If your answering service bills on a per-minute basis, here are a few ways you can get them to handle calls more efficiently and thus keep your cost at a minimum.
If you hire an answering service to assist you with your important calls, you will generally want your chosen vendor to provide two things: Quality Support and Competitive Price.
The vast majority of answering services bill on a per-minute basis to handle calls. This gives most folks pause because they immediately worry that their vendor will purposely stay on the phone for a long, long time to extend call durations unnaturally and jack up their monthly bills. I have written a number of blogs on the difference between per call and per minute rates which you can locate here. These blogs can help you understand why services bill one way or the other. But suffice it to say, that you will likely be paying a per-minute rate in the long run.
So assuming you are on per-minute pricing, how can you help your answering service remain efficient? There are five things you can do to help your service operate at their best and keep your bill low.
- Give your service a very specific operating “script.” You need to give your answering service very clear direction about the types of calls that they will be handling. You must take the time to outline these calls types so that they know what to expect. Further, they must know how to process each of these calls types. Please refer to my post on the topic: How to Make a Telephone Answering Service Script. When you give your service clear direction, you naturally help keep them focused on what you need them to do. And you help them react to new and unexpected call situations because even those have been preplanned.
- Don’t overload your service. Remember, you are not hiring an in-house assistant. So don’t try to load your answering service up with 101 different tasks that you need them to complete. The more complexity that you add to your answering service’s call handling requirements the more quickly you set them up to fail. Folks that have never used an answering service before tend to think that not only can their service answer calls but they can run down the street and pick up coffee for the office and do some light filing between calls. Don’t try to make your service out to be what it isn’t. Your service is designed to handle calls and get important messages from point A to point B. If you think they will efficiently answer a 32-question enrollment form then you will not be pleased with the results in the long run. For extended call duration requirements (calls lasting over 3 minutes) you need to consider a completely different kind of live support known as “inbound call center services.”
- Don’t make your answering service sell your product or service. That is your job. Your answering service is there to make sure you never miss an important sales call. Your answering service is also there to help you respond to important sales inquiries. Your service is not there to have detailed discussions about rates, services, terms and agreements, contracts and so on. Do you really want your answering service to try to overcome objections and give callers a persuasive speech about why you are the best? No, you don’t. You want your answering service to professionally handle callers and get them in front of you because nobody is better than you (or your sales team) at selling your services. You need an answering service to assist your sales efforts – not replace your sales team.
- Don’t make constant changes to the program. If you had a receptionist sitting in your office and you completely changed her job description every week, how long do you think it would be before she pulled her hair out and ran out the front door screaming? I would give it about a month or so. While answering services are very adept at change, no service wants there to be so many changes that it becomes impossible to keep up with the new material. Remember, your answering service can have a staff of up to 50 agents or more. Every time you make a change it affects all 50 of your answering service agents. If you make changes every three days to the program then it becomes exceedingly difficult to get comfortable handling calls. Change is good. Change is required. By all means, make adjustments to get your service dialed in just right. But don’t overdo the change just because you can.
- Keep It Simple, Stupid. That’s right, KISS your answering service. You can do a world of good by keeping processes and procedures easy-to-understand and simple. Again, a well-thought out script helps an answering service tremendously. Every telephone answering service program is unique by nature and has its own complexities. But the overall tasks that an answering service is responsible for is also very complex in nature. And you are not the only customer that your answering service has. It is ok to be unique. It is ok to be different. But there is no reason to make your answering service into a complex behemoth requiring multiple software applications, scheduling tools, web forms and detailed protocols to handle a simple call. Remember, there is another service for that and it is called “inbound customer support.” Keep your answering service simple and keep it focused. It will pay off hugely in the long run.
So that’s it. If you hold fast to these five useful tips you should be able to set up a very efficient answering service in no time. Your answering service will quickly help you differentiate your business model by providing 24/7 professional and courteous support. You will quickly see your bottom line affected with the increase in sales calls. And don’t forget all of the billable customer service opportunities that they will help you capture. Your customers will come to appreciate what your answering service does for you and will see them as a very reliable extension of your own team. And if you do these things to help your answering service out, you’ll be able to keep your monthly bill very reasonable.