What Exactly is an Answering Service?
You don’t have to be a big corporation in a bustling city to use an answering service. In fact, home service providers are prime examples of the exact types of business that could greatly benefit from using one!
So, what exactly is an answering service?
A telephone answering service works on a similar concept as call center outsourcing. They are external support providers that answer incoming calls and return voicemails on your business’s behalf. In this sense, they act as a kind of “virtual receptionist” to your business by tending to prospective customers and different callers’ requests.
Today, call answering services widely vary and are capable of general to more intricate responsibilities, including activities related to:
- Appointment setting and appointment scheduling
- Registering customer queries and complaints
- Answering general questions about hours of operation, location, etc.
- Answering calls that may come in out of regular business hours
- + More!
As customers’ demands become increasingly diverse, businesses must ensure they’re implementing every possible support channel. That’s why it’s wise to opt for a phone answering service, especially if your business is scaling up, dealing with a high call volume, or unable to staff on weekends or after hours.
In this article, we’ll discuss the average cost of an answering service and how you, as a business owner, can benefit from investing in one!
Answering Service Pricing & Billing
As mentioned, answering service plans vary. As a result, it’s no surprise that answering service charges will also change. Usually, the average answering service can cost anywhere from $1 – $2 per minute (of a phone call).
The challenge is in understanding the different options available to you, especially since there’s no hard rule on how companies go about billing for these services.
To help you make a decision, we’ve listed the three most common pricing plans you’ll typically find in the industry below:
- Per minute billing: This is one of the most common methods of billing. Companies are billed based on the call duration (i.e., the number of minutes). Therefore, the longer the time spent with a customer on the phone, the higher the cost. Most live answering services have plans with standard minutes, and additional fees are charged when you go over the plan’s allotted minutes. You can easily choose a suitable plan by predicting how many minutes your business will require per month.
- Per call billing: In this method, you will be charged on the basis of the total number of total calls received and handled. The drawback with this billing method is that your business may still be required to pay for inbound calls that are accidental, such as customers who dial the wrong number or hang up after a few short seconds.
- Per unit billing: With a per unit billing method, you are charged for every call, every text message, every transferred call, or per “unit” of every other call activity. This billing method tends to be a little more ambiguous and up to the answering service provider’s discretion, making it the least popular among business owners.
What goes into the cost?
As you look at pricing models from different answering service providers, you should know what exactly you’re paying for. Here are the different elements of the pricing structure to consider:
- Plan and/or billing type: As mentioned above, the type of plan you choose will have a different method of accounting for the cost. For example, if you have a high call volume, the per call cost may be higher. On the other hand, if you have a high call volume but low call durations, then it would be wiser to go for the per minute cost.
- Setup or account activation fees: Service providers will generally charge a flat rate setup fee during the account initiation period. These prices reflect the answering service provider’s efforts to prepare customer service scripts and start your account.
- Special holiday fees: Some answering service companies work around the clock, sometimes including major holiday seasons. These virtual receptionist services may offer their employees a holiday bonus or increased rates as compensation for this reason. As a result, your business may encounter an additional charge for holiday periods, such as the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and more.
- Additional contract fees: Make sure you look into the billing cycle and ask about every single charge when first partnering with an answering service provider. There may be hidden or extra contract fees that cover anything from overtime charges to long-distance charges. Additionally, it’s always preferable to choose a provider that offers a monthly bill over those that lock you in into yearly contracts. The long-term costs for the latter tend to come with hefty penalty charges in the case of early termination.
- Features and capabilities: Is the answering service working full-time (24/7)? Is your business in need of bilingual receptionists? Are they providing any additional services on top of answering phone calls such as answering inquiries on your web chat platform, registering leads, patching through to your company representatives, or other call handling add-ons? If so, there may be additional costs for these specific features.
What Benefits do the Best Answering Services Offer Local & Small Businesses?
Provide around-the-clock customer support
Services such as electricians or plumbers may sometimes face emergency requests from customers who call outside of regular business hours. If such businesses do not provide telephone services during these hours, they may miss out on opportunities to offer support and build upon customer relationships.
Employing call center services can prove incredibly valuable in the long run both in terms of improved customer satisfaction and more completed jobs!
Answer all inbound inquiries and gain more potential leads
Hiring a dedicated answering service to document and address all inbound queries will provide your business with lead generation opportunities. For example, some potential customers may organically reach out to your business through the number on your business card or website. Others may have heard of your services through referrals from existing local customers.
With an answering service, you can answer all inbound prospects and turn them into successful leads.
Don’t miss out on important calls and business opportunities
As your business scales and grows, its needs will grow in line with customer expectations. The last thing you want is to ignore an important customer or potential business opportunity simply because you missed out on their call.
By working with a professional answering service, you don’t have to worry about missing any critical phone calls or business opportunities. Your business can rest assured that every single inbound call will be answered and appropriately addressed in a timely manner.
Free up your time for other value-add activities
Getting support on secondary activities like call center support is a great way to free up time to focus on more core, value-add functions for your business. Hiring an answering service will allow you to focus on other activities such as developing a marketing strategy, creating a referral program, or other high-priority business initiatives!
Provide a better customer experience
An answering service is the perfect way to ensure there is an “always-on” experience for the homeowner or customer, who sometimes needs to connect with a human to relay a problem or submit a request that can’t always be satisfied through other, digital channels.
24/7 Live Reception Support with Signpost
Are you looking to take your customer support outside the usual 9-to-5 and into a 24/7 system?
Signpost can help you get there. Our live receptionist service will help provide your incoming leads and potential customers with exactly the answers they need on their journey.