Selecting the best answering service for your small business is not as easy as it should be. For an answering service to work for your business, it needs to check all the boxes – professional sounding agents, customizable, technically advanced, great customer service team, and most importantly, affordable.
We work with a lot of small businesses and most of them tell us that price is the single most important factor when selecting a new answering service. So if you’re looking for an answering service, you’re probably comparing prices first. And with that, you’re likely finding varying degrees of cost, as well as different billing metrics, i.e. per call, per minute, or flat rate. For the cost conscious small business, we’re going to discuss how per call answering service billing can align with your budget.
Per call billing, also known as per action billing or per increment billing, gives you a billing method that is based on how many actions the answering service performs on each call and not the length (talk time) of the call. Actions usually include text messages, faxes, warm transfers, cold transfers, pages, and reach attempts. Depending on how your protocols and message delivery options, per call billing allows you to tap into a lower pricing structure compared to per minute billing.
Here’s how per call billing can meet the needs of your small business and stay on budget:
1. It’s not based on the length of the call
As the name suggests, a per-call billing structure is based partly off the number of calls a customer gets and not the length of each call. On a per-call structure, customers will typically pay for each incoming call in addition to any action the operator takes while handing the call. These actions can include outgoing calls (like warm or cold transfer, or following an on-call procedure) as well as the sending of texts and/or emails.
Depending on how many calls your business gets a month and what those calls consist of, per-call billing is generally a cheaper method of answering service billing. For example, a customer on a per-call service level may receive 10 calls a month, which may result in 6 messages, equaling 16 total call counts. Their monthly invoice may hover around $50. However, a customer on a per-minute service level may receive the same number of calls, but each call may last 10 minutes. This would make their monthly invoice hover somewhere between $100-$120, respectively.
2. Message delivery adjustments can decrease cost
Since per-call billing includes each inbound call in addition to each action taken by the operator, costs can begin to add up. However, if you’re looking to keep costs low, you’ll want to look for a per call answering service that allows their customers to customize how they receive their information.
For example, if multiple people in your business are receiving texts, see if your answering service can group them all into one call count or one billable action, instead of counting them all separately. Another great way to help keep costs low is by customizing when you receive messages. For example, asking your answering service to send all urgent messages as they come in and send all general messages in one report at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day can help eliminate excess costs and allow your staff to prioritize call-backs more efficiently.
3. Transfer and reach adjustments can decrease cost
For a small business working with a tight budget, there are ways to help save money and reduce costs. Adjusting how your answering service transfers or reaches out for calls can help keep invoices low. Since each call out would be considered as a call or a billable action, you’ll want to limit each transfer or reach attempt and make sure your answering service is only reaching out for urgent situations.
For example, if your answering service was transferring every call to your in-house team, your call counts will start to stack up, resulting in higher and perhaps unexpected invoices. However, if you implement guidelines of when they should reach out and how often, you can help keep your answering service bill low while still making sure your customers are receiving the best possible care.
4. Not paying for technology you aren’t using
Generally speaking, most answering services that charge per-minute offer an advanced system which you can access, usually including access to an online portal and innovative features like access to call recordings and the ability to update your script in real time.
While having access to an online portal is helpful, not everyone needs all of the bells and whistles that typically cause an answering service to be a bit more expensive. Many folks are totally fine with just having a standard answering service set up with limited features, and can wind up saving money because of it.
5. Same access to important features, like scaling and customer support
While per-call services might feel a bit more antiquated in terms of advanced features offered, they aren’t. Where a per call service may not be able to offer technological advancements, they will make up in personal customer service. Traditionally, smaller per call services are known for exceptional quality service to your customers, and can even scale along with your business. For example, many per-call answering services are smaller in size and can easily offer your customers a personalized experience. They’ll get to know your customers and you’ll get to know them, too! Answering service agents who are familiar with your brand are usually more engaging with callers and can help drive sales and increase customer retention.
As your business grows, your answering service will be able to grow with you. In fact, many businesses that start out on an answering service’s lowest plan usually find themselves needing to increase simply because of how many calls they’re getting that they previously wouldn’t be able to handle. More calls leads to more business, which leads to more money to reinvest in the growth of your brand.