Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Answering Services Work


Problems with Answering Services
Some computer companies use answering services to help callers with technical issues.
Some computer companies use answering services to help callers with technical issues.
© Photographer: Dewayne Flowers | Agency: Dreamstime

An answering service can be a great tool to make a business run smoothly, but problems with answering services occur. Sometimes it's not selecting the right phone answering service for the job. Or the cost of the answer service may exceed what you'd expected. Let's look at some common answering service problems and how you can avoid them.

Positive, helpful operators help your business. Check also on how long operators stay with the company. While every company experiences turnover, operators are more likely to stay at companies that treat them well -- and happy operators will interact more positively with your customers. Check also that operators receive consistent training so that they all handle your calls in the same way.

A focus on your business, not everyone else's, makes callers think operators are part of your business team. BuyerZone.com recommends that your calls account for 5 to 50 percent of your answering service provider's traffic.

So you've decided you want a vanity number for your business. Here's some guidelines you should follow during your search, and information you should know.

Cost of services can influence your decision to stay with a company or its services. Charges are based on time (50 cents to $1 per minute) or number of calls. Be sure you understand how charges are computed, and which method best meets your needs. Check your phone logs to determine your needs and the usual length of calls. The company should work with you to design a plan that offers you the best value for your needs, ATSI says. Also consider call fluctuations, such as seasonal selling patterns, and factor in how they affect rates and operator availability to handle increased volume.

Knowledge of the industry is essential, particularly in highly specialized fields like medicine. Look for an answering service that can show years of experience with your industry. Also, ask about how operators are trained to be knowledgeable and field questions.

Up-to-date technology means taking advantage of Web tools and offering you flexible ways to receive messages, but it also means having adequate back-up and a disaster preparedness plan to stay live 24x7. You can ask to see a copy of the plan.

A bargain may not be. Weigh prices and services for several companies. The lowest price may not bring you the services you need. But on the other hand, be realistic about what you need. If all you want are messages taken when you leave your office, you may not need live.

For lots more information about answering services and related topics, check out the links on the next page.