10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Telephone Answering Service

Sometimes you and your staff won’t be available to take every call. After all, you have a business to run and your staff can’t work 24/7. Smaller businesses may not have the resources to have a dedicated employee manning the phones all day either. In many cases, hiring Virtual Answering Services is the only smart way to ensure a customer in need never goes without help, or that other important (timely) calls aren’t missed.

Telephone answering service officer
photo credit: Alan Clark / Flickr

Here are 10 ways to get the most out of your telephone answering service:

1. Use a provider experienced in your industry

This first tip is easy. Get together a list of answering service providers who have experience taking calls in your industry. Always prefer experience, unless all they’ll be doing is saying “So, and so isn’t available, can I have a number where they can reach you at?” Any business that requires knowledge and professionalism in their call and message taking will always fare far better with industry experience.

You don’t want an all-in-one type service taking calls from tow truck or transport drivers as they aren’t familiar with industry terminology or lingo, thus creating the potential for communication errors. Same goes for medical, technical, legal and many other professions, where a single communication problem can equal big losses, including lawsuits.

2. Find an answering service provider that matches your customer service values

In other words, are they a churn-and-burn, get-people-off-the-phone as fast as possible type of operation? Or, do they pride themselves in giving callers the time they need to get their message across? This is an important distinction, as many large scale operations have a good deal of metrics their agents must meet in order to keep their job, an important one being often to finish calls as quick as possible in order to keep wait times in their call queue low.

Decide on what’s important to you and your callers. A large corporate churn and burn might end up costing less than a smaller company that offers better service. Maybe that’s just fine for you, maybe not.

3. Check into the provider’s emergency infrastructure

Quite simply, how equipped are they to handle calls without interruption? Are they a one or two person business operating out of a house located in the middle of tornado alley? What kind of servers do they use — how many — in how many locations?

Do they have multiple facilities in different areas to account for weather and other emergency issues that can interrupt sudden Internet and phone access? When disaster strikes on their end, that doesn’t mean your important calls should go to voicemail. Ask the sales rep about their disaster recovery plan and if they don’t know what that is, move on.

4. Focus on training before throwing your receptionist to the wolves

Don’t expect everything to run like a well-oiled machine from day one. Set out with the expectation that mistakes will be made and a few callers may be left unhappy. You’ll of course have to put out a few fires, and spend some time offering constructive feedback, but this is true when you hire anyone to work for your business.

Start off slow and test the waters — see how the service handles an hour worth of calls, then a few hours, a half day, etc. This way you can also assess whether they can handle your average call volumes and still deliver the highest level of service possible. If you find the service failing miserably in spite of your patience, it’s time to move on before they cause you and your customers excessive grief.

5. Be very clear with expectations

As a business owner, you already know how frustrating it can be dealing with customers, suppliers, employees, and associates who don’t know how to communicate properly. People who say one thing one day, then complain the next when you do exactly what they asked you to do are truly a nightmare. You don’t want to be this nightmare to your answering service!

Keep your scripts, call routing, and message taking requirements very concise and easy-to-follow. Make your descriptions and expectations so easy a monkey could do the job! In doing so, your message is clear, and mistakes will be few. Being clear also makes it easy to know when it’s time to move on when instructions aren’t being followed — you can only hand-hold so much and still run a successful business.

Phone answering service

6. Test the service as often as you can

Nobody is perfect. Occasionally, Nike puts out a crappy pair of shoes that fall apart the first time a consumer wears them — despite multiple levels of R & D and quality control being in place. The same thing can happen with an answering service; sometimes they can hire a bad agent or simply fail to train one properly.

That’s why you can’t just trust they’ll always do the job as expected. Have trusted friends and associates call your business when the service is taking your calls and let your testers know upfront how their call should be handled. There’s nothing wrong with calling yourself from an unrecognizable number either, to make sure you’re getting the service levels you’re paying for.

7. Provide immediate feedback — good and bad

You really can’t be passive and be successful in most businesses. That’s because when something needs to be said, a business owner needs to be assertive and nip problems in the bud. They also have to know when it’s time to give their employees and the people they do business with some praise.

Whenever you’re made aware of problems experienced by your callers, or you notice issues with message taking, etc, let the service know. Make sure you come to them prepared with solutions. A kind email now and again telling your call-handling team what a great job their doing will also go a long way to establishing preferred baseline habits for how calls are taken.

8. Bigger isn’t always better

Consider the size of the phone service and your overall needs before signing up with a service. If you’re running a small local business, it’s unlikely your customers are going to get the personalized attention they need, if they get a different person answering the phone every time they call. A small answering service can provide you with dedicated agents who can get to know you and your customers needs much more quickly, when compared to a big provider servicing thousands of clients at a time.

It’s also much harder to set expectations and give feedback when you have several levels of service, management, and call handlers to get through to. On the other hand, if you’re looking for order takers, sales agents, or technical support for an ecommerce website, your business may benefit more from the diversity and resources offered by a large call center company.

9. Treat the relationship with a long term outlook

Most small companies hire help with the hope that they’ll become a long term member of their business family. Whether in-office or virtual, you should treat all tasked with striving to give people who call your business the best service possible with the utmost respect.

Several mistakes in a short time should give you cause for concern and potentially lead you to look elsewhere for your phone answering needs. A few mistakes here and there are easily corrected with good communication and detailed feedback. You wouldn’t kick your teenager out of the house because they got detention twice in one year, would you?

10. Pay your bill on time

This should probably go without saying. However, there are plenty of small businesses out there with more month at the end of the money, than they have money at the end of the month.

Once you’ve found a service you like, consider taking advantage of any pre-pay incentives they may have. Paying months or up to a year in advance can save you a good chunk of money, and ensures your account won’t be put on hold (and calls not answered) because of payment woes or mix ups.

Following the tips offered above will help you avoid hiring the wrong answering service in the first place, while ensuring everyone’s on the same page once you do sign a contract.