Specialty Answering Service - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
A telephone answering service is a service that large and small businesses use to provide 24/7 live customer support, keep better track of inbound communication, reach out to employees letting them know about urgent situations that require their attention, and more. An answering service can be a pre-packaged service where the operator gathers basic information to take a message, or utilize custom developed scripts and protocols for the operators to follow. The complexity of the answering service really depends on the businesses needs, and sometimes even the size of the company.
With respect to medical offices, most every physician, hospital, or medical professional uses an answering service in some form or another. While answering services have tremendous advantages for medical offices - like enabling 24 hour communication, if they aren’t properly configured, they can have some disastrous disadvantages. If you’re researching medical answering services, we’re here to help guide you in the right direction so that you can avoid potential pit falls and ensure your practice protected.
Avoid HIPAA Voilations
Pitfall: Violating a patient’s private health information.
Medical professionals have to strictly abide by HIPAA. Whether they are using an answering service or not, protecting patients’ private health information is key in maintaining a successful, trustworthy business. However, for medical professionals that are looking to outsource their patient communication to an answering service, many might wonder how safe their business is in the hands of a third party vendor, and how seriously that vendor takes HIPAA compliance.
How to avoid it: Make sure your service is taking HIPAA compliance seriously. HIPAA compliant answering services will have things like:
- A secure messaging system where no patient information gets transmitted over text, email or voicemail.
- A secure online portal where you can check your messages.
- A Business Associates Agreement with all medical customers.
Keeping Medical Data Secure
Pitfall: Hacked systems can lead to data breaches.
Around 1,300 businesses felt the repercussions of a data breach last year, with over 400 million records exposed. 9 million of those records were from the medical and healthcare industry alone. With more and more medical practices switching from paper records to electronic records, data breaches are becoming more common, which means the need for protecting patient information is at an all time high. Medical professionals need to make sure their own infrastructure is secure. And, if they’re using answering services, they need to ensure that the information the answering service keeps is just as secure.
How to avoid it: In order for your answering service to provide secure services to your medical practice and patients, they should have things like:
- Agents that don’t have access to their cell phones or writing implements at their work station.
- Building and rooms that are restricted with keys or pass-codes.
- Firewalled agent computers so outside websites are inaccessible.
- Unique user logins and passwords that can be tracked and assessed.
- Security policy that extends to PCI DSS compliance so that all credit card and payment information stays secured.
Giving Out Wrong Information
Pitfall: Operators giving out false information.
New always takes a bit of adjusting. Whether it’s getting used to a new computer or car, everybody needs some time to get acquainted. The same goes for answering service operators. Of course they won’t know everything right away, but the quicker they catch on, the better. If your patients are always being told “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” by your answering service operators, they’re going to start to question the quality of your practice. What’s even worse, is if your operators play doctor and give out false information, which may result in a loss of business, or worse, a lawsuit.
How to avoid it: Equip your operators with frequently asked questions which will help them answer questions and provide up to date, correct information. And remember, any time something changes within your practice, keep your answering service in the loop. Here are some great FAQs to help keep your answering service on top of the game:
- Do you accept insurance? If so, what kinds?
- Do you offer a payment plan if patients don’t have insurance?
- Can patients pay out of pocket?
- What do you specialize in?
- Do you require referrals?
- What are your business hours?
- Do you have multiple locations?
- How long are appointments?
- Do you offer Saturday or evening appointments?
Giving Out Medical Advice
Pitfall: Operators giving medical advice.
Aside from suggesting they call 911 if they are having a true medical emergency, answering service operators should never try to offer medical advice to patients. The only people that should be providing medical advice are the people who are medically certified to do so. Having non-certified people dishing out medical advice can not only put your patients at risk, but can also put your practice in the hot seat for a lawsuit.
How to avoid it: Ask how the service handles situations where the caller asks the operator for advice. Ideally, the operators should have received training on stock responses. For example, saying something like the following will help you avoid issues: “I apologize, but I am not a trained medical professional so unfortunately I cannot provide any suggestions. However, I can certainly get this message over to the on-call doctor and have your call returned as soon as possible.” This response helps inform the caller that the operators are not certified medical professionals, but assures them that help is on the way.
Problems with Hold Times
Pitfall: Patients waiting too long to speak to someone during a medical emergency.
As much as HIPAA compliance and protecting patients privacy plays a part in running a successful practice, the happiness and overall well being of your patients is crucial. When patients in need are greeted with cold hold music instead of a warm voice, it can lead to issues. A patient’s health could deteriorate the longer they wait, and in some circumstances, may even prove fatal. If this happens while a patient is waiting on hold to speak to you or someone in your practice, you may be held liable for patient or medical negligence.
How to avoid it: Here are some ways you and your answering service can combat long queues:
- Making sure they use a system to help distribute calls evenly to appropriate operator groups.
- Always have a phrase like “If this a medical emergency, dial 911” in the greeting before the hold queue.
- Compare past trends in volume to plan and staff up accordingly.
- Encourage customers to provide notice in advance when they are expecting a large spike in volume.
- Provide on-demand hold reports so customers can get an in-depth look at their call activity.
- Utilize Virtual Queuing systems and control your customers experience. In a virtual queue, callers will be given the option for a call back, or they can choose to wait for the next available rep.
Publish Date: August 29, 2019 5:00 AM
Ready to take your business to the next level in customer care? Working with an answering service is a great way to enhance operations while providing 24/7 support for your valued customers. And with communications solutions for every industry, company size and service level, it’s never been easier to get started. As technology continues to advance, answering service platforms and capabilities follow suit. This makes keeping tabs on your virtual receptionist service a breeze, from call quality to message accuracy to questions about your bill. Just a few simple tips, and you’ll be on your way to making the most of your call center experience.
Tip 1: Learn how to use your online portal and mobile app.
Even if you’re using a bare-bones service, there will likely be an online portal or a mobile app where you can access your messages. After you sign up, set aside a few minutes to visit the knowledge base and read through a tutorial or two on everything that you can get out of the software. Or, ask a customer support representative to walk you through it.
Some services allow you to forward messages directly from your portal, document follow up notes and add tags, create login credentials for your employees and assign specific calls for them to address and track, integrate your existing appointment calendar, and more. It’s one-stop shopping for business communication, and it’s well worth your time to make the technology work for you.
