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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Answering Services

Receptionist Answering Questions

At Specialty Answering Service, we often get asked many questions regarding the ins and outs of how answering services work, what they do, and how much they cost – among other things. We thought it would be a great idea to consolidate our most frequently asked questions to help out readers like you, who may be in the market for a new answering service. While most of the answers aren’t specific to any particular service, we did include some information based on what we offer here at SAS 🙂

General

What is a virtual receptionist?

A virtual receptionist, or a virtual assistant, is just like a regular receptionist except they are not in the same location as you. They typically can do all of the same tasks a normal receptionist can do, like book appointments, place orders, transfer calls, take messages, etc. but they most likely won’t know all of the details of your business like an in-house receptionist would.

Do receptionists work remotely?

Sometimes! Some answering services employ both in-house and remote agents, depending on availability. While it’s usually easier to have all of the agents in one location, some operators just work better from home. Call centers tend to get noisy which can sometimes be overheard through the operator’s mic, so, allowing some agents to work from home (assuming they don’t have loud pets or children) could be a great alternative to help eliminate some background noise.

How should an answering service answer my calls?

There are many different ways an answering service can answer your calls. They can answer with a general greeting like “how may I help you?” they can answer the same way you would answer in your own office, or they can answer with something more specific like “hello and thank you for calling, are you calling to schedule an appointment?” While having a generic greeting may seem like a good idea, it’s always important to keep in mind that handling calls in your office will be a different experience than having an answering service handle your calls. Since the receptionists at an answering service are not as familiar with your business as your own receptionists, having a more specific greeting usually works better in terms of streamlining calls.

How do answering services know how to handle my calls?

After you’ve decided to sign on with an answering service, you’ll most likely speak with an intake specialist who will ask you questions regarding your company and what it is you are looking to get out of the service. After going through that process, they’ll take the information you’ve given them and program the account accordingly. Then once everything is programmed, the operators will use that call handling, or script, to handle your calls specifically.

What is customer service outsourcing?

Some businesses may be too busy to handle everything themselves, so they may outsource their customer service. Anyone who needs an issue resolved will go through the answering service, who would be able to take a message or transfer calls accordingly. If your answering service also handles email and chat support, there are companies available to outsource that as well. Some services can even integrate with various CRMs, so not only can they handle your customer service calls, but they can also push data through to your support CRM which means less work you’ll have to do.

What are the benefits of outsourcing customer service?

If your business is open from 9am-5pm, then that only leaves an 8 hour time frame of when your customers can call with questions and concerns. Sure, 8 hours may seem like a lot of time, but for people who are also working during that time frame, they may not be able to reach out. So, outsourcing your customer service allows your customers to receive help even after you’ve closed up shop for the day. In addition, if you’re too busy during the day to get to every phone call, your answering service can help during business hours as well!

What services do hotlines provide?

Hotlines provide many different services, depending on how you use them. Compliance, or whistleblower hotlines can be used to report incidents or fraudulent behavior in the workplace, and can be done so anonymously.  An employee call off hotline could be used for employees calling out of work, and recall hotlines can be used for companies that are recalling products. Essentially, hotlines can be used for many different things!

What is a whistleblower hotline?

A whistleblower, otherwise known as a compliance hotline, is a hotline that allows employees to report workplace incidents. Many companies choose to outsource these calls to a third party in order to help ensure anonymity. In addition, outsourcing these calls may encourage employees to report incidents without fear of retaliation.

What is considered “after hours” with an answering service?

Typically, answering services handle calls 24/7, so what is “after hours” really would depend on your company specifically.

Can you use landline phones with an answering service?

Sure! Answering services work on the premise of call forwarding, so as long as your phone (whether cellular or landline) can forward, you shouldn’t have any problems connecting with a service.

Are all services BBB accredited?

Since it is not a requirement for answering services to be BBB accredited, not all of them are. While the BBB is very fair when it comes to posting reviews and resolving cases, it shouldn’t be a make or break type deal when searching for an answering service. However, if they are not accredited by the BBB, you should do some more research to see if they are a part of another organization, like a local chamber of commerce.

What is a good answering service for my business?

