Streamlining your Business Through Modern Techniques
Editor's note: This article was written by Davy Keith, manager of Quantum Process, about his experience with building and running a successful process serving business. The opinions expressed here belong to Mr. Keith.
Over the years, I have held to the business model of having my business work for me, both in my personal life and monetarily. You should look at your business as an investment: it should offer a return to you. To further this return, I often ask myself, how do I make more money with less effort? I'm not referring to offering sub par services. What I'm referring to is having your business operating in the most efficient way that only requires small adjustments and oversight from my staff and myself.
Successful businesses that work for you do not happen overnight. However, over the years I went from working 12 to 18 hours a day to less than eight today. My employees also have six to eight-hour workdays. I have an extremely successful process serving company that consists of three full-time employees with hundreds of contractors and clients. In this article, I will offer valuable insight into utilizing your clients and contractors efficiently, while at the same time offering consistent above average performance that retains a constant stream of income whether you serve 20 papers a month or 2,000.
The Right Database
The first goal in having your business work for you is having a database that organizes and allows instant access to clients, servers, and your staff. When I started my business almost 20 years ago, I recognized soon enough that keeping up with the work would require a database of some kind. In the 1990s, there were only a few choices available. I ended up using a customized database that was Microsoft Access based. I kept this same software up until about two years ago. Using the database for over 20 years made it hard for me to change because it was so familiar and I had spent thousands of dollars customizing it to exactly the kind of software I needed. However, what it didn't offer was the ability for clients and servers to have an interface to access the database and this was a detriment to moving forward.
An old, outdated database was counterproductive to the mantra of making more money with less effort. After reviewing almost every software available on the market, I chose ServeManager. There are a few attributes that make ServeManager the only choice in my opinion. Specifically, the interface is the most user-friendly software on the market bar none. Eventually, I came to the realization that I could have, not only my servers, but also my clients doing work for me.
Trust in Employees
My first concern was do I really want clients and contracted servers monkeying around with my data? In order to have a business that works for itself, I had to get past the idea that only my employees and I were capable of data entry. If I trust servers enough to serve for me, why wouldn't I trust them to input data regarding the service they just made? Wouldn't that be the most accurate way of recording an attempt? Instead of having my employee enter a date and time of service with details, wouldn't the person who actually served the papers be the best choice for this?
The same goes for clients. They are very familiar with exactly what they want served. Having clients input the papers for service directly into my system allows them to communicate directly to my staff and actually helps prevent data entry errors. At this point, my employees move from data entry personnel to managers who only make those small adjustments. They now only verify the accuracy of who, what, and where needs to be served, assigning papers to servers, providing service instructions, and billing.
Another realization that having an internet-based software allowed me to realize is that most, if not all, communication can be done electronically. Since my business’ inception, I always answered all calls for service or returned answers to servers that called my office as soon as possible. I did not want to lose business or not provide an immediate answer to my servers’ questions. I have always held to the belief that you have to answer calls for service immediately to keep from losing the job or, in the case of a server calling, take care of their concern.
Early on in my business, this was a high priority. However, last year I came to an astonishing revelation concerning this. Most calls we were taking were either overlaps of information we already had, or were relayed from the person who answered the phone to someone who could actually make a decision. This often increased the overall stress of our working environment. I am a person who gets very focused on whatever task I'm completing at the time. Stopping what I was doing and switching gears to deal with the phone was actually detrimental to productivity.
Everyone in the office has agreed without a doubt that stress has dropped by 70% or more. The office is quiet and productivity is through the roof."
This led me to take a few important actions. The first was letting the person go that was simply answering the phones. At this point, I was very apprehensive about what I was going to do with the calls that would be pouring in. Over the past few years, telemarketing and spam calls have increased exponentially. Out of every ten calls, only two or three were actually legitimate business calls. At one point, I had some foreign company call my office over 50 times in one day offering a business loan. As my frustration mounted over this, my co-owner and awesome business partner Amanda Keith (who also happens to be my lovely wife) had often mentioned letting calls go to voicemail. As mentioned, I have always been adamantly opposed to doing this but at this point I was desperate. There was simply no way I or my staff could handle calls as well as everything else required.
However, the real challenge was that we were switching to an internet-based software at the same time and attempting to have our servers accept papers through ServeManager. This included updating and communicating about their serves through notes in the job they were updating. This was a somewhat painful process as many of my servers were "old school" and didn't want to do this. I finally took a leap of faith and at the same time switched to Vonage to save on long distance calls and other benefits of VOIP. Days passed and then weeks and I kept waiting for the disaster that never happened. All of my calls go straight to voicemail. In the voicemail, I explain that calls for service can be sent to us via email or we can promptly return the client's call. All voicemails are instantly transcribed to an email that is broadcast office-wide. Whomever takes the voicemail, tags everyone in the email when they've handled the call. To further push our new advancements, my servers who didn't want to utilize ServeManager were replaced with those that do.
The result of making these simple changes have been phenomenal. Everyone in the office has agreed without a doubt that stress has dropped by 70% or more. The office is quiet and productivity is through the roof. Did I lose any business? The numbers don't reflect that and this is another benefit that ServeManager software offers. The overview page gives you quick stats on everything.
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Direct Data Entry
Since I began handling all new requests for service through email or direct data entry into ServeManager, this has also had another unknown benefit. Most of my clients have now signed up as users on ServeManager and are actually inputting service data for me and communicating exclusively through notes or emails. All my current servers are required to work exclusively within the platform and communicate there or through email. The benefits of this are exponential. I suddenly realized that my business was now working for me. Many of my clients are legal aids or paralegals for firms and were born in the digital revolution of social media, gaming, etc. It's second nature for most of these individuals to communicate electronically.
The key component was having a platform that was user-friendly enough that little to no training was needed. In fact, my 13 and 15 year-old children are able to easily figure out the software. It's rare that my servers have to ask me questions because the software is so user-friendly.
Internet Based Business
I really didn't intend for this article to be a plug for ServeManager, but I can't deny the fact that, when I did switch from stand-alone networked software to internet-based software, it brought about new revelations on how to streamline my business and have my business work for me. Granted, this wasn't implemented overnight and I never require clients to join through "collaboration" on my account. I slowly show them the benefits of working within the platform and over a short time period, all of my clients that send me work in bulk are putting all the papers in the platform. This does require my staff to review their submittals and verify everything along with service instructions, billing, and assignment to a server. However, not having the phone constantly ringing and interrupting work-flow keeps everyone on task and focused. I would have never considered going to an "internet-based business" for process serving but, once I saw the capability that having an internet-based software provides, it became an obvious choice.
In closing, not everyone considers ServeManager to be the "bomb" of software. It took me years to finally make the switch. What I had to realize is that no software will offer absolutely everything the way you are used to doing things or what you think you need in a process serving software. I started to understand that many tasks I felt were absolutely necessary (like answering every phone call), are now antiquated by technology.
Change is most often painful and switching the software I was using was perhaps the hardest business decision I ever made. Looking back on these decisions, I have no regrets. While there are many other things I have done to increase productivity in the office, the steps above had the greatest impact on my business.
About the Author
Davy Keith is the manager of Quantum Process, LLC and has been in business since 1997. He is a past president and founding member of the Mississippi Association of Professional Process Servers (MAPPS), the only nonprofit state organization committed to best practices in the process serving industry. He has also been a member of National Association of Professional Process Servers (NAPPS) since 2000.