Small businesses who use answering services come in all shapes and sizes. From small companies operating out of their garage and receiving a few calls a year, to medium sized businesses who employ hundreds of workers and get thousands of calls a month. And, we’re introduced to many varieties of small businesses by way of our free trial period. At the end of the trial period, we dispatch a survey to learn more about the small businesses we answer for, and we analyze that data to improve our own processes and our on-boarding process. We thought it would be interesting to share some of that data here:
1. How established are the businesses that use answering services:
1 to 6 months: 5%
7 months to a year: 4%
1 year and 2 years: 6%
Between 2 years and 5 years: 22%
Over 5 years: 63%
As anyone who runs a business knows, the early stages are the most important, as they set the defining course of your company. According to Small Business Administration data, 30% of businesses fail within their first 2 years, and only 50% make it past 5 years. As you can see from our data, most of our clients’ businesses are over 5 years old. However, many of them are still in the start-up age and rely on our services to help make sure they are on the succeeding end of the spectrum, and not the failing end.
While many start ups need to stick to a tight budget, answering services often wind up paying for themselves in the long run, which is why outsourcing is such a great investment. Small businesses who aren’t able to hire enough staff to be able to answer every phone call or complete tasks in a timely manner look to their answering service to help answer calls 24/7, answer questions, schedule appointments and essentially just give callers a live voice to talk to no matter when they call. As a small business who may be struggling to capture and convert new leads, you can’t afford to miss a single business opportunity.
2. What is the typical number of employees small businesses have that use answering services:
1 employee: 18%
2-10 employees: 55%
11-20 employees: 16%
21-50 employees: 6%
Over 50 employees: 5%
One of the most common reasons why small businesses reach out to us is because they don’t have enough staff, which is causing them to miss important calls, lose customers, and fall behind on daily tasks. When small businesses starting outsourcing to an answering service, they become aware of just how many calls they’ve been missing once they actually stop missing them.
Since 7 out of 10 callers will hang up if they reach voicemail and move on to the next option, many small businesses don’t even have a clear understanding of how much business they’re losing until an answering service starts picking up their calls and getting those would-be lost leads circulating in the sales funnel.
3. What are small businesses are looking for in a telephone answering service:
A personal 24-hour receptionist: 26%
Responsive customer service: 31%
Accurate emergency dispatching: 13%
Efficient lead capture: 10%
Live operator coverage during my vacation: 8%
To see how many calls I was missing: 5%
Generally speaking, the number 1 feature small businesses look for when outsourcing is an answering service that can provide a 24/7 personal receptionist experience. Many small businesses want to be available to their customers around the clock, but don’t necessarily have the resources or financial stability to be able to pull it off.
However, when they start outsourcing to an answering service that is both available 24/7 and affordable, they are able to maximize their communication channels, increase staff productivity, offer exceptional customer support, and ultimately allow their brand to thrive.
It’s the middle of July. If you haven’t already, it’s high time you traded in those oxfords or stilettos for a pair of flip flops. Summer vacation is in full swing. As a business owner, that means not only planning for your own getaway, but planning around your employees’ time off, too. If you’re currently using an answering service, then you know the drill. Business hours adjustments, on-call updates, script changes, vacation greetings, and the like. If you haven’t yet experienced the wonders that a live answering service can do for your customer care initiative, then the season of Hawaiian shirts, polka dot bikinis and sunblock is as good a time as any to give it a whirl. Read on for the top 5 reasons why your business needs to ride the wave with a summertime answering service.
#1. Because voicemail stinks
Remember way back in the day when voicemail was cool? Well, in case you’re living about 40 years in retrograde, newsflash: voicemail is annoying. It just doesn’t give you the same instant gratification as sending a text, and if you have voicemail, you actually have to check it. Umm, no thanks. Then there’s the old out-of-office message. If you’re like most people, yours still says that you’ll be out until January 2nd. 2 Januaries ago. No one ever remembers to change those things! Enter the answering service. Live operators, personalized scripting based on the current date, and messages delivered in real-time.
#2. Because your staff deserves a break
Are you one of those bosses who puts the kibosh on your receptionist being out of the office on the same dates as you? But what if they have a 5-star trip planned to the exotic beaches of Bali when you decide you want to hit the links for a week? Are you going to postpone your lesson with Tiger Woods’ caddy? Or are you going to tell the front desk that Bali is a no-go? Neither. You’re going to sign up for an answering service. And you’ll vacate, and the front desk will vacate, and heck – even the plant lady will vacate. Business will not halt. Sales will not suffer. Your 24-hour virtual receptionists have you covered, no matter where in the world you find yourself.
#3. Because round-the-clock availability makes you a superstar among merchants
Have you ever woken up at 3am, feeling a little funky from the cheese curls and cherry soda you had for dinner? Like any normal insomniac, you turn on the TV and flip through about 5,000 different infomercials to lull you back to sleep. But then, the inevitable happens. You get sucked in. And at 3:05am, you’re buying the sock drawer sachets you never knew you always needed. Are you talking to a computer? Nope. That’s an actual person taking your call. So, whether someone decides to ring your business up at 3:05am or 12:30pm, they’ll be met with a friendly, knowledgeable operator. That cinches your reputation for incredible service, any time of day.
#4. Because it’s cheaper than working with temps
Let’s say that your assistant wins the trip of a lifetime adventure to ride a glacier in Iceland. Without her around to keep up with your appointment calendar, you’re a sinking ship. So, you hire a temp. Did you know that staffing agencies can markup hourly wages by as much as 50%? If you would normally pay $15 per hour for some extra help, you’re actually paying $30. Talk about overhead! Why in the world would you ever spend that kind of cash when you can hire a virtual assistant to answer your calls, set appointments, and shield you from solicitors? You wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that.
#5. Because holidays happen
After summer comes Labor Day. Then Thanksgiving. Then Christmas. And so on, and so forth. Once you’ve been spoiled by the benefits of a vacation answering service, you’re going to want one all year long. It’s way easier than worrying about being glued to your phone or stuck on live chat for the better part of your week. Comprehensive call center services can do everything you can do: field inbound calls, handle outbound promotion calls, monitor your chat and social media channels, answer email, respond to sales inquiries, and more. It’s just like your office, only better. Because someone else is making you look good.
