7 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Dispatching Service

Posted in Industry Hacks and tagged

Picture this. You’re a landlord for a small apartment complex. For emergencies, all of your tenants have your personal cell phone number. However, you’re finding that your tenants are reaching out all hours of the night for every little issue that comes up. You keep telling them to contact you after hours for emergencies only, but to them, their issues are emergencies. You can’t sleep. You’re irritable. You’re overwhelmed because you can’t get anything else done with the distraction of your constantly buzzing phone. What do you do? You hire an answering service to screen and dispatch calls.

Answering services are great at handling after hours dispatching for a ton of different industries. They can screen callers to find out what the issue is, determine what needs immediate attention, and what can wait until the morning.  To help you select the right company for your needs, we created a 7 point guide to make sure you are asking the right questions on your quest to find the perfect dispatching service.

#1. Are they available 24/7/365?

Many businesses need to use a dispatching service because they can’t stay open 24/7, but have customers, tenants or patients that rely on them around the clock. So, having a dispatching service that is always available is mega important. Some businesses choose to use their dispatching service to handle after hours emergencies, while others choose to use their service throughout the day as an overflow line. However you choose to use your service, there are some questions you should be asking to get the most out of your partnership:

  • Do you charge extra to answer after hours, on weekends, or holidays?: While many dispatching services say they are 24/7, they may fail to elaborate that they’re going to charge you extra to use them 24/7. So, it’s important to ask this question beforehand so you’re not surprised when you see a bunch of overage charges on your bill. A dispatching service that does not charge extra to answer your calls is usually the ideal route to go, unless you like throwing cash out the window.
  • Can the ways in which you reach out to me change depending on what day or time it is?: If you’re using your service during the day to handle emergencies, you could probably just have them text or email you with the message. However, you’d probably want to receive phone calls after hours as you may not be near a computer checking emails, and you may miss the sound of an incoming text. Your dispatching service should be able to work with you to set up different protocols based on the day and/or time.
  • What are the different ways you can dispatch messages?: A true dispatching service will be able to reach out to you in many different ways. Not only should there be options to text and email you messages, but there should be options in calling out as well. For example, SAS can warm or cold transfer callers to you, we can disconnect from the caller and continue reaching out to your staff until someone answers, or we can do a combination of attempted transfers and reaches. If you’re still using alpha-pagers, some older services may still offer this as a dispatch option – you just need to ask.

#2. Can they follow your on-call procedure?

Obviously a huge factor that goes into choosing a dispatching service is if they can follow your on-call protocol or not. Otherwise, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Some services may only be able to handle simple call out procedures while others may be able to follow a more advanced procedure. For example, calling the same person in an event of an emergency is a pretty easy task. However, calling different people depending on the situation, day, or even time may prove to be a task only an OG disptaching service can take on.

An answering service that specializes in emergency dispatching will usually be able to handle both simple and more complicated procedures. However, before you sign up for a paid service it’s always a good idea to see if they offer a free trial. Taking the service for a spin before leaving the lot will give you a better idea if it’s going to be a good fit or not.

#3. Are you able to update your schedule in advance?

As a business owner, you probably have a lot on your plate, so it can be easy for some things to fall through the cracks. While you may stay on top of updating your on-call schedule in your own office, you may forget to keep your dispatching service in the loop. Unfortunately, this could result in the wrong person being contacted, or no one at all. Some helpful questions to ask include:

  • How far in advance can I update my schedule?: Some services may only allow you to update your schedule weekly, while others may allow you to keep it updated for months or even a year in advance. If your schedule generally rotates between the same people, it’s a good idea to work with a dispatching service that doesn’t require you to call in every week to update the schedule.
  • Do I have to submit my changes to customer service or can I make them myself?: Usually programming or customer service departments are only available during certain hours of the day, so a dispatching service that requires you to submit updates may not be that efficient as last minute changes may pop up every now and then. A good dispatching service will give you the option to work with customer service, or to make the changes yourself online.
  • How long does it take to update my schedule?: If you’re submitting your updates to your answering service, it’s important to know how long the changes will take so you can plan accordingly. For example, if you know it takes them 24-48 hours, you don’t want to wait last minute to send them over. If they usually can make updates quickly, you have more leeway in when you need to submit them.
  • Is there a charge to update my schedule?: Many answering services charge programming fees whenever you submit updates, while others may only charge them if your updates will take longer than an hour. If your dispatching service charges you every time you submit your on-call schedule, you may wind up spending a lot of extra money for something you could potentially do yourself.
  • I have my schedule online. Can you use that?: If your schedule is updated online instead of on a calendar in your office, you may be able to upload what you already have created right to your answering service’s portal. If your calendar is on a shared drive like Google, your dispatching service may be able to access it without you having to do any extra work.

#4. Is there a mobile app to make changes on the go?

There’s no doubt that keeping your schedule updated in advance helps keep you organized and allows you to focus on other tasks, but sometimes things come up that may throw a wrench in the plans. Employees may get sick, quit, or go on vacation unexpectedly, which would require you to make changes at a moment’s notice. An answering service that specializes in dispatching will allow you to make updates to your on-call protocol at any time, not just during normal business hours.

Either by logging into an online portal, a mobile app, or both, you should have access to your schedule 24/7. Additionally, the system should be straightforward and user friendly. After all, what’s the point in allowing clients to update their own schedules if the platform is too complicated to figure out?

#5. Can they work with your industry?

Aside from the usual medical offices and HVAC companies, many different types of industries can benefit from using a dispatching service, so there’s a good chance your service can cater to your specific needs. Some examples of industries that dispatching services specialize in include:

  • Towing companies
  • Taxi services
  • Property managers
  • Attorneys/Law firms
  • Locksmith services
  • Security services
  • Utility services
  • Veterinary hospitals

However, before you sign up with any old dispatching service, you will want to make sure they do in fact cater to your industry, as some services specifically cater only to medical accounts, HVAC accounts, etc.

#6. Are they HIPAA compliant?

While this doesn’t apply to every business in search of a dispatching service, it’s definitely important for medical professionals, as keeping your patient information safe is critical. To be HIPAA compliant, your dispatching service should not send any patient information via text, email, or voicemail. Any text or email that gets sent through should be a static message that alerts you of a new call which directs you to your secure messaging portal, and any voicemail left should simply include a call back number or instructions on how to contact your service back to retrieve the message.

Pro tip: Once you’ve found a HIPAA compliant dispatching service, the next step you’ll want to take to secure the deal is to have them sign a Business Associates Agreement (BAA) with you. A BAA bonds the two business entities and ensures liability if there are any violations. To put it simply, having a BAA in place is just an extra means of precaution when partnering with a third party business like an answering service.

#7. Do they offer other services?

Of course you want your dispatching service to dispatch urgent messages, but you may also want them to do more than the status quo. It may be helpful if they can screen callers to determine why they are calling, and handle accordingly. For example, perhaps they can schedule appointments for non-urgent issues via a shared calendar, instead of just telling callers to call back during normal business hours for assistance. Many services can also help answer questions via customizable FAQs or help solve problems by following a scripted troubleshooting workflow for simple HVAC or technical issues.


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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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