Virtual Receptionist Reflects on 30 Years with AnswerPlus

marlene-lancaster

“I arrived for myinterview and through the doorway from the front office I could see absolute chaos happening. In reality, I saw the workings of an Answering Service.”

When I began my illustrious – over 30 year – career with, what we now know as, AnswerPlus it was called Adams Communications. You see, I came from the pre-Pasword Group version of the company.

The company who hired me was called “Adams Communications” and it was one of three offices in the Toronto area.

Until I started working for Adams, the only prior job experience I had was babysitting and about two days working for a hotel gift shop. When I received the call from Adams, I happily accepted the offer of an interview.

I arrived for my interview and through the doorway from the front office I could see absolute chaos happening. In reality, I saw the workings of an answering service.

“Sometimes my personal circumstances have been difficult but AnswerPlus has never abandoned me. – Marlene 

What I saw was frightening. There were eight (count ‘em) eight cord boards (a la Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine character) and it was lunch time – an extremely busy time of day for the answering service. Women were running back and forth to the different cord boards and pulling down messages from the cubbies above. Some were putting straws (yes, drinking straws) into cubbies as reminders of urgent messages that still needed to be dispatched.

I thought to myself that they would never, ever in a million years, hire me. I would never be able to handle the pace. I laugh when I think about it…because the pace is even faster now – just a lot less visible.

My interview was literally “Do you read, write and speak English…and can you start today.” I answered, in the affirmative, to all of the questions and began my career with the company.

Back then, the majority of our customers were doctors and real estate companies. Oh my, how that has changed.

“Where else can you help unplug a toilet, help deliver a baby, help a trucker get his tire changed, get someone out of a stuck elevator, take a donation, book an appointment, help someone order a doll or dispatch a crew in a power outage situation – all before your first coffee break?”

Eventually, I requested a change to the midnight shift when a day shift was not available to me. There weren’t many calls on that shift. Mostly just the odd medical call or an agent checking for messages or truckers checking in to advise of their location on a trucking company we answered for. My biggest task on that shift was counting paper messages for each customer, logging the number in a binder and filing the messages. Back then, we charge per message and not per minute. Per message was not profitable because a great many callers did not wish to leave messages and there were no charges for anyone calling in to pick up messages.

Out of boredom, I would occasionally clean the office and wash the floor. We were also allowed to read and eat while working. I gained 100lbs the year I worked midnights – not kidding.

Long story short, when I got married I advised I was quitting and all of a sudden a permanent day shift was made available for me. I happily moved to the office that existed at Islington Ave and Lakeshore Blvd. That little office was known as Chandler Answering Service until about a year before I arrived.

That’s when technology got real. No more cord boards. We had actual computers. Throughout the years I have moved to five different offices and the used four different types of answering systems (if you include cord boards, that is.)

Day shifts were routine. It was busy first thing in the morning and at lunch but not really any other time. I bored easily and since my personal circumstances saw me arriving at work two hours early and staying an hour late, I volunteered to help out the overworked Assistant to the President who also did all the programming. I didn’t ask to be paid, I just wanted something to do.

Eventually I would take over as the programmer and then began moving from position to position as the company needed me.

Along the way, the company became AnswerPlus and has changed hands twice. AnswerPlus is now owned by the PasWord Group.

I can’t say enough about the owner, Paul Lloyd, and how much he cares for his employees. He has his finger on the pulse of the company. He knows all the employees by name. He has integrity and truly believes in “doing the right thing, regardless”. He has moral integrity. As much as I’ve dedicated my life to the company, he has given back. Sometimes my personal circumstances have been difficult but AnswerPlus has never abandoned me.

“I’m delighted to say that I trained our current Operations Manager and I hired two of our Supervisors. All are just stellar people.”

The heart of AnswerPlus, Cathy Best, has been my friend and my mentor for many years. I joke that she should have a plaque on her door that says “Therapist”. She has helped me rejoice in my successes and encouraged me to get back on my feet when I failed.

I’ve watched the co-CEO, Dana Lloyd grow up. The first time I met her, her Dad – Paul – was taking her shopping for her graduation dress and now she is a married mother of three boys.

I’ve literally worked in every department of the company. I’ve been responsible for Operations twice. Once as Director, Operations and once as Operations Manager. Among my other positions: Systems Manager (we call it “IT” now), Customer Service Manager, Assistant to the President, Accounts Payable, Payroll, Sales Co-Ordinator, Receptionist, Skills Development Specialist (Trainer), Quality Assurance Manager and Account Manager.

I’m delighted to say that I trained our current Operations Manager and I hired two of our Supervisors. All are just stellar people.

Each time I got close to the door, someone or something has pulled me back in. Change has been integral to my longevity with AnswerPlus.

I’ve come full circle and I now work as a Customer Service Representative or Virtual Receptionist, as we now call them. The cherry on top is that I work from home, where I live in Hamilton, for the Toronto office. Technology as come a long way baby!

AnswerPlus has been among the longest relationships I’ve had in my life. During my time here, my mother passed away, I have been engaged, moved from Toronto to Brampton, married, given birth to two amazing sons, gotten divorced, moved from Brampton to Hamilton, gotten engaged (again), married, gained a step-son and my Dad passed away very recently. Whew! The constant has been my AnswerPlus family.

As much as my life has changed, so has the business. We are known as an Inbound Call Centre because we do so much more than answer phones. We now provide virtual reception, emergency response and Help Desk Service.

Where else can you help unplug a toilet, help deliver a baby, help a trucker get his tire changed, get someone out of a stuck elevator, take a donation, book an appointment, help someone order a doll or dispatch a crew in a power outage situation – all before your first coffee break?

AnswerPlus’s motto is “Our Customers Come Third”. This is because we believe that treating our employees well will motivate them to do a fabulous job for our clients’ callers. So, in order: employee, caller & customer. At AnswerPlus, it’s much more than lip service. It’s reality.

We have amazing clients. Many that I’ve had the opportunity to develop personal rapport with. The are clients who were mine as an Account Manger who I still get to speak with often when they call in to pick up messages or change their on call people…we have a history.

The greatest thing about AnswerPlus – aside from our clients and their callers – is the people. As a company, we employ an inordinate number of absolutely awesome people. We are a business, of course, but we are also a family. AnswerPlus has done something right because our average tenure is extremely high for this industry.

To think that I began working here to earn money to return to school, makes me smile. I never, in a million years, imagined I would still be here almost 31 years later.

Let me tell you, it’s a very good thing to enjoy what you do, make a difference in someone’s day, make it better for having spoken with you. My goal is to keep a smile in my voice for the next 30 years!

AnswerPlus…you ROCK!

Filed under Team Members.

Posted by:   In: Team Members  

2
Jun
2016