In any season, and for any reason, our professionals are waiting to design a service that will complement your customer care platform at a price you can afford. And most providers offer a 2-week free trial. You get to try before you buy and tweak things along the way to ensure that your business looks and sounds exactly like it would if you were able to answer every call yourself. What’s not to love? So, go ahead. Take some well-deserved time away from your desk, and encourage your office team to do the same. With the right service on your side, it will be smooth sailing, all summer long.
Modern customers expect much more from businesses then they ever have before. Research shows that almost 70% of consumers say great customer service is very important in their choice to stay loyal to a brand. Combine that with consumers who are on the fence about good customer service and you have 98% of consumers! That’s a pretty big number. With how easy it is today to find competing products or services online, the need for great customer service is what’s becoming the defining factor in a brands success.
So how are businesses staying a step ahead of growing customer service expectations? For starters, they’re letting telephone answering services like SAS handle their front-end customer service 24 hours a day. We asked some of our employees for their best tips on how to use an answering service to strengthen the customer service relationship between businesses and consumers.
This article highlights our employees advice on every stage of the customer service process, from greeting and information gathering to tier 1 technical support and dispatching requests out of the scope of the virtual receptionists capabilities. You’ll learn more from this article than you would if you interviewed every employee in every answering service in the United States!
Tips for how to structure your greeting
“Your business’s greeting is often times the first impression customers get of your brand. In order to ensure a solid first impression and a successful outsourcing experience, you’ll want to create the best answering service greeting possible. That means you should stay away from greetings that don’t flow naturally and greetings where the operator has to say a complicated company name. Remember, what sounds good in your office may not always sound good in an answering service setting.” – Barb Albert
“If your answering service will be handling all different types of calls on your behalf, a good idea is to add a driving question in your greeting to help steer the call. For example, asking “Are you calling to schedule an appointment?” will often result in a streamlined interaction whereas “how may I help you today?” may result in a 20 minute phone call.” – Kathy Galdi
Advice on what types of requests you want the answering service to handle
“From appointment scheduling and order processing, to integrating with your CRM and following complex workflows, answering services can handle pretty much everything. However, that doesn’t mean they should handle everything. I suggest thinking of the few most common types of calls your in-house staff typically handle, and set your answering service up accordingly. The more you pile on your answering service, the more chances there are for errors.” – Matt Cohen
“If you’re having your answering service go out to your website to look up a product, process an order or schedule an appointment, it’s always a good idea to create clear-cut instructions for the operators to follow. It’s important to remember that the operators are not familiar with your site and may be just as lost as the customers calling for help.” – Chris Middlecamp
Observations on what frustrates customers the most when speaking with a virtual receptionist and advice on how to mitigate
“Sometimes when callers reach the answering service, they are upset because they are expecting that their issue will be resolved right then and there. While virtual receptionists are capable of solving issues, some things are better left for your own staff to handle. If your callers are upset that they’re unable to reach your office directly, it’s a good idea to let your service say they are the service, and why they are answering instead of you. For example, they can say “Thank you for calling, you’ve reached the overflow answering service for Dr. Smith’s office. We help handle calls when she’s visiting with patients. How may I help you today?” This tells callers upfront who they are speaking with, and why.” – Gabby Rolette
“If your callers are upset that they’re speaking to an answering service instead of your own staff, it could just be because your answering service is not set up to handle the same types of tasks your callers are used to being helped with. An easy way to mitigate this is to update your call handling! For example, if your answering service is currently not set up to schedule appointments, and your callers are frustrated at having to wait for a call back, see if your service can integrate with scheduling software you’re already using which will help alleviate customer frustration and cut down on the amount of work your in-house staff have to do.” – Esther Cardin
Tips on escalations to your own on-call staff
“If your script is set up to transfer or reach out to your on-call staff, you’ll want to make sure it’s as seamless a transition as possible. I always suggest that our customers get familiar with making on-call updates in their portal in case they need to make a last minute change and customer service isn’t readily available to make them.” – Sheila Forth
“Many businesses that we work with implement on-call systems for escalations or urgent calls. If your business wants to set up an on-call system with your answering service, make sure it’s simple and straightforward. The more complicated your procedure, the more likely it is that operators will make mistakes.” – Stephen Wildemann
Advice on how to work with your answering service to solve problems
“Your answering service is going to want to see your business succeed, so you should never hesitate to reach out whenever you have problems. With that being said, keeping a positive, professional demeanor when addressing issues will help make solving your problems a million times easier.” – Kaila Hamaday
“If you’ve been having issues with calls, it’s a good idea to make a record of each individual call’s timestamp that you can present to your service. The more information they have up front, they quicker they can jump right into getting them reviewed for you, or the quicker they can work on making updates if the issue is regarding your script’s workflow.” – Danielle Viglione
Guidance on what makes a great customer service interaction
“Great customer service is paramount when creating customer loyalty and ensuring customer satisfaction. For me, a great customer service experience entails speaking with a friendly, knowledgeable agent and being helped quickly.” – Annie Baker
“When I work with customer service, I want to know that I matter. Receiving a check in phone call from a support rep after I’ve had an issue with a company is a simple, effective way to say ‘we care about you’.” – Jessica Rosado
Advice on how the answering service should deal with angry customers
“If your answering service is dealing with angry customers, they should have systems in place to help them. For starters, they should always be empathetic and let the caller know they understand where they’re coming from. Deescalating situations can be difficult, but ultimately customers just want to know they’re being heard. If that doesn’t work, transferring the call to a supervisor usually works.” – Kelly Dunbar
“Dealing with angry customers is never fun, but it comes with the territory of customer service. If your business tends to get a lot of irate callers, it’d be a good idea to implement a transfer option in your script in which the operators can transfer the caller to an experienced team member in your own office.” – Mollie Williams
Tips on hold times and how to approach it
“While hold times can’t be avoided 100% of the time, there are some ways to reduce your customers’ chances of being placed in the queue. For example, I always advise customers to let us know in advance of any planned changes in volume, like airing a new product or campaign. That way we can make sure we are staffed accordingly.” – Courtney Pizzi
“We can’t promise there will never be a hold – no answering service can. But adding a custom recorded greeting your callers can listen to if there is a hold is always a good rule of thumb.” – George Nave
Must-have advice for anyone using an answering service
“You should think of your answering service as an extension to your business. Any changes you make in-house should be reflected in your service. It also doesn’t hurt to check in every couple of weeks just to make sure everything is running smoothly.” – Kevin Kozeniewski
“Working with your answering service and making sure everyone is on the same page is key. That means if your service’s support or sales reps are making suggestions on how they think your procedures will work better, you should probably take their advice.” – Matt Baker
Selecting the best answering service for your small business is not as easy as it should be. For an answering service to work for your business, it needs to check all the boxes – professionally sounding agents, customizable, technically advanced, great customer service team, and most importantly, affordable.
