10 Tips and Considerations Before Selecting a Telephone Answering Service for Your Business

The customer service landscape is changing. With the 24/7 cycle of mobile email and social media, it’s harder than ever to justify not getting back to your customers in a prompt manner. You need to be available and responsive, and you need to have a way to help them as quickly as possible.

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In fact, according to Oracle, 65% of customers want their issue solved in 15 minutes or less. Not only that, but 78% of consumers will drop your business after one poor customer service experience, so the stakes are high. Customers have more options that are easier for them to research and seek out than ever before, so your margin for error is razor thin. Finally, 54% of consumers prefer the phone over all other forms of customer support.

If you’re a small business trying to figure out your customer support plan, the above stats should give you the jolt you need to start thinking about how you’re going to answer every phone call that comes in and how you can make yourself available for as many hours as possible per day.

A telephone answering service can help alleviate these problems, providing customers with a number to reach out to and providing you with the peace of mind you need to confidently move forward with your day. Here are some considerations you need to think about before selecting a telephone answering service for your business.

1. Does the Answering Service Fit With Your Business’s Culture?

The first thing to think about when you’re choosing an answering service for your business is that they’ll often be the first line of contact when a customer tries to interact with you. Consider what expectations you’re setting with your marketing, and whether or not the answering service you’re considering meets those expectations. Is the tone of your reps more formal or informal? What do they do when they have to put the customer on hold? Everything from how they greet a caller to what hold music starts playing speaks volumes about your business, and the devil is in the details.

2. Does The Answering Service Have Experience with Others In Your Industry?

If so, There is a strong possibility that they can hit the ground running, and you won’t have to spend a great deal of time bringing them up to speed. They may possibly even be able to offer you tips and best practice suggestions based on their previous experience.

3. Do You Need 24/7 Service?

For some businesses, the biggest priority is going to be finding a way to pick up the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even if you’re not necessarily in the office for all of that time, for certain lines of business like locksmiths or medical practitioners, it’s vital that your customers have someone they can reach out to when they need help. You need to know what customers expect of you in the way of business hours, and then plan accordingly.

There are also some considerations that need to be made as to what degree of support you need and when. Obviously, if somebody calls a locksmith they’re probably looking for help as soon as it can get to them. In less extreme examples, there might be some general help that can work for most people most of the time. The right answering service can vet every call that comes in and handles the call according to its urgency. Depending on your industry, there is a lot that a rep can do for a customer before they need to involve people with more knowledge and expertise.

4. What Does Your Call Volume Look Like?

When it comes to finding the right answering service for your small business, the cost is often a top consideration. With that in mind, it’s important to think about what your needs are, how a particular answering service’s contract might fit those needs, and what your budget will cover.

If your call volume can spike based on a number of factors, some of which might be outside of your control, it might make sense to go with a service that charges a flat monthly fee. On the other hand, many of these services are betting on a low volume of calls in order to be profitable, so if you have a large number of calls coming in they don’t necessarily have a strong incentive to pick up the phone.

On the other side of the equation, a company that charges by the minute or by the call has a strong incentive to get the customer off the phone, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been helped in a fully satisfactory way.

When it comes down to it, you need to make sure that your Service Level Agreement is comprehensive and helps put in place protections so you can make sure that your customer service continues to be of high quality. As long as you have ways of auditing and continually reviewing the quality of service, you should be all set.

5. Do They Have a Reliable Emergency Back-up Plan?

One of the worst time to lose connectivity to your customers can be during an emergency. Does the answering service have emergency backup power and redundancy of critical system components? Can they re-route calls to another location during an emergency?

6. Are They Certified?

The Association of TeleServices International (ATSI) has a certification program for its business, supervisors, and customer service representatives? The program covers over 60 critical points in operations, training, and emergency procedures for a business location to be certified. Certifications requirements include on-the-job experience and a demonstration of skills and job knowledge.

7. Can They Assist Non-English Speaking Customers?

If your business or organization serves consumers where English is not the only language spoken, can the answering service provide you and your customers with a Spanish speaking, or bilingual call agent?

8. What Type of Monthly Reporting Is Available?

A good answering service will provide monthly reporting on a number of call statistics including:

  • Types of calls received (question, customer service, appointment verification or setting, etc)
  • Number of calls received
  • Times of each call coming in

This information will help you to optimize your service plan. For example; you may see that your business needs a “live” receptionist in the mornings but can then switch back to a phone answering service in the afternoon and evening.

9. Can You Stop By and Visit?

One of the best ways to determine if an answering service will fit your company’s needs and culture is an in-person visit. You can tell a great deal about a company by visiting the location and meeting the people that will be handling your calls, face-to-face.

Many companies have an impressive website and a great pitch for your business, but reality can very different. Stop by, ask questions. If the company is remote, request a video or Facetime meeting. Afterall, these people will be the voice and face of your business after hours. You want to ensure they represent your business in the same professional manner that you would.

10. Would a Unified Communications Solution Solve Your Need for an  Answering Service

When telephone, email, text messaging, video conferencing and other communication channels are separate, discrete functions – your ability to communicate with both employees and consumers are at risk, productivity is lowered, and customer service is impacted.

A unified communications solution places all of your companies communications (voice, text, email, etc.) all om one place.

The ten reasons shown in this infographic will show why it’s important to have a unified communications strategy and solution for your business regardless of its size.. It’s more than just convenience or having the latest technology. An optimized, unified communication plan can redefine how your organization interacts and engages with employees and customers in a variety of ways, and should be a primary focus in all organizations.

What You Can Do Right Now

Picking the right answering service for your business is vitally important because it’s often the first interaction your customers will have with your company, aside from your marketing. When you’re looking for the best match, make sure that you’re factoring in culture, availability, reliability, and call capacity into your considerations

Remember that customer service is often a consumer’s first interaction with your business after they’ve made a purchase.Think about the response your customers expect, and ensure the answering service reflects your organization’s values, experience, culture and commitment to customer service.

Selecting the right answering service for your business or blend of answering service/unified communications solution can be critical to the success of your business. Take the time to make sure each meets the needs of your company.

Martin Jones

Martin Jones is a Senior Marketing Manager with the corporate Cox Communications social media team where he assists in leading strategy, campaign ideation and marketing execution for Cox Business social media & content marketing. Today, over 1 million fans engage with Cox Communications content, campaigns and Customer Care on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube. LinkedIn and Google+.