6 ways to tell if your answering service is the right fit for your business

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Trying to find the right answering service can feel a little like playing musical chairs or trying your hand at online dating. You’re doing your level best to get in there and make something fit, and you never really feel settled. With so many answering services out there, finding one that suits your needs and helps your business advance is a challenge – and can feel pretty overwhelming. And, like dating, you really don’t know how the relationship is going to be until you get in it. Sometimes you know from the start, and sometimes you wish you picked up on the early signals so you didn’t waste so much time.

You don’t need to waste months auditioning your answering service to find out if they’re helping you grow. In reality, you should know within a few weeks if they’re going to be a good fit. There are certain things to consider when creating your pros and cons list as you assess if they’re working for you, or against you. After reading this article, you’ll fully know if your answering service fits your needs, or it’s time to go on another date.

#1. They’re solving a problem

It’s important to know what problem you were trying to solve when you hired your answering service, and if the service is helping you achieve those goals. Here are some common goals customers have when hiring an answering service. If you see your goal in the list below, ask yourself if the service is helping, or hurting:

  • You want to filter out unwanted telemarketing calls
  • You want to save money by not having to hire full time staff
  • Your in house staff are too busy answering calls and are unable to focus on other tasks
  • You want to reach a larger customer audience with bilingual support
  • Too many leads are being missed after hours, on weekends or holidays
  • You want to increase response time with your customers

#2. They get messages to you in a timely manner

The primary goals of an answering service is to handle customer communication on your business’s behalf, and to make sure those inquiries and requests reach you successfully – but not all answering services are created equal. Some systems rely on the operators to send the message manually, while others will dispatch a message when the call is saved or when the caller and the callee have both hung up. If you’re waiting on an agent to remember to send you a message after a call is over, human error could be affecting how long you’re waiting around to get messages. If you’re relying on a system that only sends messages a few times an hour based on a scheduled system task, you could be missing important leads.

Waiting around for minutes or hours to receive your messages means you’re probably going to miss out on some important business opportunities. For well-established, enterprise-level organizations, maybe that’s not such a big deal. But if you’re a small business owner or you’re just starting out, seconds matter! A few minutes wait, and a new lead may become another number to toss in the circular file. The faster your answering service can send your messages, the faster you and your team can prioritize and act on them.

If your answering service sends you messages automatically as soon as the call hangs up, you’re on the right track.

#3. They’re saving you money

No matter how big or small your business is, managing and budgeting your finances is a crucial aspect of running a profitable company. Answering services can help you cut costs and keep more dollars in your business going towards growth. If your current answering service offers the following 3 must have points, you’re in good company:

  • Multiple plan options: Similar to phone companies, an affordable answering service will offer multiple plan options depending on how much call volume your business generally receives. For example, Specialty Answering Service has 8 different pricing plans to choose from on our pay-per-minute service, starting from the bare minimum all the way to a plan that covers over 10,000 minutes.
  • Ability to increase or decrease plans as needed: In the business world, nothing is ever static. One month, you may be overwhelmed by a flood of calls, and the next month, there’s barely a trickle. An answering service that wants to help you save money will allow you to increase or decrease your plan as needed so that you’re never overpaying for service.
  • Option to add automated support: If your answering service uses a pay-per-minute pricing structure, then every minute counts, especially for small businesses. If you notice your line is getting hit with robo-dialers or customers who just have simple questions, such as where your business is located or your business hours, those calls may be eating up unnecessary costs. Ask if your answering service can add automated support to your line with an IVR. Robo-dialers won’t be able to press 1 to get connected, and customers who just want to know what time you open will be able to listen to a recorded message.

If your service doesn’t have the appropriate plan for your volume, if you’re locked into a rate that you may not be able to maintain, or if you can’t add automation options to help cut down on live operator minutes, it may be time to look for a new service.

#4. They’re actually answering your calls

Another reason businesses look to use answering services to capture leads and handle customer communication is because they do not have the resources, budget or staff to be able to handle a high volume of phone calls themselves. However, if your answering service is frequently having trouble picking up the phone, then it may be time to shop around. For answering services, queue times, also known as answer rate, could be costing you business.

No answering service in the industry that can guarantee a 100% answer rate all the time. In fact, the industry standard is 80% of calls answered within 20 seconds. A familiar gauge that answering services use to break this down is the length of a ring, which is about 6 seconds. If an answering service tells you they usually answer a call in 3 rings or less, they are telling you that they usually answer a call before 20 seconds.