We work with a lot of small businesses and most of them tell us that price is the single most important factor when selecting a new answering service. So if you’re looking for an answering service, you’re probably comparing prices first. And with that, you’re likely finding varying degrees of cost, as well as different billing metrics, i.e. per call, per minute, or flat rate. For the cost conscious small business, we’re going to discuss how per call answering service billing can align with your budget.
Per call billing, also known as per action billing or per increment billing, gives you a billing method that is based on how many actions the answering service performs on each call and not the length (talk time) of the call. Actions usually include text messages, faxes, warm transfers, cold transfers, pages, and reach attempts. Depending on how your protocols and message delivery options, per call billing allows you to tap into a lower pricing structure compared to per minute billing.
Here’s how per call billing can meet the needs of your small business and stay on budget:
1. It’s not based on the length of the call
As the name suggests, a per-call billing structure is based partly off the number of calls a customer gets and not the length of each call. On a per-call structure, customers will typically pay for each incoming call in addition to any action the operator takes while handing the call. These actions can include outgoing calls (like warm or cold transfer or following an on-call procedure) as well as the sending of texts and/or emails.
Depending on how many calls your business gets a month and what those calls consist of, per-call billing is generally a cheaper method of answering service billing. For example, a customer on a per-call service level may receive 10 calls a month, which may result in 6 messages, equaling 16 total call counts. Their monthly invoice may hover around $50. However, a customer on a per-minute service level may receive the same number of calls, but each call may last 10 minutes. This would make their monthly invoice hover somewhere between $100-$120, respectively.
2. Message delivery adjustments can decrease cost
Since per-call billing includes each inbound call in addition to each action taken by the operator, costs can begin to add up. However, if you’re looking to keep costs low, you’ll want to look for a per call answering service that allows their customers to customize how they receive their information.
For example, if multiple people in your business are receiving texts, see if your answering service can group them all into one call count or one billable action, instead of counting them all separately. Another great way to help keep costs low is by customizing when you receive messages. For example, asking your answering service to send all urgent messages as they come in and send all general messages in one report at the end of the day or the beginning of the next day can help eliminate excess costs and allow your staff to prioritize call-backs more efficiently.
3. Transfer and reach adjustments can decrease cost
For a small business working with a tight budget, there are ways to help save money and reduce costs. Adjusting how your answering service transfers or reaches out for calls can help keep invoices low. Since each call out would be considered as a call or a billable action, you’ll want to limit each transfer or reach attempt and make sure your answering service is only reaching out for urgent situations.
For example, if your answering service was transferring every call to your in-house team, your call counts will start to stack up, resulting in higher and perhaps unexpected invoices. However, if you implement guidelines of when they should reach out and how often, you can help keep your answering service bill low while still making sure your customers are receiving the best possible care.
4. Not paying for technology you aren’t using
Generally speaking, most answering services that charge per-minute offer an advanced system which you can access, usually including access to an online portal and innovative features like access to call recordings and the ability to update your script in real time.
While having access to an online portal is helpful, not everyone needs all of the bells and whistles that typically cause an answering service to be a bit more expensive. Many folks are totally fine with just having a standard answering service set up with limited features, and can wind up saving money because of it.
5. Same access to important features, like scaling and customer support
While per-call services might feel a bit more antiquated in terms of advanced features offered, they’aren’t. Where a per call service may not be able to offer technological advancements, they will make up in personal customer service. Traditionally, smaller per call services are known for exceptional quality service to your customers, and can even scale along with your business. For example, many per-call answering services are smaller in size and can easily offer your customers a personalized experience. They’ll get to know your customers and you’ll get to know them, too! Answering service agents who are familiar with your brand are usually more engaging with callers and can help drive sales and increase customer retention.
As your business grows, your answering service will be able to grow with you. In fact, many businesses that start out on an answering service’s lowest plan usually find themselves needing to increase simply because of how many calls they’re getting that they previously wouldn’t be able to handle. More calls leads to more business, which leads to more money to reinvest in the growth of your brand.
As an answering service company, we’re always looking for ways our users can get more value out of our service. You’re a busy small business and you need to make sure that whatever you buy makes financial sense. If you’re using a virtual receptionist service like Specialty Answering Service, or a CRM to organize customer data, the ability to furnish an ROI is critical. For Specialty Answering Service, the reports we offer in our portal are an important go-to for small businesses who want to make sure we’re performing at a high-level and costing as little as possible. But, there are so many reports available to you in your portal, it’s hard to know where to start.
Accessing a report is one thing, being able to interpret and turn the data into something actionable is something else. No worries though, that’s what we’re here for! The following are 3 reports available to you in your portal to start with where we believe you can use to get visibility into how your account is performing, and how to improve it.
1. Call Result
Call results offer a brief description of what each call is about, like Calling for Service or Requesting Refund, and our Call Result report helps consolidate all of that information into one simple place. If you’re trying to determine how many people called last week about refund requests, and how that compared to last month, we’ve got it covered. If you want to see how many urgent calls you get on average each month, we’ve got that covered, too.