Tip 2: Listen to call recordings.
If you’re working with a service that offers call recording and you’ve taken advantage of that feature, then it is in your and your customers’ best interests to listen to as many calls as humanly possible. We’ve all been on the other end of an unfortunate customer service interaction. As a business owner, you can appreciate how valuable it is to know just what people think of your organization, whether positive or negative. Don’t wait around for someone to complain about a bad call.
Be proactive. Take the time to listen and assess the operators’ performance as well as the way your call script flows, questions that prospective customers often ask, opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling, and anything else that strikes you. Then, contact your service to provide feedback, tweak your script, and re-calibrate your FAQs.
Tip 3: Update your on-call schedule.
Ten out of ten CEO’s agree that businesses function much more efficiently when people are actually at work. That goes for both regular office hours and reliable, after-hours assistance. There are a slew of industries where after-hours or emergency service calls are where you earn a sizable portion of your income. And, if you use a 24-hour dispatching service, they’ll need accurate on-call schedules and contact details if you expect to give a customer a tow at 9pm or fix a busted pipe at 3am.
While your service may provide an online on-call scheduler and notify you when it’s expired, in most cases, you’ll have to send your technicians’ calendar via email, or call the programming team to manage changes. Naturally, if you forget to do this and the service calls the wrong tech, you’re going to miss an opportunity to win over a new customer with your stellar skills and round-the-clock availability. That being said, don’t forget to do this. Send in updated availability each month, and be sure to include the right mobile numbers and email addresses for your entire team.
Tip 4: Check your usage regularly.
For those business owners who have disposable income, feel free to skip this tip. For everyone else, read on. Paying more than you have to for your answering service is not built into anyone’s budget. If you want to keep costs down, get into the habit of reviewing your usage at the end of every week and prior to the beginning of the next billing cycle. This data is typically accessible through your portal and may also be available as auto-generated weekly reports that can be sent directly to your email.
If you’re going over your plan allowance, increasing to the next tier can help you avoid costly overage charges. If you’re having a slower season and don’t need as robust of an option, you can reduce your plan to something more cost-effective. In either case, get in touch with the billing department and ask them to retroactively adjust your rates while you’re still within a billing month. Save a few bucks, and spring for lunch. Your staff will thank you.
Answering services are chock full of user-friendly features, designed with you in mind. When you’re ready to step out of endless overhead costs, step into a streamlined virtual front desk, and take your customer support business model farther, faster.
Publish Date: August 21, 2019 5:00 AM
CTI, or Computer Telephony Integration, is a general term used to describe technology that allows computers and telephones to communicate with each other. For example, if you call your bank and press 1 for balance information, it’s CTI interpreting the phone action and returning the database information. In the call center world, the technology is to make call handling more efficient. For example, CTI helps by popping caller information on the operators screen at the moment the call is connected - like the callers telephone number (ANI) or number dialed to reach the call center (SDNIS). Find out more about how CTI can turn your computer into a seriously powerful communications tool!
What is Computer Telephony Integration?
CTI is the exchange of commands and messages between computers and telephone equipment. The ultimate goal of CTI is efficient handling of incoming and outgoing telephone calls. CTI bridges the telecommunications and computer industries, and introduces new, integrated applications such as:
- Automated call management and routing
- Unified messaging
- Database interaction
CTI can turn a desktop computer into a powerful communications tool that can combine sight, sound, text, animation, video and graphics. CTI helps improve customer service and employee productivity and will eventually evolve to be a building block in the overall IT and network architecture of enterprises across many industries.
Use in Contact Centers
First generation CTI applications focused on “screen pops”, bringing up Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data, based on the number from which the call originated. Second generation CTI applications focus on the following areas:
- Creating better ways to collect, store and interpret caller data
- Enriching interactions between Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems
- Improving call routing
How it works
CTI involved a connection between a computer and a telephone switch. When a call center receives a call, it carries some form of identification - either ANI (automatic number identification) or CLID (calling line ID). The switch interprets this data and sends it to a computer that looks up the information in a database and provides instructions to the switch as to where the call should be routed.
Simultaneously, the customer’s database record is routed to the agent’s desktop. Routing can be either skills-based or productivity-based, and is done through an ACD system. There are two ways to enable CTI within a CRM environment - CTI Adapters and Open CTI
- CTI Adapters: A CTI Adapter is a middleware software that runs on the agent’s desktop and acts as an intermediary between the telephone equipment and the CRM software.
- Open CTI: Open CTI is a framework introduced by Salesforce.com. It allows companies to embed third party web apps directly into Salesforce.
CTI’s Practical Applications
- Screen Pops: The change in the computer display that occurs simultaneously with the arrival of a new call.
- Contact Management: Dialing directly from the contact record is possible, as are screen pops of the appropriate record based on incoming caller ID.
- Screen-Based Telephony: Also called softphone; the process of using the PC keyboard and mouse to answer, transfer, conference, and manage telephone calls.
- Auto Dialers: Electronic device or software that automatically dials telephone numbers
- Simultaneous Voice-Data (SVD): Sharing computer screens, Windows applications, and whiteboards while conducting a voice conversation.
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR): Gives callers specific information based on the unique details the callers enter (usually via touch-tone dialing)
Benefits of CTI for Contact Centers
The job of a CTI system is to improve the process of handling incoming and outgoing calls in terms of both speed and efficiency. The main benefits include:
- Productivity Enhancement: Less time gathering customer information reduces call time. Dialing, answering, transferring and placing calls on hold can all be managed on-screen for increased productivity.
- Better Customer Service: Agents can address callers by name and have all their details in front of them before the call is connected, thus increasing customer service levels.
- Cost Reduction: Integrating standalone hardware and software is an important element of achieving maximum benefit from CTI, and greater efficiency enhances cost-effectiveness.
As strong technologies evolve, the future of CTI in enterprise will continue to grow!
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Publish Date: February 25, 2019 5:00 AM
If you’re using an answering service, it can be challenging to make sure each caller gets as personalized an experience as when they reach your own office. One of the ways answering services can help maintain continuity is through an upfront, customized recorded greeting. Customized greetings, or auto attendants, can help bridge the gap between a business and their answering service, and can make for a seamless transition from one to the other. Here are 5 reasons why we think custom recorded greetings rock.
#1. They give stellar first impressions.
