1. Look for a partner that works with clients like you
Not all call centers offer the same types of services. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each has its way of doing business. And each has its price points, among other things.
These factors make choosing the right answering service a challenge.
To beat this challenge, look for a company that handles clients like you. If they’ve worked in your industry before, that’s ideal. The skills and processes can vary depending on your industry. Help desk services for information technology companies could and most likely be different than a medical center. Also, look for a call center that handles clients your size means you won’t get lost in the shuffle.
Being a small fish in a big pond doesn’t cut it.
2. Map out functionality and calling processes
Knowing what functionality you’ll need is critical to developing an effective calling plan.
So, before making your decision, you’ll need to decide what service you need.
Do you want order processing? How about appointment setting? Or, maybe call filtering? It’s up to you. You know your business needs better than anyone.
Next, you need to determine the calling services the vendor candidates provide. Some will offer more than others.
Now, input everything into an Excel spread or write everything down on a sheet of paper.
Prioritize the list of services.
Then compare what the vendors offer with what services you need. Eliminate any vendor that doesn’t provide the services you need.
3. Confirm items in their base charges
Typically, businesses are charged either by call or by live agent talk time. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Both work well in the right circumstances.
Live agent talk is what most businesses prefer. Often, it’s more cost-effective than paying per call. But don’t select an approach just because it’s less expensive. Choose one that fits your needs.
Having selected an approach, confirm what you get with the base charges. Many offer what looks like enticing base charges at first glance. But that changes when it comes to add-on services.
Keep in mind that tacking on multiple sub-accounts (sales, returns, tech support, emergency patching, outbound dialing, and so on) usually pumps up costs.
Also, make sure when you get the first few bills, you’re not paying for things you don’t want or need. Are you being charged for things like:
- Email, text messaging, paging, and faxing – these will often double your base charge.
- Changes to the account protocol or set up – an answering service should make its money by answering phone calls, not by establishing protocols.
- Weekends or holidays – never pay extra for weekends or holidays.
- On-call schedule updates or directories – these service requirements are requisite and reasonable. You shouldn’t pay extra for them.
4. Compare vendor pricing models
Prices you see listed on websites are typically for simple message intake and delivery. Intake and delivery, however, is a simple service. They may exclude the protocols and functionality you require.
Once you decided on what services you want, verify answering service pricing with the vendor. Put another way, when it comes to pricing, read the fine print on your calling plan to ensure you aren’t being overcharged.
5. Industry experience is important
Many phone answering services claim they have experience across multiple industries—especially if they’ve been around for a while. But what’s the depth and breadth of that experience?
A simple question you can ask is, Does the company understand your industry? If you are in the medical field or property management, your requirements are drastically different than if you’re in technology or emergencies services:
Asking questions like:
- How much experience does it have in your field?
- Are agents highly trained?
- Do they speak your industry language?
- Are agents centrally located or remote?
- Who are current and past clients?
Asking questions about industry experience can determine if they are the right fit for your company.
6. Importance of Call Center Location
Does the call center location matter? Not really. You can make a good case for hiring locally or internationally in the right circumstance. Pros and cons exist for both approaches.
Many companies that have gone overseas, however, have come back to the U.S. Why—because of the difficulties they face by going abroad. Sometimes, what you save by going overseas, you pay for with poor service.
Answering your phones is too important not to have the best service possible. Getting the best service quality possible is more important than where your answering service calls homes. Hiring a local firm, however, has one big advantage.
Local phone answering services can come to your offices. Seeing your organization in action can help it understand your business and the people behind it. Even for companies that are not local, it is not uncommon for services travel all over the United States to meet with clients and strengthen their relationships with their clients all the time.
7. Find out where your calls go
Check out where your calls come into. Do they come into one location? Or, are they spread out among different locations? If the answering service manages your account at one site, but it diverts calls to a different place, that’s asking for trouble.
When your calls are diverted, it’s easy for agents to make mistakes. Even if the other site is part of the same company, you sacrifice familiarity with your account and your callers by going this route. Diverting calls encourages mistakes and delays, hurting customer service.
8. Check on what they’re doing with your data
Security is critical when it comes to your data—especially if it includes customers’ personal information. You’re responsible for customers data, and can incur penalties and fines for losing that data—no matter how it’s lost.
Think you’re too small to be hacked. Think again.
Hackers target small and medium-sized businesses just as much as they do large companies. In fact, they might attack SME’s more. That’s because they believe security is lax. Often, they’re right.
Actually, 90 percent of data breaches impact small business, says a recent report from Trustwave®, a cybersecurity consultancy. Data breaches can cost you more than you think.
So, review their cybersecurity capabilities. Ideally, you want a company that places a high priority on security—one that takes your protocols and procedures seriously—and follows them.
Also, check out the company’s backup plans and procedures. Do they have a plan that keeps the company up and running if something untoward happens? If the call center goes down because of an emergency, so do you. That would be bad for business.
9. Confirm service availability
When you are planning to hire an answering service, you have to verify that the service can manage calls during your required schedule.
Do you need calls answered 24 hours a day and 365 days a year? Or do you just need a live receptionist during business hours?
There are services that are only opened during business hours. Typically the business services provided by these call centers are limited to message taking and appointment setting.
For some businesses, this type of service is sufficient.
But as you perform your research, you will find call centers that are open 24/7/365 tend to offer more robust services and flexibility. And the extended hours does not necesarrily mean the cost will be higher.
The Bottom Line
Keep these nine tips in mind when reviewing phone answering services. They’ll help you find one that fits your exact needs the first time. Some companies create a checklist of things they want first, then start interviewing companies. This approach can be useful.
Good live receptionist can make or break a business. They can help build customer loyalty, improve customer service, and boost productivity and efficiency, driving business growth. But that can only happen if you find the right service—one that fits your exact needs.