Where can you find it
In your SAS Portal, you can find the Call Result report by going to the Reports tab on the left hand side of the screen. Once the page loads, a pie chart will show your report, which can be customized by campaign and/or a specific date range via the drop down menus on the left hand side of the screen.
How can you use this to improve your answering service
If you set up your answering service script with only one path, then all of your messages will have a “General Message” call result (aside from the wrong number calls that could trickle through). However, as any business owner knows, there are many different reasons why customers call. In order to make your life easier, we suggest creating a few different path options the operators can choose from. Each path would have it’s own call result, like Calling to Schedule or Needs Urgent Service, and you will no longer have to sift though dozens of calls just to find out what they were about.
2. Compare Usage from Last 3 Months
Our Compare Usage from Last 3 Months report provides great insight into how much you’re using the service. The messages you receive aren’t always an accurate depiction of your usage, as you won’t receive messages for wrong number calls or calls where the operators are able to answer customer questions. Since this report will give you the average length of calls for the last 3 months, you can use it to determine if your calls are taking too long. For example, if you see your calls are averaging at 5 minutes, you may want to remove some unnecessary elements in your script to get that number down.
Where can you find it
In your SAS Portal, you can find the Compare Usage from Last 3 Months report by going to the Reports tab on the left hand side of the screen. Once the page loads, scroll down to the bottom of the page where you’ll see a chart as well as a line graph illustrating the average call length (in minutes) from the last 3 months.
How can you use this to improve your answering service
By comparing your average usage for the last 3 months, you can identify trends and plan for the future accordingly. For example, if you notice spikes in volume on certain days of the week or certain times within a month, you can use that information to staff up accordingly in your own office. You may also want to use that information to update your answering service script. For example, if you’re getting a lot of calls during your billing period, it would be helpful to include some billing FAQs or a separate path in your script that operators can use to transfer calls to your in-house team.
3. Calls by Hour
Looking at our Calls by Hour report is a great way to see just how much traffic you’re getting, broken down by the hour. On the report, you are able to see calls based off of who is a new caller and who is a repeat caller. The Calls by Hour report can also be broken down into business hours and after hours, which is helpful to see exactly when your business is receiving the most traffic, and if you need to make any adjustments accordingly.
Where can you find it
In your SAS Portal, you can find the Calls by Hour report by going to the Reports tab on the left hand side of the screen. Then, you’ll want to select the Call Traffic tab along the top of the screen. Once the page loads, a bar graph will show your report, which can be customized by campaign and/or a specific date range via the drop down menus on the left hand side of the screen.
How can you use this to improve your answering service
Viewing the Calls by Hour report can help you adjust your current protocols, whether they are in-house or with your answering service. For example, if you notice you’re getting a lot of repeat calls, perhaps you can have your answering service provide callers with alternative contact information where they can get in touch with your staff directly. Looking at the report to see the difference in traffic from business hours to after hours can also provide a lot of helpful insight. For example, if you’re receiving a lot of calls after hours, it’s possible that your customers are unfamiliar with your business hours, or maybe it would be a good idea to implement an after hours on-call system to assist with urgent issues.
With these reports as something you become accustomed to reviewing, you’re on your way to making sure the answering service is operating as efficiently as possible. Want to access these analytics yourself? Sign up for a free trial of our answering service and see all answering service reports we offer.
Regardless of what type of small business you’re running, if you’re an industry titan or a bootstrapped startup, you’re always looking for ways to reduce your expenses. If you’re using a live answering service to handle your calls, you’re already saving money by eliminating overtime and unnecessary payroll expenses. And fortunately, there are many ways small businesses (and large ones) can reduce their monthly answering service invoice and optimize savings.
Depending on your call volume, tweaking your script and protocols can lower your bill by as much as 25%. Keep reading for some simple ways you can lower your answering service invoice:
Answering service scripts, or the formatted conversation the virtual receptionists have with your callers, are one of the biggest culprits behind high answering service invoices – and the best place to look for cost-cutting opportunities.
Remove unnecessary questions: Having your answering service gather information from your callers by asking loads of qualifying questions may seem helpful, but in the end it will only eat up time – and money. A better option is to have your answering service gather the basics, and have your in-house team follow up with the nitty-gritty.
Eliminate paths that aren’t used to simplify decision making: When using an answering service, it’s important to remember that the operators handling your calls are not experts in your business. So, to avoid errors and lengthy calls, you’ll want to eliminate script paths that may clog up the workflow. For example, if your script has paths for Quote calls, Sales calls and Service calls, your agents may have trouble deciphering when to take each path. If you don’t want to eliminate any paths, then we recommend adding a driving question up front that will help steer the call and guide the operator to the correct path, like “Thank you for calling ABC Medical, is this an emergency?”
Consolidate paths where available: Within any business, there could be a hundred different reasons why a customer may be calling, but that doesn’t mean you should include every possible scenario in your answering service script. A better approach is to include the call scenarios that come up most frequently, like calling to schedule an appointment or calling for service, and then have a general path the operators can take for everything else. If you want your operators to take messages or transfer calls for specific people or departments, you should consolidate those two options into one path which would include a list of names and departments. The more succinct and straightforward your script is, the less time the operators will spend on the phone and the lower your invoices will be.
Adjust lengthy FAQs into their simplest form: While it is helpful to arm your answering service operators with frequently asked questions about your business, you don’t want to stuff in every possible answer to every possible question, and you also don’t want to write paragraphs of information. Not only will the operators have trouble navigating lengthy and complex FAQ sections, but the more information you add, the more time it will take them to read through and find whatever they’re looking for, which will definitely result in higher invoices. We always recommend to keep your FAQs short and sweet. After all, you are the best person to handle the more in-depth questions your customers may have.
Unnecessary protocols are the second largest expense behind most high invoices. To guarantee a cheap answering service, adjusting how you’re contacted for messages can make a sizable dent in your overall answering service bill.