Unless it’s Groundhogs Day, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Having a customized recorded greeting on your business line will help give callers lasting first impression that you’ve been missing by outsourcing.
Fact: Virtual receptionists answer for hundreds of different businesses each day. When operators answer calls live, it can be hard for them to get your company name 100% correct every single time. While answering the phone for Smith Plumbing may be easy and effortless, they may stumble when answering the phone for Sheila’s Sea Shells. Instead of having the operators say your company name, a custom recorded greeting would completely eliminate the chance of error. The automated greeting announces the company name, and the live operator greeting is kept to a generic ‘Thanks for calling. How can I help you?’
#2. Racking up those minutes? A custom greeting can help!
Unless you’re taking advantage of a free trial, answering services are going to charge a fee to answer your calls. Some bill by the call, some bill by the minute, some bill by the agent - but all do eventually bill for something. If your answering service bills by the minute, you can waste a lot of time and money in just your live greeting alone. Here are some ways a custom recorded greeting can help keep extra cash in your pocket:
- While answering services will charge you for the time the operator is on the phone, most services won’t charge you extra to add a custom recorded greeting on your line.
- Having a custom recording that clearly states your company name can help deter wrong number calls, which you could otherwise be charged for.
- Auto attendant features like IVR can help cut down on the amount of automated phone calls getting through to an operator. Since robots can’t press 1 to be connected, they won’t eat up your bill. Eureka! A solution to a super annoying problem.
#3. They can provide service information.
As long as you provide your answering service with basic FAQs like where you’re located, your business hours, your website, etc, your virtual receptionists can easily help answer callers’ questions. However, an upfront greeting can also do this, which could help cut down on operator time. For example:
- Greetings are a great tool for providing information that your callers NEED to know.
- Using your service solely after hours? Use the greeting to state your business hours.
- Temporarily located somewhere else? Let the recording tell all your callers!
- Do you have a common question that eats up your minutes? Your greeting can give callers the answer before even getting to an operator.
#4. They can relay different messages.
Sometimes, life happens. You may have to turn on your answering service at a time you wouldn’t normally, and your callers may be surprised to get someone other than Rachel at the front desk. However, you can use a feature like a customized greeting to your advantage in situations just like this. For example, you can have your greeting updated to say something like: “The office is closed due to inclement weather” or “The office is currently experiencing an outage. Please hold for an operator.”
Being able to have your greeting customized and updated whenever you need it can help avoid confusion for the callers and awkward conversations with the operator. Many times callers will know they’ve reached an answering service and ask the operator why the office isn’t answering. Having a statement in your upfront recording can help answer these questions.
Pro tip: Some answering services may even be able to add different custom greetings to your line depending on the day or time. For example, you may want one greeting played during business hours, and another played for after hours.
#5. They can show your company’s personality
Every business is different, and your personalized greeting can help set you apart from the competition. Let’s say a potential customer calls two restoration companies. The first offers a bland, generic greeting, which is fine, but boring. The second includes a quirky, bubbly introduction that grasps the caller’s attention right from the beginning. From this interaction alone, the caller decides to go with business #2 simply because their greeting made them smile. Other examples include:
- Use the upfront recording to reflect how your company is run. Are you a fun start up tech company? Are you a suit and tie business? You can easily show your style through your custom greeting alone.
- Does your company have a motto or slogan that is well known to consumers? Put it in your custom greeting!
- Many people may want their operators to open the call with “It’s a great day at ___”, but it doesn’t always come off as natural as it would from someone in your own office. You won’t have this problem with a recorded greeting since it is said with the same tone and enthusiasm every time.
Publish Date: February 20, 2019 5:00 AM
Turn on any news channel, and you’re bound to hear at least one story where drug and alcohol addiction plays a starring, nefarious role. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2014, 21.5 million American adults battled substance abuse. And DrugAbuse.gov indicates that synthetic opioid-related drug overdose deaths are increasing at an alarming rate, jumping from 14% in 2010 to almost 50% in 2016. With statistics like these, it’s no wonder that SAMHSA’s National Helpline received approximately 70,000 calls per month in the first quarter of 2018.
No family is immune to the ravages of alcohol abuse and drug addiction. And if you run an answering service with addiction medicine or rehab centers on your client roster, then you and your customer service representatives know just how challenging it can be to cater to this ballooning population. While the ideal call center scenario for a drug or alcohol abuse hotline would be one with specially-trained staff and medical personnel manning the phones, the majority of call centers cannot boast this level of expertise. So, how can your answering service be a viable option for drug and alcohol treatment centers? We’ll take you through a 4-point plan with the tools you need to succeed.
#1. When it comes to manning an addiction hotline, empathy is everything.
If you teach your call center staff nothing else, be sure that empathy is at the forefront of their classroom training. Whether you receive calls from concerned family members and friends of people suffering from the disease of addiction, or you are speaking directly with someone who may be ready to check themselves into rehab, your listening skills and compassion have to be second to none. If an addict does not feel that you are truly ready and able to assist them, they won’t stay on the line long enough to wait for you to transfer them to the rehab’s on-call staff. A CSR’s phone etiquette may just be the make-it-or-break-it moment for an addict on the fence. So, help them to refine it and create an atmosphere of support and sensitivity.
#2. A well-planned and well-written call script will account for every type of call and will offer appropriate phrasing to navigate challenging situations.
Answering services that offer scripted, personalized call handling gives you the ability to write empathy and compassion directly into the CSRs’ dialogue. Phrases such as, “We are here to help,” “It’s good that you called in today,” “We will certainly get you the information you need,” and “Let me connect you with one of our experienced counselors,” are all strong transitions that will steer the conversation down the right road.
In addition, it’s important to ensure that the script is clearly laid out and starts off with an opening question that will lead to a specific path. Something along the lines of, “Hello, my name is James. Are you calling for drug and alcohol treatment?” would work. The path to follow might be labeled “Yes – Calling for Treatment.” Continue by asking if the individual is calling for themselves or someone else, and probe further by checking to see if this is a life-threatening emergency, and if the caller is experiencing suicidal ideation. Anything that helps the CSR quickly choose the best path and get the caller transferred to an on-call counselor or an emergency helpline, or easily answer questions, is ideal.
