In the process of automating the workflow of my computer repair business, I am often reminded I cannot do it all. Answering client calls is one of my biggest pain-points. It’s hard to complete many of my daily tasks and still provide the great customer service I would like to provide to those who call over the phone.
This problem set me on my journey over the last several years to find an answering service that best fit my business and my budget. During the process of choosing a company to answer my businesses phone calls, I tried a lot of different services.
What I found through this process is that there are certain things you should be thinking about as you evaluate the type of service you choose. What are the right things to ask? How do I know this service is right for me and my business?
This is why I created the following checklist of 10 questions you should ask any potential answering services or call center partner:
How long have you been in business?
Although this may seem like a very simple question, you would be surprised how many business owners I’ve talked to that have invested their time, energy, and money to an answering service solution to have them suddenly close their doors because they hadn’t been in business long enough to build a strong foundation. Finding out the tenure of the business reduces the risk that you’re dealing with a freshman company that may close up shop at a moment’s notice.
How many reps are at your center(s)?
I cannot express how important this question is. When enrolling with an answering service the amount of reps dedicated to answering your calls is key. Some services may say they’ll answer your calls on the very first ring every time, but will place your caller on hold until they can get back to them because they are limited in staff.
A “one call” provider means they will answer your line and stay on the call with the customer from beginning to end. The only reason your callers should be placed on hold is in the case of transferring them through to you. Your answering service and call center provider is an extension of your business, and putting callers on hold could turn away your customers and/or prospects.
What is included in your monthly plan?
A low monthly price isn’t always a good thing and may be too good to be true. You will find some providers with low cost plans, but they tack on extra cost(s) for your phone number, minutes, holidays, bilingual services, dialing out, patching, etc. Make sure that your base plan includes each of these items free of charge.
If call time is not included in the plan will you be charging per minute or per call?
Answering service and call center providers typically bill based per minute or per call. Understand that “per call” plans may prove to be more costly if you’re not careful. Unless you expect every call to be a couple minutes or longer, calls such as hang-ups and wrong numbers could easily raise your bill. This is especially true when you’re first starting out and you have repeat calls from telemarketers trying to gain your business.
Most of the time, “per minute” plans are the better choice. However, don’t forget to ask what their increment system is. For example, some may round calls up to the closest 30 seconds or even a minute increment rather than 1 second increment. This means that if your call lasted 4 seconds on a 60 minute plan, you will have 59 minutes 30 seconds instead of 59 minutes 56 seconds. It may not sound like much but those seconds add up at the end of the month.
Will I be only charged for the time your rep speaks with our clients/prospects?
Answering service systems may continue billing an active call even though they transferred/patched a call over to you. This can result in time counted against your plan when you are speaking with the client on your own phone! Finding a provider that ends the billing as soon as they transfer the call is key to keep costs down.
Will I be locked into a contract?
Most service providers have monthly agreements but there are a few that will try to sign you up for multiple months at once or even a full year commitment. They may ask for you to give them a 30 day notice when discontinuing their service. A good answering service and call center should be able to earn your business each and every month without locking you into a contract.
Am I subject to price changes or will my pricing be grandfathered upon a price change?
Often times we will find providers that fit the price and level of service we are looking for, but later down the road the increase prices and the service ends up out of our budget. It is a good idea to ask if there is any possibility of a price change affecting your current subscription. If you find one that has guaranteed to lock in your rate, make sure you get it in writing. As ownership/management may change with the service and you may be left out in the dark
What are your hours of operation?
Some answering services provide 24/7 call coverage, which is great if you run a shop that may need an “emergency front line” in the event of an emergency. However, some services may have an operations schedule in their time zone. Be sure to plan for this as calls that carry over their closure times will ultimately rest on you. Also ask what, if any, days they may be closed such as holidays or observed days off. These are days you will need to have a process in place in the event calls come in for you to answer.
Will my calls be answered offshore?
Onshore answering services and call centers provide many benefits to your business; such as using the local dialect, expressing cultural knowledge, and less time spent on limited language hurdles. Ask your potential providers how many call centers they have, and if you can be serviced by one local to your business.
Will you be able to process payments on my behalf?
Many services will provide this service in several ways. One example is by direct access to your payment processor or CRM system. Another example of how the service can process payments is through the creation of a payment website page specifically for this task. Our CRM, RepairShopr, allows for a customized portal site that allows a user, or in this case an answering service, to login with the provided information from the caller so they can pay for any outstanding invoices.
These 10 questions have helped me decide the best answering service to use for my computer business. We now enjoy a fruitful partnership because in the end, you are not looking for just an answering service to help you through your day, you are looking for a partner to help you grow your business.
Do you use an answering service in your business? Are you in the market for one? Let us know your favorite in the comments below!