Replace warm transfers with cold transfers: With many answering services that charge by the minute, warm transferring calls to you or your in-house staff does come with a price. While you’ll most likely not be charged the same rate once the call is transferred, as long as that line is being used, you’re being charged a patch or transfer fee. If you need your service to transfer calls, a better approach would be to have them cold transfer instead of warm transfer. If no one is available, your callers can simply leave a message for a return call which will help keep your invoices lower.
Reduce the number of outreach attempts associated with an on-call schedule: If you’re having your answering service reach out to your on-call staff, a good way to keep your invoices low is to limit the amount of times your operators are reaching out. If each reach out attempt takes 1-2 minutes and your operators are reaching out until someone answers, and all of your employees are dodging work, you’re going to have a hefty bill on your hands. We suggest capping your reach attempts at 3 and leaving a message so your staff has the information they need to call the customer back.
If on a per-call billing model, evaluate how and when messages are sent: Not all answering services charge by the minute, and a per-call answering service structure may wind up being more cost effective for you. Typically on a per-call billing model, each inbound call counts as a call, as well as any action the operator takes (like emails, text messages, transfers, etc.). Because of this, any message you receive may wind up costing you. However, if you’re working with a tight budget, there are some ways to help keep invoices low, like controlling how and when messages are sent. For example, you can work with your answering service so that any urgent message comes through right away, and all other non-urgent messages can be sent together as a report at the end of the day, or the beginning of the next day. That way you can consolidate your messages, and lower your invoices.
If you’re looking for a low cost answering service, leveraging technology can help with that. Using the technology available to you can reduce your live operator talk time and lower your bill by as much as 12%.
Use IVR to route calls: While virtual receptionists are great at transferring calls, a small business working with a limited budget needs to cut out any unnecessary expenses whenever possible. Instead of having your answering service transfer calls for you, implement an auto-attendant that can route calls instead. Callers will be able to select whichever option suits them best, and be immediately directed to the person or department they’ve selected. While IVRs may come at a price, they’re way cheaper than the general cost of live operator talk time.
Give customers a voicemail option: In a time where customers are used to getting answers immediately, voicemail isn’t always a preferred method of communicating with a business. However, if given the choice, many consumers are fine with leaving a message to have their call returned at a later time. Not every question or inquiry needs an immediate response, and the more customers willing to leave a voicemail means less money you have to dish out for your answering service invoice.
Update your script or on-call on your own to eliminate programming fees: Updating your answering service protocols can sometimes incur programming fees. To avoid these extra fees, it’s a good idea to become familiar with making updates on your own, if your answering service offers it. Additionally, making updates on your own means you are in total control and don’t have to wait around for the programmers to complete it, which may take several days.
If you get charged for message transmissions, use an app or web portal instead: Depending on the answering service you use or the service level you’ve signed up for, you may be charged for message transmissions. However, if your answering service offers a free mobile app or web portal, you can eliminate the cost of message transmissions by simply checking your app or portal for new messages. Mobile apps are very helpful for users who are constantly on the go, like medical professionals and utility services.
Outside of auditing your scripting and protocols while adding technology layers to lower your invoice, there are a few other options.
Eliminate sub accounts if they aren’t getting traffic: Adding sub accounts are a great way to keep multiple business lines consolidated under one roof, but they’re not always necessary. For example, some businesses may want to be accessible for Spanish speaking customers and opt to open up a Spanish sub account. However, if you’re hardly getting any traffic on the Spanish line, it probably isn’t worth the extra charges.
If you get charged for a toll-free number, request a local: Some businesses like to use toll-free numbers to either make their company seem more official, or so out of town customers don’t get charged long distance fees. However, answering services may charge extra to use toll-free numbers, which may not be cost effective for your business. Local numbers are usually free, and if you’re forwarding your own lines to the service, then your customers will never see that number anyway!
Adjust the times you’re sending traffic to the answering service: Generally speaking, answering services are available to answer your calls 24/7. However, that doesn’t always mean you should use them around the clock. The more phone traffic your answering service handles, the higher your invoices will be. If you’re strapped for cash, then you’ll want to limit the times in which you use your service. For example, having your in-house staff handle calls during the day and having your answering service handle calls after hours is a great way to keep your call volume and invoices low.
Eliminate telemarketing calls: It’s no doubt that telemarketers love to call. It is their job, after all. However, it doesn’t mean you should have to pay each time they call and eat up your minutes. If you’re getting a lot of robo-calls, we suggest adding an IVR upfront which would prohibit those calls from coming through. If you have actual people calling, you can set up a path within your script the operators can follow which simply tells them you’re not interested. If they’re still persistent, see if you can have their number(s) blocked either through your phone provider or your answering service.
Have you ever called a business and not gotten through to anyone? Maybe the line just rang and rang. Maybe it rang a few times and hung up. Maybe you heard it connect and then…nothing. We’ve all been there. So what’s happening? Here are some of the more common reasons why businesses aren’t answering your calls, plus some tips on how to get through:
#1. They’re closed
If businesses don’t have the resources to be available 24/7, then chances are you’re going to have a hard time connecting with anybody after hours or over the weekends. If no one is answering, search the company online to see if they have their business hours posted. Knowing their hours in advance can help save time in the future, as you’ll know the right times to call to guarantee someone will answer.
Pro tip: If you’re a business owner that is unable to be available 24/7, make sure you always have the most updated business hours posted online or included in your voicemail message so that your customers are never left in the dark!
#2. They use an answering service, but forwarded to the wrong number
Many businesses use an answering service to help with customer communication, but if they’re forwarding their calls to the service manually, they may have keyed in the wrong number. Answering services provide businesses with a number that is specific to their account which they can use to route their calls to. Some businesses choose to advertise this number separately, but most choose to forward their lines to it. However, if they are not forwarded correctly or forwarded to the wrong number, their calls will not be able to connect. This may cause customers to hear a beeping noise, they may reach the wrong number, or they may hear nothing.
