this would be for the “learning experience” benefit.

Make www.dictionary.com your best friend. As a test run, look up the word “germane”. See what it means in the dictionary mode. Find other similar words using the thesaurus mode. Have fun with this! Increase your vocabulary. You will have a larger impact on the people around you…they will respect you more, you will respect yourself more and you will get more of what you want.

Don’t feel intimidated by all this. You know if you are weak in this area. Join with me in making the first steps to improving. Swallow the fact that this kind of improvement takes time and that it can’t happen if you never begin. The harder you work, the faster you will improve. As you become more proficient, you will find a confidence and pride you didn’t know was possible. It’s really a rare opportunity for self improvement.

As you humble yourself for this new learning endeavor remember that Stephen King has an editor. Do not be annoyed if your editor corrects your internal messages without your prior request. It’s the fastest way to improvement.

Use your spell-check. It should be in auto mode which means you can’t send an email without the system first checking your work.

Be concise! Think in terms of how you speak and then put it down on paper. Be brief.

Remember that using large words when you are unsure of their meaning is not impressing anyone. As usual, you rarely can go wrong by choosing simplicity.

Always proof read your work…

When you have completed your work, review it for comprehension. Does your message make sense? Should a sentence be rearranged? Is the information in the right logical order of presentation? Have you repeated yourself? Will it make sense to the person on the receiving end? What about the basic grammar and spelling errors that most people make (do you know when to use “they’re” and “their”? What about “to” and “too”?) Have you included all the facts? Does what you say, overall, seem logical and simple?

The spoken word: be prepared for help in this area too. We’ll keep it light and we don’t want you to be afraid to speak.

When speaking, watch the “ummms” and the “yeahs” and the “ya-knows.”

Say “Yes,” not “yeah.”

Get to the point, don’t beat around the bush. Stick to the subject.

Do you have problems or questions or are you feeling insecure about this? Talk one-on-one with an editor. This can be a sensitive area and we want everyone to know that this is just business and not a commentary on your education or your intelligence. “It’s just details” and has everything to do with keeping us, both collectively and as individuals, at the peak rank of quality. Remember that our role is simple: we’re the best answering service in the United States.