While there are many options out there in terms of answering services, finding one that is suitable to your business can be tricky. First you’ll want to outline what it is you are trying to get out of a service. Do you need help capturing leads? Do you need help scheduling appointments? Do you need after hours coverage for emergency calls? Once you have figured out what you would use your answering service for, then you can begin the journey of finding which one works best for you. Most services will offer some sort of free trial period, which is a great way to test a bunch and see which one works!

What gets outsourced to call centers?

Really, anything could get outsourced to a call center. Marketing agencies could outsource their outbound lead capture to a service, medical practices could outsource their urgent after hours calls, lawyers could outsource all of their inbound calls while they are in court, etc.

Why or when would an answering service put me on hold?

Answering services may put you on hold due to high call volumes. If there are more calls coming in then there are agents answering, you may get put on hold until the next available representative becomes available. While no answering service can guarantee there will never be holds, Specialty Answering Service prides itself on having the highest answer rate in the industry.

What kind of equipment would you need to start a phone answering service?

Aside from telephones, there is a lot of equipment you would need to start a phone answering service. You would need computers, headsets, various software like ACD (automatic call distributor), computer telephone integration (CTI) and interactive voice response systems (IVR), not to mention employees and an effective business plan.  If you’re looking to open up your own answering service, check out our helpful infographic to learn the basics.

What numbers are available to use?

Answering services will partner with a phone provider who will give them access to a bank full of numbers. Usually that bank includes both local and toll free numbers. However, most answering services are unable to provide vanity numbers (numbers that could spell out something, like your company name). If you were looking for a vanity number you’d have to purchase one separately, and then use that number to forward to the service.

How do I forward my lines to the service?

Typically to forward your line you’ll dial *72, followed by the 10 digit forwarding number your answering service provided you. Then to remove your line from forwarding you would dial *73. However, the protocol in which to forward really varies based on phone provider, so you would want to contact them first to learn how. You can also check out our help desk article for instructions on how to call forward as well!

Can I use Google Voice with an answering service?

Yes and no. While Google Voice is great because it’s free, it does come with some complications. Due to it’s inability to accept more than one call at a time, not all of  your calls could connect to the service. For this reason, there are some answering services who will not work with Google Voice, but there are others that will. If your service does allow you to use Google Voice, there may be some features that you won’t be able to utilize, like recording your calls (as the pre-recorded message makes the calls from Google Voice bounce back). At SAS, we find that some of our clients have no issues while using Google Voice, while others can’t connect at all.

Pricing

What it the average cost of an answering service?

The average cost of an answering service really depends on how you’re using it, in addition to the service itself. Some services bill per minute, others bill per call, and some just charge a flat rate. In addition, if you’re only getting a few calls a month as opposed to a larger volume, the prices would fluctuate accordingly.

Is a credit card needed to start service?

Typically, yes. Most services will require a credit card to be used for the first invoice and/or a certain period of time after you’ve started. However, other services may be more flexible and allow for other types of payments.

Is call patching included?

Most answering services are able to patch calls. However, how they charge for that time will vary. If your service bills per call, then that patched call would typically count as one call, whereas a service that charges per minute could calculate the time spent on the actual call. At our advanced service level here at SAS where calls are charged per minute, the cost of a patched call is reduced to a fraction of the actual minute rate of a normal call. So, services can really fluctuate how they price in that area.

Is billing done by the call, by the minute or by the month?

It can really be any of the three, but most likely a combination of per call/per minute and per month. Most services will track your usage (either by the minute or by the call) each day over the course of a calendar month, then send you an invoice based off that usage. Depending on what plan you’ve chosen and what that plan allows, you may have to pay a base rate in addition to overages (if there are any) or you may just pay a flat rate. Since your usage will really fluctuate each month, if you’re not on a flat rate service, your invoices will most likely vary from month to month as well.

Do I have to sign a contact?

Most services will usually not make you sign a contract, as they typically operate on a month to month subscription basis. However, that doesn’t ring true for every service. Some services may require that you sign a contract that binds you to at least 1 year of service, so if you are not ready to make that sort of commitment you’ll want to make sure you research the service prior to providing any billing information.

Do I have to pay extra to use a toll free number?

It depends on your service. Some services will charge a small monthly fee to utilize one of their toll free numbers, whereas other services will not charge you extra.

