Telephone answering services want your business. Every answering service company wants you to think they’re the best, that they hire the best receptionists, that they have the best rates, and that they’re your business’s best friends. Winners in this war for your business have been successful by actually delivering what they promise. These great answering services actually do hire amazing customer service representatives to answer your calls – paid way above the industry norm, have knowledgeable customer support staff that will work with you to solve problems, and have an honest sales staff that will be frank about what will work in the answering service, and what will inevitably lead to an epic fail. This foundation of customer service, customer support, and sales is what all successful answering services are built on.
However, if an answering service is the best you’ve ever used, there’s no guarantee that if you refer a friend or a business associate, they’re going to have the same stellar experience. What works great for you may not work as well for someone else. Why? For starters, there may be factors that are important to you that the answering service does well, and other factors that are less important that the service is a bit shaky on. If you’re only looking at what’s important to you, and they’re checking those boxes, you’re a happy consumer. If your referral is looking at the shaky factor as what’s important to them, they’re going to be less than satisfied.
As businesses continue to realize the cost-saving and customer service power of outsourcing, answering services will continue to get attention. With this need for live customer service, we want to make the consumers search for what’s best answering service for their business a little easier. To help with your search, we we believe your emphasis should be on technology, transparency, tailoring and trials. These four T’s will help you find the ideal service for your needs – let’s see how:
As technology continues to evolve, businesses need to evolve with it in order to keep up with an ever growing tech-savvy consumer base. When finding the perfect answering service to outsource to, you’ll want to make sure their technology is up to date as well. Even if you won’t be taking advantage of advanced features to start, your business needs may change down the line and it’s better to grow with an answering service than have to constantly change providers as you scale up or down.
An answering service that is up to speed on technology will include things like:
- PCI compliance: If you’re an eCommerce company, you’ll definitely need to look for an answering service that is PCI compliant so they can securely process payments from your callers.
- HIPAA compliance: As a medical provider, finding a HIPAA compliant service is critical so that you can maintain your patient’s private health information. An answering service that is HIPAA compliant will not send any PHI through email, text or voicemail, but will allow you to check your messages via a secure online portal or mobile app.
- App integrations: An answering service that offer app integrations will enable users to integrate with various CRM software like Salesforce. This can help decrease the amount of work you and your staff have to do on your side, which leaves time for other tasks. Integrations can also include apps like Google Maps, which could help your service technicians figure out where their next job is, or it can help weed out callers who are not in your service area.
- Mobile app: For businesses that require staff to be on their feet all day like healthcare providers or HVAC technicians, you need an answering service that’s going to offer a mobile app so you can check messages on the go. A good mobile app should also let you access your on-call schedules to make immediate changes, and contact callers back right from the app.
- Appointment scheduling: If you’re outsourcing to an answering service, you’ll want to make sure they can handle many of the same tasks your staff is already handing, including appointment scheduling. You’ll also want to make sure the platform in which they are scheduling is compatible with your business. An ideal answering service will be able to use your own scheduling platform or they should be able to integrate with a web-based platform like Google Calendar.
- Easy to use on-call schedule: If you’re looking to use an answering service for dispatching purposes, then it’s imperative your service offers a user-friendly interface that allows you to update your on-call schedule whenever. Not only that, but it’s important for your service to be able to follow your on-call protocols successfully as well.
- Online portal: An online portal gives users the freedom to check their messages without having to sift through old emails or reach out to the customer support staff. It should also allow complete transparency, which leads us to our next point…
In addition to technology, your answering service should be transparent, meaning that you’re not left in the dark about anything. Want to know how long your calls are lasting before you get charged? Want to listen to your calls and rate the operators? Want to see exactly what the agents see when they’re handling your calls? All of these things can be achieved with the right answering service, through the use of an online portal. For example:
- Billing details: A transparent answering service should offer you details about your billing history before getting hit with the bill so that you can stay on the most cost effective plan. It may even allow you to change plans right from your portal so you don’t have to take extra time to reach out to customer support. Getting a peak at your usage throughout the month may also encourage you to make changes that may help cut out unnecessary talk time. This can also be done through the use of on-demand reports which can be customized to your needs.
- Listening to calls: If an answering service has nothing to hide, they’re going to allow you to listen to your calls whenever you want. They may even allow you to rate them and provide feedback! Sometimes when you just have your customer’s feedback to go off of, you may not get the whole picture. Listening to your calls will allow you to see exactly what happened on each call so that you know how to handle the follow up.
- View your call handling: It’s one thing to be able to make changes here and there, but being able to see exactly what your operators see while handling calls can help bridge the gap. For example, you may not understand why your operators keep messing up on one thing, until you see it from their perspective. Once you see the issue from a different light you can then make the appropriate changes to help smooth things over.
An answering service that cannot be customized to your needs is not an answering service you want to work with. Since every business is different, it only makes sense to work with a service that can cater to your specific requirements. For example, healthcare providers usually require their answering services to help schedule appointments and dispatch emergencies, whereas a landscaping company may just want the service to ask callers their name, number, address, the size of the yard and the services they want done.
While an answering service may not be able to match your in-house protocols exactly, they should be able to come pretty close. This can also include being able to program in custom frequently asked questions that will allow the operators to answer questions on behalf of your company. While most FAQs should include basic information like your business hours and location, you should also be able to add in some questions that pertain to your account specifically. For example, a law firm may want to specify which type(s) of law they practice, whereas a dental office may want to specify the types of insurances they accept.
Just like you test drive a car before driving it off the lot, or try the samples at Costco before buying in bulk, you should always take advantage of an answering service’s free trial before taking the plunge. A free trial period allows you the freedom of testing the service without having to make any commitments, all while getting a feel for what your customers will experience. A trial period also gives you the opportunity to get to know the customer service team that will be helping you along the way, and the ins and outs of what your service can or can’t do.
Each answering service’s free trial will be different, just like each service is different. Some may offer a 1 week trial with limited features, while others may offer a whole month free with access to all features. So, before you start your search, you may want to sit down and consider what you are looking to get out of a partnership with an answering service. Having an idea of what you want beforehand may make your search that much easier.
If you are taking advantage of an answering service’s free trial, consider these tips:
- Place test calls at different times of day and night to see if there are any hold times, and how long they last.
- Ask your coworkers, friends and family to call in pretending to be customers, and then ask how their experience was.
- Try different scripting approaches to see what works best for your business.
- Keep making test calls until you are able to smooth over any hiccups.
- Ask questions! When the trial period is over, you want to be crystal clear on all fronts so that you’re not hit with any surprises.