Centratel Innovations and Noteworthy Changes

1984 Sam Carpenter bought Girl Friday Telephone Answering Service, gross revenues $5,500/month, 140 accounts, all flat-rate at serice rates of $35 and $45 per month
1985 DID service introduced. Cord boards eliminated. First electronic TAS system installed. Made decision to “pay a living wage.”
1986 Beta CFDA for Pacific Northwest Bell (now Qwest)
1987 Introduced Alphanumeric pagers, Voice mail. First paperless telephone answering service system, Tele-data billing system. Fax services. Relocated to Division Street location
1989 Bought local pager network
1992 Introduced Gold Service
1993 No per minute billing*
1994 No 28 day billing cycle*
1995 Fax message delivery
1996 Health insurance for staff. Decision made to find way to serve the entire U.S. Bought Hillsboro TAS
1997 In Hillsboro: remote TSR’s, experimentation with handling remote accounts
1999 Purchased Communications Connection, local TAS. Relocated to Red Oaks Square
2000 Purchased last competing local TAS, Cascades Answering service. Hillsboro office closed, building sold, with accounts routed to Bend.
2001 Sam Kirkaldie buys stock in Centratel. 9% ownership. Sam Carpenter retains 91%
2002 Bought Boston telephone answering service. PRI (“One Number”) technology used for first time
2003 Added marketing department. Bought Klamath Falls TAS. National marketing efforts began. Sold 40% of stock to minor partner.
2004 Relocated to Greenwood Ave. location. Implemented Logged Call Review program. Decision to not acquire any more answering services. Instead will grow organically.
2005 Converted to Personal Auto Answer. Successfully reacquired stock from minor partner after prolonged legal battle. Major reorganization/streamlining of administration and TAS management. Marketing, operations, quality, pricing and general company comportment aligned to our positioning as “The highest quality answering service in the U.S.”
2006 Full implementation of Quality program results in one customer reported error per every 8,800 processed messages (averate for the year 2006). Website perfected as an information source rather than an advertising vehicle, to include 70,000 words resulting in #1 Google rankings in a variety of categories. Purchased both local competing voice mail businesses. Strong growth continues to approximately 900 answering service accounts with 80% of answering service clients located outside the state of Oregon
2007 $100,000 internal systems upgrade including Startel CMC specialized TAS telecom platform. Strong growth continues
2008 Sam Carpenter’s book Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less is published. Strong growth continues. Continue to “tweak” accuracy and training elements, achieving error rate of one customer reported error for every 10,000 messages processed
2009 Recession. Growth flat for the entire year however gross revenues stay steady at record levels. Further refinement of internal quality systems. Reported Error Rate stays consistently above 1 error per 10,000 messages processed.
2010 Recession persists entire year and hammers TAS industry. However, made decision to not tread water any longer and in July began outside sales representative “Fourth Leg” effort, which in 2011 will place 25 OSR’s in 25 markets throughout the United States. Will begin recruiting OSR’s
2011 TSR staff exceeds previous quality record statistics, with over 50% exceeding 95% in quality testing. Further enhanced performance bonus with top TSRs earning between 25% and 30% monthly quality bonus.
2012 Dramatic increase in growth and 20% increase in TSR staff. Employed full-time in-house CPA. Reorganized and streamlined operations management.
2013 Sales and marketing department expanded. Work the System enterprise offerings significantly increased. Significantly enhanced HIPAA compliance. Added automated scheduling features for clients. Major revamp/simplification of operations management structure.
2014 December 1st marks 30 years in business. Purchased entire 12,000 sq. ft. building (we had been leasing upstairs 4,000 sq. ft.). Significant investment in parking and common areas to bring up to Commercial grade A status. Increase of maximum TSR bonus to 35% of previous month’s wages. Gross monthly revenues set consecutive records nine out of twelve months. Upgraded Startel answering system to “SoftSwitch” platform, 115K investment
2015 Major renovation of remainder of second floor space, expanding occupancy to entire second floor of building. Rebuild websites. Establish European subsidiary office in Oradea, Romania with start-up staff of three full time online and marketing specialists. Record gross billings continue. Upgraded Startel.
2016 Over 1,300 answering accounts. Significant further upgrades in building. Three tenants in the 6,000 sq. ft. of downstairs office space. Growth continues with continued record gross revenues. Staff turnover has decreased dramatically. Centratel is again debt-free. Instituted “speed” bonus for TSRs.
2017. Exceeded 1,400 answering accounts. Major investment in social media and SEO marketing using PathwayOne marketing agency.

*Noteworthy that we did NOT embrace these industry-wide standards that were considered at the time to be clever and innovative by many of our competitors. In retrospect, they accounted for much damage to the telephone answering service businesses that embraced them.

About the Industry

Sam Carpenter
Updated April 25, 2017

One could say that the answering service industry has not been part of the telecommunications boom of the last thirty years…

It’s a simple truth: Since 1980, the total number of businesses and professions using traditional answering service has declined by approximately seventy percent as voice mail, cellular, paging and sophisticated telephone company switching services have become commonplace. Accordingly, in that same period, the number of answering services in the United States and Canada has declined from over seven thousand to approximately fifteen hundred.

Historically, there was a broad cross section of businesses and professions that outsourced to answering services: there were no other alternatives. Today, although fewer in number and belonging to a relatively narrow group of professions and businesses, answering service customers absolutely require a human being at the end of the line. There just aren’t that many quality answering services from which to choose.

To stay afloat, many surviving services cut costs by compensating answering staff with minimum wages/benefits while failing to upgrade to the necessary digital equipment. The predictable outcome: In North America there are just a handful of high-quality answering services. For a number of very tangible reasons, Centratel happens to be one of them.

An answering service’s bottom-line quality of service to customers is reflected in the “reported error rate” statistic. Centratel’s most recent operational statistics (April through June, 2017) show a Customer Reported Error Rate of one error for every 15,373 transactions. For perspective, understand that, for any answering service, an error rate of 1 error per 1,000 message transactions is very good!