Features

Is an answering service a scheduling service?

They can be! Some services just offer basic call handling (taking messages and transferring calls), whereas others are able to schedule appointments, place orders online, take payments, etc. While many answering services can schedule, how they schedule will vary. Some can schedule right on your software, others provide their own scheduling software, and some can schedule on web based applications like Google Calendar.

Is there an autoplay message before a call is answered?

Usually answering services have the option to record calls for quality assurance. Depending on the state in which the call center is located, they may or may not have to announce to the caller that the call is being recorded. So, some answering services may have a standard “for quality assurance this call may be recorded” greeting on the line, some may be able to create a custom greeting specific to your business, or some services may not have any automatic greeting.

Are all calls recorded?

Not always! Some services may record all calls for quality assurance, where as others may give you the option of whether or not you want your calls to be recorded. Some services may even store all of your recordings in an online portal which would allow you to listen to them and provide feedback.

Can the agents have British accents?

If your answering service is in the United States, chances are the agents are not going to have a British accent (although you may get one every now and then). There are several answering services that offer bilingual support, but usually just for people who speak Spanish. An answering service’s option to offer this feature is more so based off availability than not wanting to offer that sort of service. For example, a call center in Florida may have more availability to Spanish speaking agents than a call center in Vermont would.

Can hold music be changed? What hold music is available?

Usually the hold music that an answering service will use is standard across all of their clients, and is typically very general (much like elevator music). If Company A wants country music as their hold music, but Company B wants rock, there usually isn’t a way to accommodate both. However, it may be able to be changed overall if enough people speak up about it.

Can answering services make outbound calls?

While most answering services handle inbound calls, there are some that can also be used for outbound calling as well. This may be an extra charge depending on your service, or there may be prequalifications, so make sure you do your research beforehand.

Do answering services send messages by SMS?

Typically, most answering services are able to send message via both email and text. However, some are able to send faxes and pages as well. Depending on how your service bills, you may or may not be charged for any messages that get sent.

Do all services have apps?

No, not all answering services will come with a mobile app. However, some may come with other applications, like the ability to integrate with various CRMs or the ability to schedule appointments using a web based platform like Google Calendar.

What professional answering services use Salesforce?

Aside from SAS, there are probably other answering services that use Salesforce. Not only do we use it to manage our own client data, but we also offer it as an integration on our advanced service level. This means that you can link up your CRM within the portal, then whatever information we gather from your callers can pass through the integration to your CRM.

When using a smart phone with an answering service, do the messages need to be encrypted in order to maintain HIPAA compliance?

Usually if your answering service is HIPAA compliant, your messages will not need to be encrypted. Your service should give you access to a secure online portal and/or mobile app that stores all of your messages without being encrypted. The messages you receive on your phone or email should just have standard language that alerts you of a new message.

Industries

What companies outsource their customer service?

When most people think of answering services they think of doctors offices and HVAC services. However, many different companies can use answering services. While Specialty answers for many different industries, there are some answering services that only handle calls for specific industries.

Are there any liabilities for physicians using an answering service?

When physicians (or any medical professionals) use a third party business associate, there could be some liabilities. You’ll want to make sure your service is HIPAA compliant, and you’ll also want to see if they are able to enter into a Business Associates Agreement with you, as they will be collecting personal health information (PHI) from your callers. If your service has ensured you that they are up to code on HIPAA, then there shouldn’t be any issues.

Are answering services HIPAA compliant?

Yes and no. Some answering services have adapted to being HIPAA compliant while others are still a bit antiquated. For the services that are HIPAA compliant, they will usually give you access to a secure online portal where all of your messages are stored. While faxing messages is considered HIPAA compliant, emailing and texting them are not. So, in those cases services will usually send a standard message that just lets you know that there is a new message and to check your portal for details.

Can services answer for any sized business?

Absolutely! Answering services can handle calls for any sized business, big or small. Small business usually need the extra help but can’t always afford to hire a new employee, whereas a larger company may be too busy to handle everything themselves and therefore need to outsource specific calls, like customer service for example.

What is the purpose of a doctor’s answering service?

There are many reasons a doctor may use an answering service. However, typically doctors (or any medical practice) use answering services to help schedule appointments and to dispatch urgent calls after hours.

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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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