Below we’ve included some sample answering service scripts for drug addiction centers. Feel free to use any of them as inspiration when setting up your own call handling:
- Script Sample 1: This script sample offers pretty straightforward call handling. We are asking the caller if they are having an emergency or not, but gathering the same information and submitting the call to the same person no matter the answer.
- Script Sample 2: This script sample is a bit more involved. After determining if the caller is having an emergency, we ask if they would like for us to contact the on-call employee or just send a routine message. Here we can either go out to the rotating on-call schedule to reach out, or we can just send a standard message. If the caller is not having an emergency we are just gathering information as normal and sending an email through.
- Script Sample 3: This script sample is the most complex of the three as there are multiple calls paths to choose from. The caller could be calling to check in for treatment, they could have questions about the program, or they could be calling to speak with someone specific from the residential facility. Each path has us gathering the same information, but if the caller is calling to check in or if they have questions, we are attempting to transfer the caller. If they want to speak to someone specific we are just sending a message through.
#3. Advanced study of the call script is necessary to maintain call flow and effortless communication.
In most call centers, customer service representatives may never see a script until the first time it pops on their screen with a pending call. While that is fine for straightforward accounts where a simple message is all that is needed, that approach can be detrimental when fielding inbound calls for an account where a certain level of finesse is essential to proper call handling. For medical offices, treatment centers, counseling offices, and the like, taking the time to talk through the script and role play difficult scenarios, such as a caller who is crying or mentions self-harm, will go a long way to ensuring that CSRs are prepared for any situation, know exactly which call path to take, and complete the interaction with the utmost professionalism and care.
#4. Include several key pieces of information in the account’s FAQs, and organize them into categories for faster response time.
When your ability to quickly answer callers’ questions is as strong as your ability to empathize with their concerns, it will improve call quality and lend itself to the impression that operators work directly for the treatment center. That is why a strong Frequently Asked Questions section should be a point of focus during initial account programming. Nearly every FAQs section includes typical details, such as the type of account, the business address, website, etc. This will need to be amplified with questions about the facility and programs offered. For example, consider adding information regarding accepted insurance plans, the counselor-to-patient ratio, types of therapies offered, inpatient accommodations and lengths of stay, outpatient treatment programs, and crisis hotline numbers.
Answering calls for any addiction treatment center will present its own set of challenges, and this is one type of account that may prove to be emotionally draining for call center staff. But there is nothing that thorough scripting and comprehensive training cannot overcome. In a perfect world, no one would need drug and alcohol rehab. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world; however, as call center professionals, we can do our part to take what is likely an incredibly uncomfortable experience for the caller and turn it into a positive first step down the road to recovery.
Publish Date: February 18, 2019 5:00 AM
Answering the phone. It’s easy, right? Maybe for a seasoned receptionist. But for someone who is new to the working world, there is a rhythm and rhyme to expert phone answering. Everyone at your business needs to know how to answer the phone professionally. Whether you’re working the front desk of a small office or answering phones at a call center, we’ve put together an infographic with the top 13 tips and tricks that will help you create a seamless reception desk.
13 Tips on How to Answer Your Business Phone Professionally
#1. Smile before you dial, and perk up when you pick up
Yes, you really can hear a smile through the phone. And callers will appreciate a receptionist with a buoyant personality. So, get to grinning!
Rushing to pick up a line will make it sound like you’re, well, rushing to pick up a line. So, pause for a quick second, and take a breath before you answer. And if you tend to take shallow breaths, it’s probably because you need to…
#3. Sit up straight
When you sit up straight, it properly aligns your abdominal muscles, diaphragm, rib cage and airway so that your body is ready to help you push out your words.
#4. Be prepared to take a message
That means 1) have your notepad handy, or open the computer’s notepad, and 2) if you’re writing, put a pen or pencil right by the phone so that you’ll have what you need right at your fingertips.
#5. Speak clearly
There’s nothing worse than a mumbler. Be sure that you enunciate when you speak so that people will understand you the first time.
#6. Speak at a reasonable volume
Don’t whisper and don’t blast someone’s ears out. This also applies to receptionists who are wearing headsets. Keep the microphone at an appropriate distance from your mouth, or the caller could wind up hearing a lot more than they bargained for.
#7. Know where the mute button is
We are only human, and there may be times when you can’t hold back a cough or a sneeze while you’re on the phone. In those cases, or if someone is making a bunch of racket in the background, it is imperative that you know where the mute button is. The last thing that you want is to “ah-choo” in the middle of a sentence or have the UPS driver drown out your conversation.
#8. Always put someone on hold if you need to confer with a colleague
In a similar fashion to the mute button, know where the hold button is. Every now and again, you’ll turn to your coworker to ask a question, and you don’t want the caller to hear your discourse. Use a simple phrase such as, “Let me see if I can find that out for you. Would you mind holding a moment?” And, always ask before you place someone on hold.
#9. Don’t chew gum
It’s simply bad form to chew gum while you’re on the phone. Not only will it get in the way of clear speech, but no one wants to be on the receiving end of chewing noises.
#10. Try not to yawn
If you’ve come in to work after pulling an all-nighter, chances are that you’ll be exhausted. Unless you’ve pumped yourself up with 3 triple-shot espressos and a case of Mountain Dew, yawning is bound to happen. So, if you can’t stop yourself from yawning, refer to #7.
#11. Don’t make background noise, such as tapping on the desk
If you’re the one making annoying background noise, putting yourself on mute isn’t going to cross your mind. Therefore, keep the fidgeting to a minimum, and give the caller the most professional experience possible.
#12. Know the answer phrase
This seems like a no-brainer. However, if you’re new to a workplace, especially one with a name that even Webster would struggle with, write out the answer phrase, include a little phonetics cheat sheet, and practice saying it out loud until it’s as easy as saying eggs and toast.
#13. Have a staff directory at your disposal
Just think of how awkward it would be for someone to ask for Mr. Kopfgeschlagen, and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, I don’t even know how to say that name let alone figure out if he works here. That’s why you need a staff list in front of you. Be sure to highlight executives’ names, as people will likely ask for them more frequently.
Publish Date: February 14, 2019 5:00 AM
Tax season is here, which means accounting and tax prep firms are working diligently filing taxes, doling out financial advice, and answering the most important question - ‘So, how much am I getting back?’ Because this is a taxing time (pun intended) for both accountants and civilians alike, accountants often hire answering services like SAS for seasonal help answering calls. Virtual receptionist services like SAS can schedule appointments for new and existing clients, take messages, route important calls like calls from specific customers or callers with IRS issues, and answer questions like what forms should clients bring with them.