If you run a business that uses an answering service, definitely become familiar with call forwarding. Before going live with your customers, place test calls to verify that your calls are being routed correctly. If you’re not in the office, it’s also a good idea to learn how to forward your lines remotely. Forwarding is a feature that is controlled by your phone provider, so how you are able to forward would depend on them. However, here are some ways you can forward your calls remotely:
Call your phone provider to have them forward the line for you.
Access your phone provider’s online portal to forward calls.
Discuss with your phone provider how you can set up a schedule so that calls forward automatically at a certain time.
#3. They left their phone off the hook
Business owners and their employees are sometimes so busy that they forget to breathe, so it’s no surprise they may forget to put their phone back on the hook. If this is the case, callers may hear beeping or a busy signal. The best thing to do in these situations is to shoot them an email asking why you’re not able to get through, which should make them check their phone and see the problem!
#4. They didn’t pay their phone bill
If a business doesn’t pay their phone bill, their lines will eventually be shut off. Unfortunately, this means that customers won’t be able to connect. Usually when a phone line has been shut off a caller will hear a message that says “You’ve reached a non-working number. Please hang up and try again.” While this message doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone line has been shut off due to non-payment, it’s never a good sign. The possible non-payment issues can be from any of the following sources:
Non-payment on their toll free number
Non-payment on their virtual phone number provider
Non-payment on their main business line
Non-payment on their VoIP telecom provider
#5. The business is ran from a cell phone and they’re in a dead zone
Small start up companies usually begin out of a garage or some storage unit before the business is able to garner enough funds to rent out an actual office space, and often times those entrepreneurs are conducting business right from their cell phones. Unfortunately, garages and storage units don’t have the best cell reception, which means some calls may have trouble connecting.
#6. Their phone line is experiencing problems
Phone lines can go down for a number of different reasons, like storms, power outages, or internet shortages (for the folks that are using VoIP phone systems). If your phone lines are experiencing problems, here are some tips to help see you through the storm:
If your business has a toll free number that goes down, let your customers know they can still reach you by calling your main number directly.
Hire an answering service to help handle calls while your lines are down. Your customers will be able to call your forwarding number directly, and they can even add temporary instructions for the operators to let callers know what the situation is.
If possible, update your voicemail, website and social platforms with temporary messages so customers are aware you’re experiencing issues.
#7. They only have one line, and all support reps are already on the phone
If a business only has one phone line to call for customer service and all support reps are already on the phone, any new incoming calls may fall into a queue, may reach voicemail, or may just hear a busy signal. In order to avoid this from happening, businesses can hire an answering service to help field all over flow calls to maximize customer satisfaction and reduce the risk of callers hanging up.
#8. They got a new phone number
Sometimes businesses change their phone numbers but forget to alert their customers, and if a new or existing customer can’t get a hold of you, you run the risk of losing valuable business opportunities. If your business does happen to get a new number, here are some ways to make sure your customers always know how to reach you:
Advertise your new number online (including your website and social channels)
Send out a mass email to all of your current customers alerting them of the change
Add a temporary signature to your emails that includes your new business number
Check with your phone provider to see if you can respOrg your old number to your new number, in case customers are still calling the old line
#9. They’re avoiding all calls by picking up the phone and hanging it up
Running a business is hard, especially when they’re trying to get their feet off the ground. Sometimes small businesses are so bogged down with work that the thought of taking on any more is so stressful they just can’t do it. If this is the case, you may have trouble connecting with a business because they’re dodging calls until they can get their head above water. Or, maybe they just plain don’t feel like talking.
Pro tip: If you want to run a successful business, do NOT do this! Hiring an answering service is an affordable alternative to help alleviate some of the pressure, and they can ensure your callers are never hung up on again.
#10. There’s nothing wrong with the line but they’re avoiding your Caller ID
Maybe the business you’re trying to reach doesn’t want to be a business anymore? Maybe you’ve been making prank calls to them all day. Maybe you burned them on a job and they don’t want to talk to you any longer? Either way, if a business is avoiding your calls, here are some tips to help get you through:
Block your number
Call from your friend’s phone
Get a new number
Buy a burner phone
#11. You called at the exact time they were making an outbound call
Just your luck, right? If you called a business at the exact same time they were making an outbound call, you may hear a busy signal, or it may go right to voicemail. No worries! Hanging up and trying again will usually help get you through. When you do get through, you should try suggesting that they get more phone lines. I mean, it’s 2019 for crying out loud!
Last year we wrote hundreds of amazing posts for our blog, and our blog enjoyed over 100k views each month. With so much traffic, we thought it would be interesting to grab the blog posts with the most page views in 2018, the best answering service posts that really engaged readers, and list them here.
The Ultimate Guide to a Flawless HVAC Business Plan: Whether you’re just starting out in the HVAC industry or you’ve been in the game for years, our ultimate HVAC business plan can help lead any sized HVAC business to success. From marketing strategies and HVAC training to demographics and market research, we’ve got it all.
6 Signs you Need a Virtual Receptionist: Running a small business is hard, and it sometimes may be harder to admit when you need help. If you’ve experienced any of these signs, you definitely need a virtual receptionist.
What is an Answering Service?: If you’re not sure what an answering service is or what they can do, you can learn all about them here! Don’t worry, we won’t judge you.
Video of Rude Operators on the Job: Whether you’re working with an answering service or you’re handling all calls in-house, customers should never have to experience rude operators. Check out this video if you want to show your team how NOT to act!
Ultimate Guide to Small Business Accounting: Running a small business is tough enough without having to worry about the accounting bit. We’ve developed the ultimate guide to small business accounting which breaks down the tasks you need to do daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. A great resource if you’re handling the books on your own or just trying to keep tabs on your accountant.
Using an Answering Service? Don’t Make These 6 Mistakes: If you’re new to the answering service world, it can be easy to make mistakes when setting up your account. As industry experts, we’ve seen it all. That’s why we created this post which lists some of the most common mistakes we see, and how to avoid them.
