The RiverBend Growth Association has chosen Alton-based Answer Midwest Inc. as its June 2023 Small Business of the Month award honoree.
With 48 employees currently, Answer Midwest first got its start 77 years ago. Located at 307 Henry Street in Alton, the company began as a local answering service working primarily with doctors as their after-hours exchange. Today, it is a specialized answering service that provides clients worldwide with exclusive telephone reception, supplemental existing telephone operations, and support for “after hours” business. Answer Midwest serves clientele 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our focus has always been on living the Golden Rule and providing good solid jobs in an excellent working environment in our local community,” explained Answer Midwest President Jen Schulz. “With that as our focus, our client base is now international in scale and includes every type of business imaginable.”
“With all the growth over the years, our commitment remains to our community and all those we get the honor of working alongside. We believe that these commitments are what has created a business that continues to grow and keep a strong reputation,” Schulz added.
The Answer Midwest team has been recognized for the past 22 years as a repeat recipient of the coveted ATSI Award of Excellence. “This is an international award for our industry that recognizes outstanding consistency in customer service,” said Schulz.
Five years ago, the company added to its office space located in the Honke Professional Building on Henry Street. Complete renovations were done to the office space to create an updated, beautiful place for their team to work together. Not long after those renovations were finished, however, the Answer Midwest team moved to working mostly remotely.
“A large part of what we do is provide emergency services. Because of that, we did not have the mandate to work remotely,” Schulz said. “However, by going back to the Golden Rule, we knew that if we had the ability to make it happen then we needed to do all we could. Within a week we had every team member who had the ability to work remotely set up and running.”
“It was a wild time, like it was for the whole world, but we’re proud of our team and how quickly all of us adjusted. So many were able to offer ideas and suggestions that we could implement to make everything continue smooth sailing during a very turbulent time. We continue to offer remote work to many of our team and it’s proven to be a real blessing for all of us,” she added.
Despite the move toward more remote work, the company maintained their offices so that the team could all gather regularly to see and support each other, “with lots of love and laughter,” said Schulz, “and to celebrate accomplishments.” “While our office has changed, our focus on our team and our mission remains the same,” she said further. “It’s the heart of all that we do and every decision we make.”
Schulz was asked about how Answer Midwest the challenges it has faced over its 77-year history and its ability to survive.
“I’ve never heard of a business that didn’t encounter challenges, it’s just part of it. In our industry, we are blessed that we are a valuable resource for businesses whether the economy is good or bad. When clients are short-staffed or when their business is slow, we are there to help fill the gaps and to provide an extra hand for far less than the cost of an employee, and when their business is booming and they need extra help we are there for that as well,” she said.
“Our real challenges come in technology and all the good and bad that it brings with it. Keeping up with technology has been great for our business, but as we all know technology brings with it its own setup issues. That’s just another part of business and something that we continue to build a strong team for.
“Another big challenge is finding people who are a good representation of what we’re about as a company. Our bar is high, and the hiring pool is rough right now. As a result, there have been several times over the course of the years where we had to stop taking on new clients for a time because we were not willing to lower our standards regarding whom we added to the team. Turning away business is always difficult,” Schulz further noted.
She also shared that, over its history, there’s only been a handful of times where those who did not adhere to the high standards at Answer Midwest resulted in the end of a client relationship. “Chasing the dollars has never been and will never be what we are about. It’s a scary thing to let a client go who is bringing in good revenue, but when your values won’t allow your team to be treated poorly, it makes the choice much easier to handle.
“We’ve had lots of great business opportunities over the years, but I believe our greatest opportunity is to be involved in the lives of our team. We have the amazing opportunity to genuinely care about people and to live that out in so many ways through this business. There are lots of call centers and answering services out there. We know we’re not going to be the best fit for every client, and we’re okay with that. We have a unique way of doing business; that uniqueness is part of what we’re most proud of,” Schulz said.
Answer Midwest has been involved in serving the community for nearly eight decades now as well, but Schulz noted that they have never publicized it. “We really do strive to do the right thing because it’s the right thing and not to draw attention or gain business. I will say that the Restore Network, which works to support local foster kids and the families on both sides of those kids, is one organization that we strongly support. We also make it a point to support the efforts of our team and their kids and families. There is so much good going on in the community and we love to be a part of it in a myriad of ways.
“Our business has been a quiet part of the community for decades,” Schulz said further. “I would imagine that most everyone in the community has spoken with us at one time or another and never even knew it. That’s kind of how we operate, we just fly a little under the radar, always available, 24/7 helping callers and clients with a friendly voice. Our team likes helping people and people like talking to other people instead of machines. It’s a good feeling knowing that you’re contributing to the community that you love.”
To learn more about Answer Midwest Inc., visit online at AnswerMidwest.com or call (618) 463-9093. The company can also be found on Facebook, @Answer Midwest.
The RiverBend Growth Association is the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization for the 11 communities known as the Riverbend. For more information about the Growth Association, visit www.growthassociation.com or call (618) 467-2280.
RBGA’s Small Business of the Month Committee recognizes a different member business each month for its outstanding efforts and leadership in the community. Committee members include Brenda Eardley, Adrianna Lock, Amy Roady, Kristen Ryrie, Martha Schultz, and Amy Smith.
To learn more about membership in the RiverBend Growth Association and the Small Business of the Month recognition, visit the RBGA website or call their Godfrey office.