If your tax firm uses or is thinking about using an answering service to help with seasonal traffic, we’ve listed 4 quick ways to audit your service to make sure outsourcing is paying dividends both for your business, and for your clients.
#1. Make sure your service is live and updated.
First thing’s first. Make sure your answering service is live and ready to accept calls. If you’ve retained your answering service account in the off season in anticipation of forwarding to them during the tax blitz, you’ll want to place a test call to make sure the line is still active. Maybe you forgot to pay a bill and the line got deactivated. Maybe there was an oversight at the service and your account was cancelled. Just like you smell the milk before you pour it on your cereal, you’ll want to test the answering service line before you forward.
If you don’t have a service, don’t worry. The good news is you have no lines to test! The bad news is you have no one to answer your calls. But that’s going to change really quick when you sign up for a free trial.
If you cancel your account when tax season is over, give yourself some time to reactivate the account and run through your call handling protocols. SAS retains your call handling for up to a year after you leave service, but that isn’t true for every answering service. If your service doesn’t retain call handling, you’ll need to start from scratch, so definitely give yourself some time to get everything moving. Some questions you should be asking your seasonal answering service include:
- How long will my information stay saved?: If you only want to use your answering service during tax season, you will want to find out how long they can keep your information saved after you’ve left service. For example, SAS can keep deactivated scripts saved for about a year, but other answering services may wipe their systems after a month of inactivity. Using an answering service that can keep your information saved for at least a year would be helpful if you’re only planning on using them annually during tax season. Otherwise, it may be more trouble than it’s worth to keep going through the same process every year.
- Can I still access caller information and messages via my portal if my service is turned off?: If your answering service offers an online portal to retrieve messages, you may still be able to view information even when the account is not active. If you can’t access your information once the account is deactivated, you’ll want to make sure you send yourself all of the important data prior to cancelling.
- How long does it take to reactivate my account?: Each answering service is different, so this answer will vary. Some services can get you up and running in a matter of minutes, while others may need 48 hours or more. If your service has your script saved from last year, it shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes. However, if your information is no longer saved it will definitely take longer as your service will have to re-program the account.
- If I deactivate my account, will I lose my forwarding number?: Most answering services will not allow you to take your forwarding number with you should you decide to leave service, so it’s a real possibility that you will lose your number once you deactivate your account. However, depending on how long you are off service, it may be possible for you to retrieve your number when you reactivate your account, if it’s still available. If you’ve already spent money on advertising that number, you may want to consider dropping down to a lower plan during your off season instead of deactivating the account entirely to ensure you keep that number.
#2. Determine the reasons customers will be calling and prepare accordingly.
For outsourcing newbies, you’ll want to give some thought to your call handling. Call handling is what answering service agents will use to manage your calls, and if the handling isn’t 100%, your script can cause some trouble. We always recommend leveraging the experience of the service for guidance on what scripts will work, and which ones won’t. For example, protocols that you normally use in your office may not always work in a call center environment, so spending some time to get to know your new service will be beneficial for both you and your business.
A great script lets the answering service agents be nimble so they can handle most situations, and have a fail-safe for any situations they can’t. Some examples include:
- Calling to schedule an appointment: If your callers want to set an appointment, there are some follow up questions that could be helpful to ask. For example, are they ready to file and looking for an in person appointment? Do they need a phone appointment? Are they filing for an individual? A company? These questions can help streamline the process on your end, so you know who is coming in and when, and exactly what they need. The more information you have at your disposal, the easier it will be to get customers in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Calling for a Specific Person: Sometimes customers already have a specific employee they are working with or have worked with, and may be calling to speak directly to them. Answering service agents would be able to identify who the caller is asking for, and handle according to that staff member’s preference. For example, one staff member may just want all messages taken, while others could want calls transferred to them. If you have multiple staff members in your office, see how they want their calls handled and script accordingly. It’s also a great plan to have an ‘Any other staff member’ path if old customers are calling to speak to an employee who’s no longer employed.
- Calling from a Specific Company: As a tax prep firm, you may be helping companies with their taxes in addition to individuals, and you may want those calls handled differently. For example, an individual calling for help with their taxes could probably have a message taken, but you may want calls from companies transferred directly to you, as they’re going to be bringing in the big bucks.
- All Other Calls: If the caller’s query doesn’t fit into any of the categories you already have outlined, see if your answering service can set up a “catch all” for those miscellaneous calls that may trickle through. Usually these types of call paths have the agent gathering the caller’s name, number, email, and reason for call.
While these are just a few examples of how your call handling can be set up, most answering services can customize protocols based off of how you run things in your own office. Speaking to an intake specialist will help you determine the best course of action if you’re not sure where to start.
#3. Place test calls to make sure your systems are functioning properly.
Before forwarding your phones to the service, it’s a good idea to place a few mock calls to make sure things are operating smoothly. This will allow you to catch any errors first, which if left unattended, could give your business a bad look. The quicker you can iron out kinks, the quicker you can start getting back to work.
Pro tip: Even after going live with your customers, it doesn’t hurt to make a couple test calls here and there just to make sure everything is still running like a well-oiled machine.
#4. Make sure your clients know which number to call.
After you’ve made sure your service is active, updated, and you’ve ran through multiple tests, the final step is making sure your clients know which number to call. This can be done 1 of 2 ways:
- Call forwarding: Answering services use call forwarding to route your calls to the call center. They’ll provide a phone number specific to your account and you’ll use your phone’s pre-existing call forwarding feature to send traffic to the call center. Call forwarding is a feature that most phone providers offer, and can usually be turned off and on through the use of your phone’s keypad (like with *72 and *73). With call forwarding, you can control when calls go to your answering service and when they come to your own office.
- Advertising your number: Some businesses like to keep their own number separate from their answering service number. For example, they may want existing clients to call their office number directly, and they may want new client calls to go through their answering service. If this is the case for you and your business, advertising your answering service or forwarding number on your website and social media platforms is a good, usually free, way to go.
Pro tip: Most answering services won’t allow you to take the forwarding number with you should you decide to leave service, so it may not be cost effective in the long run for you to put the number on billboards, business cards, etc.