24 Ways to Answer the Phone: You might think that answering the phone is as simple as saying “hello”, but in a competitive marketplace, businesses need to think outside the box to make sure their brand stands out among the rest. These 24 ways to answer your business phone may help spark some inspiration in your own office, whether you’re using an answering service or just want to change up how your receptionist is greeting callers.
6 Tips for a Quick Answering Service Setup: Need to set up your answering service ASAP and don’t have time to deal with the nitty gritty? These 6 tips will give you all of the information you need to help achieve flawless instant activation.
Answering Service Trivia: Test your answering service knowledge and put your trivia skills to the test with our answering service quiz! From learning about who owned the first call center to how many calls answering services handle each year, you’ll be one step closer to telecom genius after taking our quiz.
While just using an answering service is important to the success of any small business – cost cutting, 24/7 live customer service, and all that good stuff – there’s another important aspect of using an answering service you may be missing.
Developing your account to create more personal interactions is what’s really going to lead to the most successful outsourcing experience for both you and your customers. For a small business or a startup who has never used an answering service, getting the right mix of knowledge to the virtual receptionist can be the difference between outsourcing success and failure. That’s why it’s essential to develop your script and/or choose the right receptionist style that will represent your business the best.
Step 1: Understand your options and avoid scripting pitfalls
Your approach to scripting should be different depending on if you’re using an answering service or a call center. For example, a standard answering service is typically set in a non-scripted environment, meaning that the operators handling your calls will have a general outline of the questions to ask or information to gather, but they do not have to follow an actual script, whereas a call center service is set in a scripted environment where the operators are required to closely follow a script in order to get through a call.
Once you have a clear understanding of your options and you’ve decided on the type of service that will work best for you, the next building block to creating a personal answering service is to avoid scripting pitfalls. Often, when businesses sign up for an answering service, they try to set up their call handling the same exact way their calls are handled in-house. While it is important to make sure your service and your business are working in tandem, it may not always be feasible to set them up exactly the same way. Here are some ways to avoid errors:
Arm your answering service with 5-10 frequently asked questions that your operators can easily answer.
Add a driving question upfront to help steer the call and avoid callers from rambling.
For complicated scenarios or irate callers, set up a warm transfer to your in-house support team.
Tip: When setting up your account, consider the customer experience first. For example, having your answering service get deeply involved with asking multiple questions will probably lead to more questions on the caller’s side, which your operators probably will not be able to answer.
Step 2: Know who is answering your calls
Taking advantage of any level of a free trial period is a great way to get to know who is answering your calls before you start to open up all of your traffic. A free trial gives you and your team the freedom to place test calls as if you were an actual caller so that you can get an idea of what your callers will experience. It also provides a great opportunity to see what’s working or what doesn’t flow so well so that you can make the appropriate scripting adjustments. When you do finally send calls over, you can be confident that everything will already be running like a well oiled machine.
Aside from the mechanics of the call, you want to make sure that the customer service representatives answering your calls are representing your brand as perfectly as someone in your own office would. The more you work with your answering service and express your goals and ideas, the more they can customize your account to fit your needs as closely as possible.
Tip: Continue placing test calls throughout the duration of your time on service so that you can always stay in the loop and address issues as they come up instead of waiting to hear about them from your customers.
Step 3: Work closely with your customer service team
Having a good relationship with your answering service’s customer service team is important, as they are the ones that will help guide you whenever you need help or have questions. Working closely with your service encourages everyone involved to be on the same page, which makes the process of bouncing ideas and making updates that much easier. When your service is aware of your goals and has your business’s success in mind, you are able to maximize your outsourcing experience and ensure your customers are always receiving personalized care.
Tip: Schedule monthly script reviews with your answering service to make sure everything is still running smoothly. If anything happens to change within your business (like pricing, services, etc.) make sure your answering service is aware.
Step 4: Adjust your protocols to remove interactions that feel cold
Once you get the initial blueprint designed and script built, you might find that some protocols you have in place just don’t flow naturally. Questions or protocols that may have been important for you to include in the beginning may not be as necessary if you see that callers are having a hard time understanding, or your invoices are getting too high due to the length of your calls.
The most important aspect to consider when working with your answering service is how your customers will feel about their experience. Asking question after question can feel monotonous and may wind up frustrating callers more than helping them. If your customers are hesitant to reach out when they need you, take that as a cue that something needs changing.
Step 5: Look at the data
Just like you would monitor the quality of service and ask for feedback from customers in regards to your own office and staff, applying the same mindset to your answering service can help you build a more personal experience. Below are some easy ways to gather insight which can help determine how to fine tune your service:
Listen to recordings: Being able to listen to how your calls are handled is a great way to see how things are operating, and if anything needs updating. If operators are consistently stumbling over the same area, consider removing or re-wording the question. If your callers are getting confused about who they are talking to, consider adjusting your call handling so that the operators are announcing they are with the answering service when they greet callers.
Monitor hold times: Being on hold isn’t great, but it’s inevitable. However, you can easily monitor hold times by placing test calls yourself or requesting answer rate reports from your service. These reports should show you how many calls hit your system in a given time frame, and how long each one of them waited. If you notice that you have frequent holds, adding a custom hold message will help deter callers from abandoning the queue. You may even want to see if your service can set up a system that allows operators to call back customers who have hung up before reaching anyone, which will help personalize your customers’ experiences.
Let customers rate the operators: Getting into the mind of your customers is a great way to gather feedback. After each interaction, have your answering service send an email to your callers asking them how they did. This provides a great opportunity to see what’s working, and what needs tweaking. And, your callers will love the extra touch of customer service!
Run reports: Running reports and collecting data will help determine various metrics like when you have the highest volume of calls or the reason why customers are calling, which will help you make adjustments to better streamline support.
Step 6: Eliminate automation
For your customers to feel a personal connection to your company, they should be speaking to actual people. While automated systems can come in handy, the best type of support is live support. If you currently have a voicemail set up to catch after hours or overflow calls, or you have a complex auto attendant set up with 37 options, your business is only going to succeed in giving off the feeling that you don’t really want to talk to your customers.
