Finding a high quality and reliable answering service is not a simple task. There’s no magic pill or shortcut to finding a good fit for your business and rushing to judgment, or randomly picking one from the yellow pages (or online search) could prove costly.
From my experience being an owner of a successful midsized Answering Service for over 17 years, I believe I can give some recommendations to a thorough and effective selection process.
If I was in your shoes and looking for an answering service/call center, this is what I would do:
1. Ask for referrals and call them. Any reputable company should be willing to give you list of three or four referrals. Ideally, these referrals should be in the same or similar industry as yours. Take the time to call them and see what they say about that service.
2. Ask about their service features. Most of today’s answering services are computerized and offer all the “bells and whistles” including email delivery, text messaging and web access for retrieving messages. However, there are still some companies with first generation computerized system or even old “cord boards.” The features these companies offer will be limited. You may want to look elsewhere.
3. Visit their facility. Assuming the answering services or call centers you’re considering are nearby; take the time to visit their operation. During your visit are you politely greeted when you walk in the door? Is the office clean? Are the employees well dressed? How do the Agents sound while talking on the phone? Is their computer server room neat and organized? “Take it all in” and make a judgment of whether or not you want your clients communicating with that company.
4. Find out if the owner of the answering service is involved in the daily operations. Like any business, the owners of an answering service will be more interested in running a good, efficient and customer service oriented business than a manager who doesn’t have a true vested interest in the company. So try to find one that has direct owner active participation.
5. Ask if they belong to any national, regional or platform specific associations. Although membership in the Better Business Bureau and local chamber of commerce is important, I believe it’s even more important that the service you’re considering belongs to industry specific organizations. There are larger ones such as ATSI (Association of Teleservices International) and SNUG (Startel National Users Group), however there are many regional and platform specific groups. Companies that are actively involved in these associations and user groups are much more likely to provide quality and reliable service. Why? Because they are always learning from the other members and also likely keeping up with technology.
6. Never make a decision solely on cost. Yes, staying within budget is always a good idea, but selecting an answering service just because they’re the cheapest is always a bad idea. Here it comes….”you get what you pay for.” Additionally, many answering services will offer inexpensive “minute plans” but neglect to tell you they charge while callers sit on hold, ring your line and even when they’re sending you a fax. Most often when you compare rate sheets of two services it’s almost impossible to do a fair comparison. It can be like comparing apples to oranges. Be sure to ask exactly what is billed and what is not.
7. Ask for a free trial. Most answering services will give you at least a week to try them out. If they don’t offer it, ask if they will. Use the free trial period to see if they’re a good fit for your operation. If there are some issues that concern you, go elsewhere or ask them to extend the trial period so you can give them the opportunity to smooth things out.
8. Ask about contingency planning. Do they have a backup power generator? Do they have spare parts and computer equipment in case of a failure? Do they work with just one phone carrier or do they work with two (or more) for redundancy? How often do they backup their data? Do they store data off site?
9. Look into quality control. Do they record all of the calls? Are the Agents routinely monitored for accuracy, politeness and professionalism? This is very important. Most of today’s answering services record their calls so they can monitor their operation. Additionally, the Agents at these facilities know they’re being recorded. This forces them to be on their best behavior.
10. Do they understand your business? Ask if they already have clients in the same industry as you. If so, they will likely be familiar with the type of people who call you, their questions and will also be familiar with terms you use and what you might consider urgent. The quality and reliability of Answering Services can vary significantly. If you consider the ten items I noted you’ll have a much better chance of finding a quality answering service that will professionally represent your company on the telephone.
Good luck in your search!
John M. Yocca
President/CEO & Owner