Publish Date: February 12, 2019 5:00 AM
How do you take classroom training, soft skills essentials, role play, and employee shadowing, and turn it into magic when new hires pick up their first call? Have faith in the tools and education that your training team provides before an operator puts on a headset? Yes. Trust that you have hired someone who can utilize those tools in a way that is mutually beneficial for both the call center and your clients? Of course. Effective training and supervision are central to all employees’ success. But when was the last time you sat in on your own training? When was the last time you saw an operator receiving supportive, one-on-one coaching for a specific issue? Faith and trust are great. However, seeing is believing.
A considerable amount of accountability for how things go when a new CSR hits the floor falls on trainers and supervisory staff. If you’re managing a call center, it’s your responsibility to keep things moving like a well-oiled machine. That means you’ll need to check in on team leads, and ensure that floor supervisors are closely monitoring progress by listening in on calls, providing coaching when necessary, tracking Key Performance Indicators, and making themselves available for any questions that may come up during the course of the day. Do new hires know exactly where to find trainers and supervisors when they encounter a problem? Do they fully understand the escalation process if they find themselves in too deep? And is every level of management approachable and ready to listen when issues arise? If the answer is yes to all three of those questions, then CSRs have nowhere to go but up.
Anyone who has ever worked at a hectic answering service knows that handling hundreds of calls for businesses that you know nothing about will take some getting used to. And it is certainly up to the employee to make the most of what they’ve learned. That being said, we’ve put together one more training element that all new hires should be given the minute they sit at their stations. The job aids below condense a lot of training into a handful of posters that can be pinned up and referenced often, presenting helpful hints when the CSR doesn’t have the answers, when the caller is becoming angry, when empathy is warranted, and more. Having these job aids around for quick reference will enable operators to coach themselves past little hurdles and learn to be as self-sufficient as possible. The more confidence they gain with each call will make magic happen. Maybe not the first day on the job, or even the first week. But with a little patience and the right tools, every operator has the potential for excellence.
Download Materials For Call Center Training Modules
Once you and your staff have gone through the training outlined in the previous installments of this post, the next step to ensure data retention and implication is to provide your staff with a visual guide that they can refer to while at their desks. While it wouldn’t be effective to print out the whole guide, we’ve highlighted certain modules that we feel would be most beneficial to keep handy for quick reference.
#1. BLAST OFF
Program Materials: Download and print the Blast Off Poster to place on the virtual receptionists’ stations.
- Be friendly and empathetic
- Listen carefully to capture every detail
- Acknowledge the caller’s concerns
- Speak slowly and clearly
- Take ownership of your actions
- Offer to take a message
- Follow the best path
- Focus on the issue at hand
#2. De-Escalation by Situation
Knowing how to de-escalate situations and calm down angry callers is an important trait for all customer service reps to learn.
Program Materials: Download and print the De-Escalation by Situation Poster for your agents to use as a quick reference guide on how to best handle hostile situations. Some examples on the poster include:
- Reason: Called multiple times
- Response: I’m sorry, I know this is frustrating. I’m not quite sure why you haven’t received a response yet, but sending another message may do the trick. So, let’s get your information to the office and I’ll mark it as urgent to see if we can speed up that call back.
- Reason: Refund has not been processed
- Response: I’m sorry, I know this is frustrating. I’m not quite sure why you haven’t received your refund yet, but sending another message may do the trick. So, let’s get your information to the office and I’ll mark it as urgent to see if we can speed up that call back.
#3. De-Escalation Conversation
The examples below provide a flow of conversation that you can use when the caller is becoming angry, frustrated, or upset.
Program Materials: Download and print the De-Escalation through Conversation Poster which serves as a quick reference guide on appropriate phrases to say to upset callers.
- Apologize: I’m sorry to hear that
- Empathize: It sounds like this has been really difficult for you
- Act: But I’ll do my best to help
- Thank: Thank you for letting us know about this issue
- Resolve: And I’ll make sure this gets to the right person
#4. Transitional Phrases
Dead air can be awkward. Transitional phrases are words that help carry a conversation from one thought to another, one subject to another, or one sentence to another.
Program Materials: Download and print the Transitional Phrases Poster which serves as a quick reference guide on appropriate phrases to say to a caller while you’re navigating through the customers script in the background.
- No problem. Let me get a message started for you.
- It will just take a moment for me to type this up. How is your day going so far?
- If you don’t mind, I just want to read this back to you to make sure I have all of the details.
- I definitely understand where you’re coming from. Let’s see what we can do about this.
#5. What Makes a Great Operator?
We all want great operators answering our phones. The secret is just sticking to the FACTS!
Program Materials: Download and print the FACTS Poster to use as a handout during your call center training program and for agent workstations.
- F: Be Friendly and courteous
- A: Use Active Listening skills
- C: Stay Calm (even when the caller is not)
- T: Use a pleasant Tone of Voice
- S: Use a Smooth Transition to avoid dead air
#6. When you Don’t Have the Answer
Below are some phrases to use when the script or FAQs do not fit the reason for the call.
Program Materials: Download and print the When You Don’t Have The Answer poster to use as a handout during your call center training program and for agent workstations.
- You know, I’m not sure about that. Let me take down your information, and I’ll look into it for you.
- I don’t have that information in front of me, but I’d be happy to have someone follow up with more details.
- That’s a great question. Let me send a message along for you so that we can get you the right information.
#7. When Your Emotions are Escalating
Empathy is a key to being a great call center agent. You just need to stay CALM!
Program Materials: Download and print the CALM Poster to use as a handout during your call center training program and/or a poster for agent workstations.
- C: Change your perspective (put yourself in their shoes)call center
- A: Adjust your attitude (use a softer approach)
- L: Listen to their concerns (focus on the issue at hand)
- M: Move towards resolution (steer the call in a positive direction)
Publish Date: February 7, 2019 5:00 AM
In our first post, we covered soft skills training for call center agents to take the guesswork out of teaching call center staff the art of communication. While having a presentation to present is a great tool, there are a number of effective call center training techniques that can be utilized to smoothly navigate the new hire learning curve. And because you may be catering to an audience of employees with varying learning styles, it’s important to pepper in a traditional approach with a few things that aren’t necessarily in every training department’s arsenal. Here are SAS’ top four best practice items to incorporate into your methodologies for effective and efficient education, whether you’re helping newbie call center representatives learn the ropes or giving existing staff a refresher course on the hallmarks of superior service.