Allowing your callers to talk to a warm body instead of a cold robot helps show that your business is powered by humans, which is much more relatable to your customers, who we assume are also human.
Tip: If you do need to use a voicemail, include your answering service’s forwarding number in your message so that your customers have the option to call them directly if they need to speak with someone. Additionally, if you need to use an auto attendant, make it simple and straightforward so that your callers can still receive live support easily.
Most telephone answering services will give you the ability to customize your greeting, or how the answering service agents answer when they pick up the phone. An effective greeting is one of the most important factors to the success of the answering service campaign. How callers are greeted sets the tone for everything else that follows. So, how are the best answering services guiding their customers on how their phones should be answered?
We asked a range of experts from our own company – including customer service team members, operators, and sales staff – for their best tips. This article highlights our team members advice on every possible greeting type – from answering calls during business hours to the best ways to answer them after hours to how the service should answer if they’re managing your calls 24/7. You’ll learn our best tips in a fraction of the time it would take you to learn what works and what doesn’t by trial and error.
Greeting advice if the answering service is only answering during business hours
If your answering service will be handling calls explicitly during business hours, I tell customers to include that information in their upfront greeting. That way, your callers will know they are not reaching your actual business directly, and their expectations won’t be as high, plus the calls will be handled faster. Below are some examples of greetings you can implement:
Automated greeting samples: The two examples below are great because not only do they let the caller know they’ve reached the right place, but they also encourage them to stay on the line instead of hanging up and trying to call back later.
Thank you for calling Cool Air HVAC. If you are getting this message, it means that all of our agents are currently on the line. Please wait and an operator will be with you momentarily.
Thank you for calling, you’ve reached the overflow line for Smooth Sailing Caribbean Vacations. Please wait for the next available representative.
Live greeting samples: Having your operators say they are with the answering service or having them ask a driving question up front is a good way to discourage callers from asking questions that the operators may not be able to answer, but that the customer may expect if calling during business hours. And, it helps keep the call moving in one direction saving you money!
Hello and thanks for calling Cool Air HVAC. The office is currently busy, so you’ve reached the answering service. How may I help you today?
Greetings from the Caribbean! Would you like to book your next vacation today?
Kevin Kozeniewski, Sales Manager
Tips if you have multiple reasons why someone may be calling
If you’ll be using your answering service to handle all inbound traffic, that’s going to result in different call scenarios. Why not add an automatic greeting that allows callers to select which option they are calling for? For example, if they’re calling for sales, they can press 1. If they’re calling with a billing issue, they can press 2. IVRs are a great way to help streamline calls without eating up live operator talk time. Below are some examples of IVRs you can implement in your own office:
Automated greeting samples: I like to encourage customers to use IVRs when they have multiple departments or call scenarios that may come up. The IVR allows the caller to choose their own path, and decreases the risk of human error as the operators may accidentally transfer to the wrong person or department.
Thank you for calling Bright Smiles Dental. If you’re calling to schedule, cancel or reschedule an appointment, press 1. If you’re calling for our billing department, press 2. If you’re calling for the doctor, please press 3. For all other inquiries, please press 4.
Thank you for calling Jefferson Automotive. If you’re calling for parts, please press 1. If you’re calling for service, please press 2. If you’re calling to schedule a showing, please press 3.
Live greeting samples: Unless your answering service script is super simple, adding a screening question in the live greeting is a great way to steer the call and helps keep the operator in control of the interaction. And if you have many reasons why someone may be calling, having your #1 reason stated in the greeting, like ‘are you calling to schedule an appointment’, will lessen the operator decision making process and eliminate most human errors.
Hello and thank you for calling Bright Smiles Dental. Are you calling to schedule an appointment?
Jefferson Automotive, this is [OpName]. Are you calling for sales or service?
Courtney Pizzi, Customer Service Representative
Greeting tips if the answering service is handling calls 24/7
If your answering service will be answering and handling calls 24/7, you’ll want your greeting to be on the generic side so that it can account for all types of calls, no matter when they come in. Below are some examples of generic greetings that can be used any time, either with your answering service or in your own office:
Automated greeting samples: When setting up new accounts, I often recommend either of the below examples because it allows our customers to have a lot of freedom with using the service. When you keep your greeting simple, you don’t have to worry about changing it for specific occasions as it can be used for basically any situation, at any time. Keeping things vague are great for around the clock outsourcing.
Thank you for calling Amazing Grace Hospice, we’ll be with you in a moment.
Thank you for calling Elevated Elevators. All of our agents are currently on the line, but we will be with you shortly.
Live greeting samples: The two greeting examples below are great for simple accounts that don’t have a specific time frame of using the service. The greetings are generic, and typically what you’d hear on any given day when calling a business.
Hello and thanks for calling, my name is [OpName]. How may I help you today?
Elevated Elevators, how may I help you?
Matt Baker, Sales Representative
Greeting advice if the answering service is only handling after hours calls
If your answering service is only handling calls after hours, it’s a good idea to announce that in your greeting so callers are aware. Below are a few examples of greetings you could implement, depending on how you wish to use your after hours service:
Automated greeting samples: For clients who are specifically using our service after hours, I always advise they include that information in their recorded greeting. That way their callers will know that the office is closed before reaching anyone, which helps weed out non-urgent calls and helps keep their monthly invoices low!
Thank you for calling ABC Plumbing. You’ve reached us after hours. If this is an emergency, please stay on the line to be connected to one of our operators. If it is not an emergency, please call back during normal business hours. Thank you.
Thank you for calling. You’ve reached the after hours answering service for Johnson Pediatrics. Please remain on the line and someone will be with you in a moment.
Live greeting samples: For customers who may not want a recorded greeting, or for those customers who just want to make it extra clear for their callers that they’re reaching the office after hours, it never hurts to use one of the below examples so callers don’t expect an immediate call back.
Thanks for calling ABC Plumbing. The office is currently closed for the day, but I would be happy to assist you. How may I help you?
Hello and thank you for calling Johnson Pediatrics. Are you having an emergency?