Why The Morrisburg News Uses an Answering Service

Operations Manager Ralph Cooper on Why The Morrisburg News Uses an Answering Service

What is The Morrisburg News?

It’s hyper-local. The core of the website is advertising sales. We have a lot of pay-per-click incentives that come the-morrisburg-news-logo-alliance-wireless-communicationsthrough Google.

Does The Morrisburg News operate as an independent?

We’re registered with the government as an online newspaper but we’re not governed by the Ontario Community Newspaper Association, we’re governed by the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission). We’re kind of like MSN.ca or Yahoo or Sympatico.ca, basically a portal. It’s kind of like a radio station with the imaging, the way they play with the audio and stuff. It does look like a newspaper but much like the Huffington Post there’s no print edition.

I’ve worked with Alliance Wireless in catching a caller who was pretending to be someone from the government! Because Alliance could provide the recorded call, we got them. Those kinds of things I never would have thought of when Linda were telling us about the benefits of having an answering service. Early on, I was sitting and talking on the phone all day and wasn’t actually doing my work.

In the background, we used a ticketing system so essentially what has to happen for the work to get done is a ticket has to be created and I complete the work. So whether somebody is walking into our front location over in the plaza and saying to the person sitting there: “I want 200 business cards” or “I need a website” or “I want to advertise”, they create a ticket that goes into our system and then from home I do the work or there’s other people that can do it from this one system.

Then there’s the telephone element. When people call us we’re getting a message ticket. When someone calls and requests 500 business cards, the operator at Alliance will actually put that into our internal system so it’s almost like just walking in or sending the email or chatting with someone on the website itself. It’s just like another channel of communication that a lot of people like to use.

How long has The Morrisburg News been operating?

It’s been in beta for two years but it’s been operational for probably about a year and a half. I came here for this project, I didn’t originally live in this area. Google identified keywords: Morriburg, Morrisburg Homes, Travel, Upper Canada Village. There was a huge online gap in the market for providing local news online. About 50% of visitors come from Facebook while the other 50% comes from search results. Basically I work from home and I’m telecommuting the website that’s really local in my backyard.

What motivated you to be a part of The Morrisburg News?

It’s really interesting here. If you live here and your Mother dies and you’re trying to get her obituary in the paper and the paper only comes out once a week, sometimes  people can die, be buried, a funeral can be held before the obit ever even appears in the paper. So that’s what was going on here in Morrisburg before we existed. Depending on if you died before a deadline, it could be almost two and a half weeks before that obit got out. So, there was an immediate need for information.

What flagged the whole thing was the “Boil Water Advisory”. Back in 2008-2009 there was a problem here with the water system and they had no way to communicate to the entire community not to drink the water. What are you going to do? Put it in the paper and have it come out next week? There’s no radio stations here, we get mainly U.S.-based radio stations so there was no communication. Now that there is, we’ve got a couple SmartScreens up around town. At the car dealership, we have a digital SmartScreen there that displays our headlines and stuff for people that don’t have internet. There’s another SmartScreen in a café and we’re trying to get one in the Chamber of Commerce. So in addition to being online, there’s a couple places in the community that we’ve got our news up there and our logo and our advertisements and stuff.

 It’s mainly about keeping relevant and updated information online, from day one. We create a lot of user-generated content. People bring up the social issues around here. It’s really interesting when so many people get together and start having a discussion and you see all of the different views.

What do you enjoy about this job?

Not knowing what’s going to happen next. If only 8 or 9 hours have past since you last looked at it, you cannot predict which way a conversation is going to go because it’s basically just people having a conversation. The more people that visit, the more people comment on it and engage with it then the more views we have and therefore, up goes our advertising revenue.

The unpredictability is what intrigues me because being a software engineer, my computer never tells me: “No! I’m not going to do that.” It may fail to do something because of my error but it will never refuse to do something. But when you have this human element – which is basically what social media is – you can’t predict it and it goes every which way and every day is just entertaining and comical to say the least.

Why did you hire an answering service?

Alliance Wireless came into it because a lot of people want to pick up the phone and call. Although we have a front end location, there’s only a writer there, there’s no Ralph (Cooper). So if they’re calling about business cards or something, we have an automated system you can go on that’s just like VistaPrint and order anything. People from a small town really want to pick up the phone and call and get a friendly voice and talk to them. So you’re kind of filling a void there for me. Whereas, most websites you can’t call them but I had people calling me at home. So that’s how you entered the picture.

Have you seen business growth with Alliance Wireless being able to keep your phone lines open 24/7?

Our original clients one day were calling and I was answering the phone and before I had a chance to notify the customers that it wouldn’t be exclusively me answering the phones anymore, you guys started answering the phone. In a small town, that news travels fast and people were wondering if we’d hired someone at our office! So there’s been a lot of confusion but the good thing about Alliance is that we still are honing how exactly you can help. At the end of the day, there’s an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and there will be technical support and stuff like that so you’ll only be answering extensions for somebody calling for me or something. If they’re (customers) calling it’s because they didn’t want to do an email or they didn’t feel comfortable using the internet, so we really wanted to have that real person perspective. Your operators are really good, they have common sense. I’ve had people call up and say positive things. For example, we do the Galop Canal Bluegrass Festival website and the guy that runs the festival called up and said: “I can’t access my website.” It was 5:30 in the morning and your operator went through and said: “Let me see if I can get on it.” She actually left a note on the message ticket for me saying that she was able to get on it, so that helped me know right off the bat that it’s not an issue on my end with the server or anything.

The fact that there’s a human and somebody’s there at 3:00 in the morning, that if the alarm company calls and says that the data center is burning down or something, that human element would know to call Ralph at home rather than just sending an email. A computer on its own wouldn’t know how to do that. Those are the kinds of things that we really wanted when somebody calls in, not just to get some automated system or just leaving a voice mail that may never get answered. Which was what was happening when it was just me answering the phones.

That speaks to the element of instant gratification you mentioned earlier; callers are not being placed into some abyss where no one will contact them back.

If they call in, you guys are answering their phone call relatively quickly and at least starting the process of me being able to follow up. Otherwise, they would just be leaving a message that in all honesty I probably never would have answered.

The caller feels that somebody took ownership of the issue and that buys me a bit of time to actually get to where I’m driving to or finish what I’m doing before the phones start blowing up. If I had to sit there and answer every call that came through here there’s no way I’d get anything done. And if they just left an email or a voice mail I’m not convinced that they (caller) would be very patient or they wouldn’t know I got it, etc. The human touch that your operators provide is great.

For more information about The Morrisburg News, visit their website www.themorrisburgnews.ca

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