#1. Create a training binder, and record companion video tutorials.
If you have nothing else in your training program, you should, at the very least, have your call center training material in one spot. We recommend each agent have a procedures binder with step-by-step instructions on how to do pretty much everything that call center staff will do on a daily basis. The more detailed the tutorials, the less likely that the employee will find themselves at a loss and inclined to ask questions. Sure, they may have questions on the “why,” but ideally, the right training material shouldn’t leave them with questions on the “how.” In fact, with self-study of written tutorials and a few minutes spent reviewing basic video walk-throughs of common procedures, new hires may almost be able to train themselves.
Works well for: This technique works well for individuals who learn better by reading on their own.
#2. Spend a good amount of time in the classroom, where group discussion can help elaborate on critical points.
When call centers are hiring, they’re usually bringing on several people at the same time. Classroom training courses can be valuable not only because it’s the fastest way to give staff the same instruction in the same way, but also because it is a great forum for questions that everyone else may be thinking and only one person isn’t afraid to ask. Instructor-led training is essentially a live version of what’s in your training binder, and elaborating on the “why” of key responsibilities may be the extra step that helps new hires commit pertinent details to memory.
Of course, every teacher has their own style; however, certain elements must be uniform, across the board. Speak clearly, and ensure that your volume is loud enough to reach the back of the training room. Pause at the end of every topic or throughout discussion on complex processes, and ask if anyone has any questions on the material. (If you wait until the end, people may forget what they wanted to ask.) And always refer back to the training binder. You might have consolidated a variety of tutorials into one PowerPoint presentation, so it’s important to remind new hires that they have all the answers at their fingertips.
Works well for: This technique works well for individuals who learn better by participating in group discussions where they can feed off of other people’s ideas and questions.
#3. Use scripted role play and improvised “what if” scenarios to offer customer service representatives an opportunity to work through sticky situations without having any adverse effects on your clients.
Remember when you were in middle school and the teacher would ask for volunteers to read aloud or assist with an experiment? Well, those are really helpful techniques for adult learning, too. Role play for call center training is a great way to get new or seasoned agents exposure to unfamiliar situations. Take a few hours of classroom learning, and dedicate it to running through real-life examples of scenarios that call center staff will likely encounter multiple times throughout the course of their employment. One way to do this is to transcribe actual phone calls that quickly went south, and have two employees read the script – one as the caller, and one as the operator.
First, go through the script as-is, and tout this as a prime example of what not to do. Then, ask the employees how they would do things differently. “What if” you find yourself in this position? What would you do or say to produce a more positive outcome? See what they come up with on their own, and be sure to provide specifics on how their supervisors would expect them to manage challenging calls. The more of these “do this, not that” situations that you go through, the more comfortable new hires will feel when they find themselves in similar circumstances.
Works well for: This technique works well for individuals who learn better by using a more hands on and intuitive approach where they can develop their own process.
#4. Set aside time for every trainee to shadow their colleagues and watch what they’ve learned in action.
Every call center should have headsets or phone monitoring capabilities that enable trainees to listen in on calls without being heard. This is a vital piece of the preparation puzzle – driving knowledge home by seeing and hearing what is expected of them in action. After the training binders and tutorials, the classroom education and role play, you’ll want to pair new hires with your best representatives so that they can get a feel for how the call center software works and what approaches ensure a top-notch customer experience.
It’s also a good idea to have them shadow several employees that may have diverse yet equally effective communication styles. That opens the door to outside-of-the-box solutions, thinking on their feet, and recognizing that there may be a bunch of ways to garner the desired outcome depending on how the caller presents themselves. Shadowing is an invaluable tool, taking what they’ve learned from second-hand experience and assimilating it into their own approach once they’re ready to field calls. Whenever possible, encourage trainees to ask questions in between calls if something comes up that is unfamiliar or confusing. Better to take a moment to work out minor issues before they turn into major issues down the line.
Works well for: This technique works well for individuals who learn better by watching someone else.
In the process of trying to teach staff about soft skills, empathy, and navigating difficult situations, it’s imperative that you don’t lose those skills yourself. So, however you choose to educate your customer service representatives, make sure they know that trainers and supervisors are there to provide additional instruction and support, when necessary. Outstanding leaders are available, approachable, and always ready to lend a hand and contribute to every new hire’s transition from timid trainee to call center success story. The stronger the leader, the stronger the team!
Don’t miss part 3 – putting it all together on the call center floor.
Publish Date: January 28, 2019 5:00 AM
If you are running a small business, chances are that you are often overwhelmed and simply can’t get to every phone call. When you’re not in a position to hire a salaried receptionist, you really only have two options: let calls go to voicemail, or outsource to a live operator receptionist service like us. The question is, which option is right for you? To help you make a well-thought out decision, we’ve taken the guess work out of things for you. Read on as we weigh the pros and cons of voicemail vs. live operator service.
Voicemail - Pros
#1. No Extra Fees
The most obvious pro of using voicemail over an answering service is the cost. Regardless of what phone system or mobile carrier you use, voicemail is generally included in your monthly bill. That means that no matter how many voicemail messages you receive, you won’t have to pay extra to listen to them or to store them.
#2. The Right Message, Every Time
With voicemail, what you hear is what you get. In other words, the message will always be correct because it’s coming directly from the source. The only possible way for something to be misconstrued is if you can’t understand the caller, the message breaks up due to a cell signal issue, you incorrectly document the details, or you accidentally delete the message.
#3. It’s Ready When You Are
If you have your cell phone with you, or if you can dial in to your office phone system remotely to retrieve messages, then you’ll have every opportunity to capture prospective leads and manage your existing customer base, as long as you take the time to listen.
Voicemail - Cons
#1. It’s Impersonal
You could have the peppiest voicemail greeting on the planet, and voicemail would still be an impersonal way to do business. Sure, some people would rather leave a message than speak with you directly. Voicemail is certainly faster than carrying on a conversation. But in most cases, people are calling because they are hoping to get you on the phone. They are looking for that personal touch that neither voicemail nor all the technology in the world can provide.
