What is an Answering Service?

What is an Answering Service?

Editors Note:  This article was updated on February 18, 2021, originally published on November 13, 2019, and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

When you have a question about a retailer’s return policy, who do you call? You call the store. When the phone connects, you want to speak to customer service professionals.

When people call businesses or medical offices, they want to talk to a live person, not auto-attendants. The data supports it. When clients, customers, and patients get voicemail or an auto-attendant, they often get frustrated and hang up.

People like talking to other people. But if your business lacks the workforce to handle after-hour calls, what do you do? The answer is simple: You hire professional answering services with live representatives. Businesses that use these services outperform those that aren’t by wide margins.

telephone answering service

In this article, we explore all of the aspects of what is an answering service. Let’s get started!

What does an answering service do?

Telephone answering services replace or support traditional, in-house receptionists or call centers. These answering service companies process phone calls and customer inquiries during busy times or when businesses close.

A complete service will offer you more than just handling inbound and outbound calls. They can also set appointments, send emails and faxes, manage sophisticated help desk issues, and a whole lot more. In doing so, they provide the support that can help generate repeat business and boost profitability. This support includes:

  • Enhancing customer service
  • Managing call overflow efficiently
  • Handling routine tasks when overwhelmed
  • Providing marketing and sales support
  • Cutting office expenses

With benefits like these, it’s no wonder more and more companies hire call answering services when the situation requires it.

Waging War on Voicemail and Auto-attendants

People hate voicemail and auto-attendants. They frustrate them and make them angry. Sure, businesses save money, but at what cost? As the face of your company, these tools don’t do much to promote good customer relations:

In fact, in some cases, they do the opposite. According to Forbes’ survey, here are some important numbers to consider:

  • More than 50% of customers prefer to speak with a real person
  • 73% of customers skip the robocall and press “0” to get a live agent first
  • Almost 80% of customers would stop doing business with the company due to a bad experience

Sometimes, people hang up their phones before they even make an initial selection from the voicemail prompts. That can cost companies business. A bad customer experience can make your customer abandon you for your competitor.

customer service agent

What Industries Use an Answering Service?

Businesses of all types and sizes use answering services—from small businesses with a handful of employees to Fortune 500 companies with hundreds of workers. Even one-person offices have it.

These businesses fall into six categories: medical, professional organizations, service industry, property management, religious affiliations, and government agencies.

Some examples of business or industries that use telephone answering services include:

  • General physicians, dentists, and veterinarians
  • Assisted living facilities and medical equipment, providers
  • Attorneys, credit unions, and fitness/exercise businesses
  • Retailers, product manufacturers, realtors, and event planners
  • Auto repair providers, plumbers, tow companies, and carpenters
  • Electricians, janitorial services, pest control, and septic service providers
  • Apartment, condominium, and parking lot management services
  • Churches, ministries, and other religious-based organizations
  • Federal, municipal, and local government representatives

This service helps organizations meet their customers’ demands and maintain the brand’s professionalism. Plus, they enjoy all the benefits that answering services with a live representative offer.

Determining Levels of Service

The key to making call answering work is finding the right level of service for your company. It’s a major decision you’ll need to make before hiring an answering service.

When reviewing companies, look for one that can provide you with a custom plan. That way, you can tailor your plan specific to your needs.

Some considerations when determining your service level include:

Filtering of specific calls

There may be times when you only want to answer specific calls from certain people. Call filtering lets you take just the calls you want to take while the answering service agent handles the rest.

After-hours support

Many companies process business hours calls themselves but need support with after-hours calls. When people call these types of businesses, they generally want to speak to a person—especially if it’s an emergency.

Call overflow management

Sometimes call volume gets out of hand. They may be seasonal or the result of a hard-hitting marketing campaign. Whatever the cause, you need someone to answer promptly. Otherwise, you’ll lose the business. Call overflow forwards calls your people can’t take to an answering service with a live representative in real-time.

24-hour support

This service is similar to after-hours services. Some businesses need help not just when the receptionist is out, or the office is closed but also on weekends and holidays. With 24-hour support, you cover all your customers calling, regardless of the day or hour.

Call recording

A versatile business tool, this service packs a punch. Do it correctly, and you can take customer service to the next level. Call recording can help you increase productivity, efficiency, and profitability. Take advantage of it when you can.

These five services are just some of the features you’ll have to consider when developing a customized call answering plan.

answering service team

Specific Answering Service Solutions

Another consideration when hiring a call answering service is which level of service is right for you. One way to decide is to determine your expectations from the answering service, what you want them to handle, and what you want to keep in-house.

Below are common tasks that a traditional answering service can do:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Set management meetings
  • Manage emergency calls
  • Take messages
  • Support sales and marketing
  • Provide excellent customer service
  • Process outbound marketing campaigns
  • Take orders
  • Support products and services

Having these tasks handled by an answering service provider boosts employee productivity dramatically. What’s more, it frees employees to focus on more critical tasks, like helping customers or clients with issues or questions.

How much does the answering service cost?

Every company that offers this service has different pricing models. Prices may vary due to a lot of factors. It not only depends on the type of service you require but also on how you want to pay. In our blog post on answering service pricing, we go into more details on this subject.

Be careful with pricing. Some companies opt for the cheapest service possible. Others overpay. Both approaches hurt the company.

Take the time to understand what you’re paying for and what you’re not getting in your plan. Review it periodically to make sure it still works for you.

Integrating with the Call Center

A critical step in working with an answering service is integrating your company with the call center. This step is often a challenge. Make sure you review answering service companies carefully before deciding on a candidate.

At Unicom, we focus on thoroughly understanding your processes first. Then we take the time to integrate our call center seamlessly with your business. Unicom provides you 24-hour live agents trained to manage more than just your outbound and inbound calls.

You want customers, patients, and clients to feel like they’re speaking with you, not an answering service.

customer service rep

Devin Bailey
Devin Bailey
I've been in the call center industry for over a decade. A big part of my job is educating businesses on the role telecommunications and outsourced task procedures can play for their business. Understanding their processes is critical to verify and implement the right services. When I am not in front of clients I manage the technological infrastructure in the call center.