Choosing the right telephone answering service can be a complicated business. This Buyer’s guide to telephone answering is a checklist to help you to ask the right questions and select the right company for you and your callers.
Go with your gut, and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. You are effectively recruiting people to answer your calls so it’s really important that you have that instant good feeling. What is your initial impression of the people you are speaking with? How are the team recruited and trained? Are they temps or employees, because it’s important to find out if there is a constantly changing team. If accents are a concern, do they have strong regional accents? Can they spell? Because it’s very important that there is attention to detail. Are calls answered by people straight away or by IVR (a pre-recorded message) and then routed to people? It’s all about that first impression for your callers which is so important.
Listen to the quality of the call because this is crucial. Do you hear any background hiss? If the person sounds distant it maybe that they headset isn’t working as it should or it’s poor quality. It’s worth checking to see if they use noise reduction headsets because the quality of the call will be much better. Can you hear other people talking in the background or tapping on keyboards? Many call centres use VOIP – are the calls routed on leased lines (the ‘rolls royce’ for voice connectivity)? Or the are calls routed over a cheaper option like EFM (ethernet first mile)? Not all VOIP is the same. Sometimes with cheaper VOIP voice and data are sharing the same ‘pipe’ so call at different times of day to listen for variations in quality. What you want is uncontended VOIP because the voice quality is never compromised.
What happens if the call centre team are all busy? Where do the overflow calls go? Are they held in a queue? Do the calls overflow to other people in the organisation such as sales and marketing? Do calls transfer to other people somewhere else, possibly outside of the UK? It’s best to check how this is managed because some companies give the impression they’re 24 hours but they actually work with an external partner out of hours.
You will be given options, do you want your messages received by email or text or both? Do you receive your messages in real time or is there a ‘pulse’ in the system which means messages are sent every 15 minutes or 30 minutes? Is there a character limit on messages? Can you access your messages at any time via a secure web portal or app which is the perfect solution if you travel away? You might have a number of people in your company who could potentially receive calls, is there a limit on additional people? Can calls be transferred straight to your and what charges apply? These prices can often be buried in the small print so you end up paying more.
Voicemail and out of hours
What are the hours of operation and what happens outside of these hours? There should be a voicemail to email service which means that any messages left for you out of hours are sent as a voice file so you can listen to those messages. You might want to opt for a fully managed voicemail service where your messages are downloaded and transcribed by the team, charges might apply here. Do calls stay in the UK out of hours? Always best to check.
You are going to use an answering service to enhance the perception of your business so make sure you don’t lose any calls. From time to time it may be necessary to put your callers on hold, or callers will be placed on hold if a call is transferred to you. What will your callers hear? Silence, a pre-recorded message or music? If so what type of music is played through the system? It’s all part of your customer experience so check if it’s important to you.
Most telephone answering providers offer a free trial which is a great way to see how the service will work for you. It’s important to establish if the free trial covers a number of calls or a number of days. After the free trial, do you get a phone call before you decide whether you want to continue or is it assumed that you want to continue? Otherwise you may find that you have an unexpected invoice!
It can be very difficult to work out how much the service is likely to cost which is really frustrating. There are lots of cheap headline rates so check to see if there are any charges for sending messages, transferring calls, managing voicemails, managing diaries, as all these things can add up. If you have to pay for transferred calls, does the transferred leg of the call count as a separate call or part of the same call? Do you get any inclusive calls? Are you stuck on an inclusive call package or are you charged the best deal on a month by month basis?
Are the charges based on a price per call, price per minute or price per message? If it’s price per minute the longer the call the more money the call centre makes so check if the prices are calculated to the second or if they are rounded up? Can you monitor your usage of the service to avoid any nasty surprises? How do you pay? All these questions need to be asked.
Terms and conditions
These should be a copy of the T&Cs on the website, so you can read through and ask any questions. There may well be ‘hidden’ charges or little things that make you think twice. It’s always a good idea to see the T&Cs as part of your decision making process.