A good answering service will monitor their answer rates, look to previous data trends to make sure they are always staffed up accordingly, and continuously work to ensure that all calls are being answered in a reasonable amount of time. If they can’t always answer calls quickly, then they should have features that can be activated to help cut back on missed leads, like a call back system. For example, SAS offers both a Callback feature and a Queue Callback Feature, at no additional cost. Here’s how they work:

  • Callback: This option will give callers the option to reserve their place in the queue. The length of time they may be on hold is announced in the beginning, and callers have the option to wait, or to hold their place in line and have an agent call them back when they become available. After hanging up, their spot in the queue is held and they’re automatically called back when an agent becomes available.
  • Queue Callback: This option will dial your callers back automatically if they hang up while waiting for an agent to answer the call.

If you’re seeing more calls have come into your office telephone line vs. how many messages the answering service has taken, or you’re hearing reports from your clients about how long the service is taking to pick up the phone, you’ll want to contact your answering service to get a call report. If they aren’t answering your calls, they’re costing you opportunities, and your relationship with them may be a bust.

#5. They have enough features to grow with you

Most answering services can do a lot more than just answer your phones. As technology continues to evolve, message centers are able to incorporate features designed to make your life easier. There may be some features you don’t need now, but it’s great to know that as your business grows, you won’t need to look for another service to meet your evolvoing needs. Ideally, a solid answering service will provide:

  • Access to an online portal or mobile app: For professionals who may not be in front of their computer all day, such as mobile veterinarians or plumbers, it’s important to have the ability to check messages or make updates on the go via an online portal or mobile app.
  • On-call scheduling: If your answering service utilizes an on-call scheduling system, take advantage of this option for emergency dispatching, or even just for immediate lead capture with a warm transfer schedule.
  • App integrations: Many business owners have adopted customer relationship management (CRM) systems to store and organize customer data. An answering service that offers app integration with popular CRM software will streamline the intake process by eliminating the need for your team to do double the work. And less time in data entry means increased employee productivity!
  • Bilingual support: Having the ability to provide consistent support to your Spanish-speaking customers is a game changer, opening your doors to a much larger audience. If this level of customer care is important to the success of your business, look for an answering service that offers bilingual operators at little to no extra cost.
  • Flexible scripting options: Every company is different, and any worthwhile answering service will take your specific needs into account when working with you to develop a fluid call script. For example, legal firms would likely require a different set of screening questions than an HVAC company, and medical practices may want to include a dispatching protocol for emergencies.
  • SMS messaging: Having the ability to text back and forth with customers via your online portal is a great way to keep a channel of communication open at all times, and can even allow you to assist multiple customers at once!

#6. You can reach them if you have issues

No one likes dealing with a business whose customer support team is unresponsive. When there are issues, customers want to know that there is someone who can help them fix the problem as quickly as possible. Not only that, but representatives who are friendly and empathetic can turn a frustrated caller into a lifelong patron simply by putting themselves in the caller’s shoes. This goes for both the operators answering your inbound traffic and the customer support team managing your account.

If your answering service makes call recordings accessible, listen to interactions regularly to ensure that operators are delivering assistance with courtesy, care, and commitment to a positive outcome. A great service will always welcome your feedback, good or bad, and take immediate steps to resolve issues. When their customer support team can maintain quick response times, handle updates efficiently, and offer valuable suggestions that will provide the best possible experience for your callers, your search is over. That’s a perfect match!

If your service isn’t giving you the ability to listen to calls, or if you’ve had issues and you haven’t been able to get them resolved, it’s time to look for another service.

Choosing the right answering service for your business is an important, and sometimes lengthy process. To really know if they’ll work for you, you need to give them a try. Specialty, like other services, offers a trial period where you’ll be able to experience everything we offer, for free. It’s a great way to know how a new telephone answering service will work for you before you’re committed. The considerations above can help you to take the temperature of your current service to see if it’s working for you, as well as give you some questions to ask while you’re in the discovery process. You’ll want to make sure you choose the best service for your business model, as the right live answering service will be instrumental to the growth of your company.

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Specialty Answering Service is a leading call center company, helping fast-growing businesses close sales and deliver amazing live customer support 24 hours a day. SAS' friendly virtual receptionists and customized call handling create an outstanding virtual office experience. There are thousands of small businesses already using our services. Try SAS for free today.

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