Businesses are often in a situation where demand for customer support goes beyond their usual working hours. This leads to creative solutions such as hiring a call centre wherein telephone answering is part of the services offered.
What is a telephone answering service
A telephone answering service is a customer service feature where an agent answer calls on behalf of the business. They function as either a reception, front desk, or a helpline of a company.
Service agents usually answer one call at a time and maybe backed up by another agent or a team depending on the volume of calls they receive.
Telephone answering services for your business
Companies in different industries use telephone answering services to provide extensive support to their customers even after office hours.
This is most common with businesses in the travel and tourism industry, including airlines, hotels, and travel agencies.
Hospitals and clinics also use this service whenever a patient wants to book an appointment with their respective doctors.
Financial institutions such as credit card companies and banks give 24/7 services to their clients through telephone answering. They open helplines for stolen cards, fraudulent transactions, and account inquiries.
Whatever the industry, a telephone answering service can be availed to handle customers at any time of the day.
Types of telephone answering service
A business can avail a telephone answering service depending on their expected volume of calls and the industry they are in.
Some providers may charge on a monthly, per-minute, or per-call basis, depending on the agreement with the business.
Standard/flat rate plan
Standard plans cover basic answering services, such as in front desks or virtual reception. Service providers charge either the number of calls, acquired minutes or a fixed price monthly.
This does not include features such as transfer rates, holiday pricing, and foreign language fees.
Certain businesses expect a heavy volume of calls, exceeding the maximum of 500 minutes. With this, service providers offer a custom quotation for their business to accommodate their client’s needs.
They may avail a combination of per-minute, per-call, and after-hour services depending on their demand within a month.
This is the most common charging for telephone answering services. Providers usually group their charges depending on the minutes acquired by the business.
They can also buy minutes “on bulk” with the same, or even cheaper charge. A minimum of 100-150 minutes usually costs $99 to $200 per month.
A maximum of 500 minutes calls, meanwhile, can cost around $400 to $600, less of additional fees.
Getting a flat rate plan is ideal for businesses expecting medium to a high volume of calls, especially after office hours.
Providers also charge a per-call basis for businesses expecting low to medium volume or just a specific number of calls. Call centres and business process outsourcing companies usually do this charging, with a rate of $1.12 per call.
However, the definition of “call” for a service provider may vary. It may include calls easily hung up, transfers, or simply “system work” like in fax or email.
To avoid charges, businesses should know or predict how many calls they receive per day.
Some service providers offer specialized pricing based on the industry they render service to. These providers charge for additional professional services or require compliance for their operation.
For instance, medical answering services cost around $0.71 to almost $1 per call. Bilingual answering services, meanwhile, can cost a minimum of $0.60 per call.
Specialized charges include 24-hour answering, after-office hours, and extended hours, with a minimum of $0.99 per call.
This goes for on-demand to a low volume of calls. Businesses can pay for a combined flat rate and per-call charging per month when they expect a low volume per day.
For instance, service providers can charge a minimum of $40 per month plus $1.12 per call. However, pay-as-you-go charging can also be affected by additional charges, even bigger.
Additional (hidden) charges
Aside from the regular charges, service providers also include additional fees on their client billing. However, providers may or may not mention these charges to their clients at first.
With this, businesses should be aware of different charges on their calls, such as:
- Foreign service fees
- Holiday surge
- Account set up/activation
- Toll-free numbers
- Compliance charge
- Other charges such as third party integration, late payment, etc.
KPIs for telephone answering services
Every call matters in hiring a telephone answering service. The business needs to measure each call they get to make sure they also get the best value for money.
Some of the important metrics they should measure are:
The goal of hiring an answering service is to give excellent service to their customers 24/7. With this, they should measure how satisfied a customer is on every call done by their agents.
This includes if their issues are resolved properly, how accommodating are their agents, and if they will retain to the business after receiving this service.
Average handle time (AHT)
This refers to the average duration of a transaction. To avoid customers from getting irate, businesses should measure how long an agent handles a call. This includes their talk duration, hold time, transfers, and other related tasks done.
This also helps them determine how many minutes they will avail in an answering service for proper budgeting.
Average time on hold
This shows how much time a customer is on hold in a call. This can be affected by different reasons: the work related to the call or its transfer time to another section.
This also determines the reason a customer drops their calls when they are put on hold for too long.
Most customers abandon a call when no one answers it immediately. This is whether they are still on hold for too long, too many transfers made, or their calls remain unanswered.
This is important especially with service providers that include an unanswered call to the billing. More important with customers because this indicated if they are accommodated properly.
Average speed of answer (ASA)
How quickly a call should be answered depends on the service level agreement set. For instance, call centres usually set their standards to 80/20, or 80% of calls should be answered in 20 seconds or so.
This is to prevent customers from dropping calls and for businesses to prevent incurring additional charges for answering too quickly.
First call resolution
Lastly, this determines whether the service provider can resolve a customer’s concern on their first call. Usually, the higher the first call resolution rate, the better customer satisfaction they receive.
This is why this is one of the most important metrics that both business and their service providers should look up to.
Telephone answering service companies
There are disadvantages in setting up an in-house helpline and virtual reception, especially for small businesses. Aside from salaries and benefits, they also have to take care of their workspaces, network, and infrastructure they need to operate.
They are required to have an office space, desktop, VoIP, CRM system, and cloud storage as well. They might also lack flexibility in working since most of them would not agree to work night-shift.
Doing so requires additional benefits such as night differentials and larger health benefits, depending on the labour laws of the state.
A lot of BPO companies in nearshore and offshore countries offer telephone answering services. They come with competitive prices and the best equipment for their work to guarantee their clients that they get the best service.
Businesses can hire the best talents at a fraction of local employment. They won’t have to worry about equipment, network, and working limited hours. Most of these companies offer a 24/7 service for their convenience. To learn more about them, check the Top 40 BPO companies guide.