How Will I Be Billed By My Answering Service?

When evaluating Answering Services, it is important that you understand exactly how you will be billed for their services. In particular, be aware that, when it comes to pricing, you may be comparing apples to oranges. In general, Answering Services either bill on a per call or per minute basis, but they may also bill on a per message, per unit or fixed rate plan. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages depending upon the types of calls you receive, the types of messages you would like taken and delivered, and how you would like them delivered.

Per Call Plans Questions to Ask / Things to Consider What is my current call volume including hang-ups and wrong numbers? What is considered a call? Are both Inbound Calls and Outbound Calls included? Text Messages? Emails? Faxes? Pages? If you have a billing plan that includes a certain number of calls per billing period, how will you be charged for calls that exceed my plan?

Per Minute Plans Questions to Ask / Things to Consider How long is my typical call? Can the service screen incoming calls with prerecorded message so that I have the option to reduce the number of calls that are answered by an operator? How are minutes calculated? Are they rounded to the nearest minute? 15 seconds? 6 seconds? What activity is included in my billed minutes? Most services bill for Live Operator Time, but some bill for Wrap Time (time required to complete and double-check the message after the caller hangs up to complete and double check the message) and some bill for Screen Time (time unrelated to the call when the answering service staff have your account open on their screen for various reasons. How will I be billed for text messages, emails, pages, and faxes? If my billing plan includes a certain number of minutes for each period, how will I be billed for overage minutes?

Per Message Plans Questions to Ask / Things to Consider What is included as a message (Some create a message for every call, such as “no message” or “caller will call back”)? If my plan includes a certain number of messages, how will I be billed for overage messages?

Per Unit Plans (These are the most complicated and vary from answering service to answering service) Questions to Ask / Things to consider Do they provide documentation showing how the units will be calculated?  Sometimes a call = 1 unit, but perhaps some calls (outbound call??) might = 2 units. Sometimes an email, text, page, or fax might be a unit as well. Will the bills you receive show the details behind how the total units are calculated?

Fixed Rate Plans (There are a few answering services that will provide fixed rate plans) Questions to Ask / Things to consider Will my rate increase if my call/minute count exceeds a certain level, so be sure that you understand what will trigger a rate increase? If there are automatic triggers for increases, make sure you understand if there are automatic triggers for rate decreases as well, so that an unusually busy period won’t cause the fixed rate to increase forever?

9 Things to Consider when Choosing a Telephone Answering Service

Pricing

  • Make sure you understand how charges will be computed.  Charges can be based upon the calls or on time.  Be aware that the definition of “call” and “time” may differ from one answering service to another.  See post “How will I be billed by my Answering Service”)

  • Ask for a written proposal.  Ask whether the pricing plan you chose can be modified in the future? Does the company require you to commit to a contact?

Technology

  • Does the company provide a variety of message delivery options such as voice, text, email, fax, alpha page, or encrypted messaging?

  • How long does the company retain information?

  • Are all calls recorded and, if so, are the recordings available to you on request?

  • Does the company have system redundancy and power backup to ensure service in times of phone and power outages?

  • Can the company provide interfacing with my company’s information system or CRM if that is necessary for the handing of your calls?

Staffing

  • How does the company ensure there will be sufficient staff available to minimize long ring or hold times?

  • What type of notice will the company need from you if your call volume should increase due to special promotions, office hour changes, etc.?

Training

  • How is the staff trained?  Does the company conduct standardized training programs from the Association of TeleServices International (ATSI) or other industry associations?

  • Do all employees receive regular HIPAA training prepared by ATSI or other industry associations?

Stability & Reliability

  • How long has the company been in business?  What is the average tenure of their staff?  Is the company active in the local business community?

  • Does the company have back-up power and redundancy of critical system components?

Compliance

  • Does the company comply with local, state, and federal regulations and carry business insurance, including Error and Omissions coverage?

  • Does the company comply with HIPAA and HITECT regulations?

  • Is the company active member of an organization that keeps its membership up to date with the latest laws, regulations, and industry trends?

References / Testimonials

  • Ask for references you can call to discuss the service.  Be sure to ask for references in your particular industry or locations.

  • Check the company’s website to see if they have a testimonial page

Awards

  • Has the company earned any awards or recognition in the industry or local business community?  Does the company participate in the ATSI Award of Excellence service award?  This program assesses a company’s service level through the evaluation of test or “mystery shop” calls.