What You Call Your Answering Service Staff Matters a Great Deal

For perhaps has long as it’s been around, the telephone answering service industry has struggled with what to call the people who answer their clients’ calls. Consider the following options: Operator: Likely harkening back to the day when answering services used cordboards to answer calls—just like the phone company did for their local and long distant operators—the label of operator seemed to apply. Now the cordboards are gone, but the outdated idea of operator lingers. Besides, can anyone in your answering service say, “I’m proud to be an operator?” If not, then stop using that label. Telephone Receptionist: Some answering services moved from operators to telephone receptionists. It’s a step up, but it’s also redundant. What kind of receptionist would you be if it weren’t for the telephone? Besides, a receptionist basically answers and transfers calls. An answering service does so much more. Being a telephone receptionist undersold the work and misrepresented the skill level required. Telephone Secretary: A further improvement came with the label of telephone secretary. It implied someone who was a secretary for the phone. Yes, it was a bit of stretch since they didn’t do many of the things a standard secretary did. And while secretary once stood as a viable career option for young women (along with teacher, librarian, and nurse), those days are long past. Agent: With the advent of the call center in the early 80s, came new labels to consider. Agent was a common one. It stuck around, too, and is still in use today. Interestingly, the dictionary doesn’t support this usage, but instead suggests a wide array of other options. Though commonly understood, agent does little to elevate the critical role that staff at answering services play in enhancing the communication excellence of their clients. Telephone Service Rep: Another term from that era was telephone service representative, telephone service rep, or simply TSR. Though aptly descriptive, perhaps the best one yet, this label came primarily from the outbound call center industry. And few people want to be associated with outbound telemarketing any more. This includes answering service staff. Customer Service Rep: An alternative to TSR was CSR or customer service rep. It offered an even better choice, being both descriptive of the work and respectful of the employee. Yet transitioning it from the nascent call center industry to the mature answering service industry didn’t happen too well. Customer Service Agent: A variation of customer service rep is customer service agent. This works, but again we’re stuck with that ambiguous word agent. Expert: How about calling our answering service staff experts? After all expert does capture the wide gambit of skills they must master, expertise they must possess, and services they must deliver. Wouldn’t you like to have an expert answer your phone? Most people would.   Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier call center consultancy, whose team possesses decades of telephone answering service and call center experience. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.