Based in Bend, Oregon, we provide 24/7/365 toll-free service to businesses and professions throughout the United States. So, if your business or profession is one of our specialties, thoroughly investigate this web site and then contact us via phone or email. You will find that we’re the “best-of-the-best.”

The Price We Must Pay

Here is an excerpt from an email I sent to staff on 4/28/05 regarding the loss of a large local account due to our higher prices. The names of competitors have been disguised. (Reviewed again on April 24, 2017, with a couple of additions -sc)

  1. This is simply the price we must be willing to pay for having quality higher than 99.9% of all other answering services. If we are to provide super high quality we must charge higher prices than the average telephone answering service (TAS). Lexus dealers don’t spend time lamenting the sales they didn’t realize because people bought a lesser car for less money. Competing over price with a lesser quality competitor is a battle in which we won’t engage. Our theory: If our prices are higher than competitors but service quality is super-high, customer loyalty will be solid.
  2.  For Centratel, through the years there has been a steady move to smaller accounts and this account was one of the few very large accounts that we still served. The accounts we have lost over the years went out of business, went to internal voice mail systems or simply took on the after-hours call handling themselves. A very few others went to competitors seeking a lower price. For any business, depending on a few large accounts is not a good thing because when one of the large accounts leave, there can be lethal damage to the company. So, this trend toward fewer large key accounts is actually a strength for us, giving us resiliency in the face of bad times such as an economic downturn. This loss would have been terribly depressing as recently as late 2003 when our monthly gross revenues were literally half as much as they are now; when 80% of our accounts were in Central Oregon and before the birth of our successful marketing strategy. Today, 2017, only 10% of our accounts are in Central Oregon, and no single account amounts to more than 2% of our gross revenues
  3.  This account represented less than one half of one percent of our total revenues.
  4.  This loss is a confirmation that spreading accounts over a wide area is the only way to protect ourselves from a single-minded, “I want Centratel’s accounts at any price” competitor. Our very active low-cost competitor, XYZ Answering Service, in their zeal, is only occasionally affecting us. NO ONE can attack the 70% of our accounts that are dispersed randomly all over the United States. The problem with being a “local” service (98% of answering services are “local” to their own immediate areas) is that as soon as telephone answering service rates are increased to a higher level in order to support higher quality, a competitor will see it as an opportunity to come in to the area and undercut prices with a systematic attack. That’s what’s happening here in Central Oregon with ABC Answering Service and don’t be surprised if one or more of our other large local accounts go away as ABC puts on even more pressure. Within Central Oregon, with one competitor or another, Centratel has had this challenge for the entire 21 years of its existence: There has always been a competitor willing to run a non-profitable telephone answering service who would come in and undercut prices. They would struggle along, taking away accounts for a few years, and then, in every single case, go out of business…and guess who picked up the ragged remains? This scenario happens everywhere else too: If a telephone answering service is local they are hamstrung into a perpetual price war with someone, many times it is a previous employee or even a client who thinks they can start up and then run an answering service. My prediction is that somewhere down the line, sooner or later, ABC Answering Service and the others who use price as a selling point will fail and/or be bought out by someone like us as they can’t offer reasonable salaries for good people, they can’t keep up with technology and their quality is poor. XYZ has no idea of our national success, by the way. It’s a bit humorous to watch as they continue to compromise the guts of their business while presuming they are doing big damage to us.*
  5. This is also a confirmation that our “going national,” beginning in earnest in the spring of 2003, was smart. In 1985 there were 700-800 telephone answering service accounts in Central Oregon. Now, including the 150 that we serve, it’s maybe 200 (an amazing decrease in telephone answering service accounts when one considers the incredible quadrupling of the local population over those twenty years). Right now, (2017) we are adding 35 new accounts per month from our national marketing. At Centratel, we’re fishing in different waters.

So, beyond the obvious key advantage of our loyal, talented and long-term staff, our strengths lie in our super-high quality, our national presence and our successful marketing efforts. Together, we’ve built a business that is strong and resilient. We should be proud of ourselves (and, it seems to me, we are!) Thanks to all of you for being a part of this.