Kelley’s Tele-Communications finds success by adapting to changing market
On July 1, 1968, Jerry and Elaine Sovereign bought the Pasco office of Kelley’s Telephone Answering Service Inc. of Seattle from then-owner Max Kelley.
Fifty years later, Kelley’s Tele-Communications is still going strong, complete with a name change in 1983.
Jerry and Elaine are still the owners, but their daughter, Julie Sovereign, has been the company’s general manager for the past 13 years.
“We’re planning a yearlong celebration,” Julie said.
And why not?
To make it in a family business that long, owners must weather hard times, adapt to changes and look for the newest trends.
That’s Julie’s job.
“My dad was a visionary,” she said. “He saw great opportunities in this business and where it could go. I’m thinking how we could go with it and reconfigure it.”
That’s why Julie, who has been with the company for more than 30 years, keeps an eye on what the young millennials, especially in her company, are doing.
“Changes in technology have allowed us to adapt our business structure,” she said. “Instead of having a location in each city, we are able to utilize our staffing better. Back in the day, you had to be close to the phone company.”
The road to 50 years has been an interesting one.
In 1971, Jerry bought an answering service company in Wenatchee, and four years later he did the same in Walla Walla.
By 1984, Jerry started Kelley’s Paging Division to cover pagers and two-way radios.
Pagers were a big part of the business from the early 1980s through the early 2000s. Julie said there are still some customers who like using them.
In 1990, Kelley’s opened a location in Yakima.
In 1995, the company started its Cellular Reselling Division, called Kelley’s Cellular.
Kelley’s shut down its cellular division in 2012, and closed the kiosks it had in malls in Kennewick, Walla Walla and Wenatchee.
“At one time, when we had the kiosks in the malls, we were up to 40 employees,” Julie said. “But after we closed them down in 2012, we dropped down to 20 employees.”
In 2004, the company started a satellite reselling division called Kelley’s Satellite. Today, the company only offers Dish Network.
By 2015, the company moved its corporate office from Pasco to 8121 W. Grandridge Blvd. in Kennewick.
“We are in a growth period, and in the next year or two, we’ll have to be looking for another location,” Julie said. “Tri-Cities is our corporate office, but we have a lot of business in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. We have customers in Arizona and Idaho. But our comfort zone is still the Pacific Northwest. People like local.”
Even with all the changes over the years, Julie said the bread and butter is still the answering services.
“The telephone answering service is still our foundation,” she said. “We have clients who have been with us from day one.”
Loyal clients for 50 years? Yes.
“Long-term relationship building is what we like to do,” Julie said. “The service we provide them is individualized.”
Plans start at $35 a month.
For some customers, Julie Sovereign said Kelley’s is a gatekeeper, as it screens calls and only transfers or dispatches emergency calls.
“That gives the clients’ staff a better quality of life during their personal time,” she said. “For other customers, Kelley’s becomes a customer service representative, greeting and scheduling appointments and becoming their off-site receptionist.”
Other clients may only need Kelley’s for emergency dispatching on rare occasions.
“Many answering services have sold to larger companies,” she said. “We find our current clientele prefers the personal touch our team provides.”
Kelley’s has gotten involved more intensely in answering services, when in 2012 it started providing a 24/7, 365-days a year bilingual Spanish and English answering services.
So who uses Kelley’s answering services?
Clients include crisis response centers, dentists, financial advisors, funeral homes, physicians, plumbers, public utilities and facilities, real estate companies and veterinarians.
The two-pronged approach of making clients and staff happy has been the key to the company’s success.
“Our agents are on the ground floor,” Julie said. “They are the front line for our clients. They greet, screen, calm and manage our callers. Our support team is continually learning and incorporating new tools to make the agents’ job easier and to give a great experience to the caller and the client.”
Sovereign continues to keep an eye out for the hot trends for the future, such as translation services, and web-chat and social media management.
“With a company 50 years old, we always have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this process working?,’ ‘What can we do better?,’ ‘What is on the horizon?,’ ‘How are we working toward the new goal or vision?’ ” she said.
But Kelley’s foundation remains its traditional answering service. The call center, remote receptionists, appointment schedulers, bilingual agents and nationwide footprint (thanks to the internet) have kept the company strong.