#2. Response Time Delays
Let’s say that you’re out on a job, and three messages have come in during the course of the service call, one of which is an emergency. Assume that the current job takes at least an hour, and you won’t be listening to your voicemail until you have completed your assignment. Once you finally get to your voicemail and hear the emergency message, you call them back only to find that they’ve gone with another company because they couldn’t wait for you. Or, if it’s an existing customer, they may lose faith in your ability to dole out the personalized service that they want. In either case, response time delays are no way to instill confidence in your business.
#3. Voicemail Fills Up
What happens when your voicemail is full? If you’re constantly on the go and don’t regularly check your messages, then you may not have any idea that your voicemail is brimming with customers’ queries. And that spells disaster for customers who will hear that nice, automated system saying something like, “The voicemail box of the person you are trying to reach is full and cannot accept any new messages at this time.” If they have no alternate method of contact, their choices are clear: keep calling until someone answers, or reach out to the next business who can meet their needs.
#4. Lost Revenue
If we look at the previous scenario, for callers who reach or are barred from your voicemail and are either impatient or need immediate assistance, you’ve just lost revenue. Do that a few times a week, and it will add up to a sizeable chunk. Imagine that you miss five emergency calls for which services would be billed at $100 per hour. In one week, you’ve lost $500. And in one month, you’ve lost $2,000. That’s far below the cost of outsourcing, even for some of the higher-tiered call plans.
Live Operator Receptionist Service - Pros
#1. It’s Personal
What’s more personal than a live operator answering your calls? Not only will your customers hear a friendly, helpful voice on the other end of the line, but in-call scripts can be customized to present the specific image that you would present if you were answering the calls yourself. You can provide the answer phrase, various call types, a list of Frequently Asked Questions, and every statement or question in between. Then, when you receive an inbound call, your customized script pops up for the operators to use so that they’ll know exactly how to respond to any customer request.
#2. There are Advanced Features
One of the benefits of outsourcing your call answering to a receptionist service is the advanced features that you’ll have at your disposal. For example, they may offer helpdesk support, appointment setting, e-commerce services, email and text notification of new messages, online or mobile app access to your account, bilingual representatives, and more. Your account can be built to mirror your operation from soup to nuts, and you’ll have call details at your fingertips, no pen and paper needed.
#3. 24-Hour Availability
When was the last time that you answered your phone 24 hours a day? Unless you were recently on a coffee and Mountain Dew bender, we’re guessing the answer is never. Everyone needs rest. How could you run a successful business if you were sleepwalking through your days? That’s the beauty of working with call center services. You won’t generally see fees assessed for round-the-clock availability. This is not only ideal for capturing every inbound call, but it’s also a critical element for any business where emergencies have the potential to crop up at any hour.
#4. Immediate Response Time
In the event of an emergency, your callers expect the assurance that comes with a receptionist service. Sometimes, speaking to an operator is all that a customer needs to rest easy about an issue that they’re having. But if the situation warrants, you may need to be contacted immediately, and that is where warm and cold transfers and reach on-call services come in handy. You can choose which calls are sent to you in which manner, and dial-out schedules can be submitted in advance so that the operators will always be calling the right person, at the right time, on the right day.
#5. Gained Revenue
When people are looking for a new service or vendor, they may be surfing through businesses listed on Google or Yelp, and dialing around until they find the best deal. If they hit voicemail, they’ll be inclined to move on to the next listing; but reaching a live operator is instant lead capture that will help bring in revenue. Not only that, but when callers receive personal attention and top-notch service, they are likely to recommend you to friends and family, and word of mouth referrals can be a significant source of future income.
Live Operator Receptionist Service - Cons
#1. Room for Error
Anytime that you’re dealing with a human being, the potential for error exists. Even if your script is laid out perfectly, operators may still take the wrong call path resulting in confusion for you and your callers. Or, they may take the right call path but incorrectly document details, such as name misspellings, transposing a call back number, missing a letter in an email address, etc. While there are verification measures built into script instructions to reduce or eliminate these issues, they can still happen.
#2. There May Be Extra Fees
Of course, any receptionist service is going to require monthly out-of-pocket costs, though there are typically a number of plans that will ensure you aren’t paying any more than you need to. When you factor advanced features into the mix, such as appointment setting, online order taking, and warm transfers, you could be looking at additional fees. Depending on your customers’ average invoice totals, this may or may not be worth the expense.
#3. Hold Times
Is there any guarantee that outsourcing your reception needs means no caller will ever be placed on hold? Unfortunately not. No service can guarantee zero hold times any more than you could guarantee that you would never have to place a caller on hold if you were manning your own phones. There are business owners who feel that if they’re going to use a live operator service, their customers should not have to wait for assistance. In a perfect world, that’s what everyone wants. But in the call center industry, it is an unrealistic expectation.
Deciding whether to ditch voicemail in favor of a live operator answering service may be one of the easiest decisions that business owners consider. It really comes down to your needs and your call volume. Do you have enough revenue to justify the monthly cost of outsourcing on top of your existing phone bill, or are you just starting out and super budget-conscious? The great thing about call center services is that they typically offer plans to fit any budget. So, don’t nix that option right out of the gate. Do your research, ask other business owners what works for them, and talk to a few services. You’ll quickly find out which option tips the scales.
Publish Date: December 17, 2018 5:00 AM
Over the last decade, technology has evolved at an alarming rate. From face recognition in our smart phones to cars that drive themselves, it’s amazing how much technology is a part of our everyday lives. While I think we can all agree that robots are awesome, businesses should not be so quick to use robots to replace live people - at least for their customer service. Unless you don’t care about your customers at all, we’ve listed 5 reasons why you should not be replacing your human staff for fully automated customer support.
#1. Users want immediate answers.
Auto-attendants are great at routing calls to the right agent, but they can’t do customer service well. As technology continues to evolve, consumers are becoming more and more accustomed to getting information with just a few clicks or a ‘Hey Alexa’ shout out. Like Veruca Salt, your customers want answers now. The longer your auto-attendant process is and the more options your callers have to press through to reach the end of the maze, the more likely they are to hang up. As an answering service business, we actually dig IVRs, but not as a single solution. We recommend using IVRs as part of a larger whole. If you’re going to use an auto-attendant, consider these tips:
- Make the greeting short and sweet so that your callers can get through to a live voice as quickly as possible. Limit your options in any menu to no more than 4 options, and ideally 2 or 3.
- If they’re calling for simple questions like your business hours and address, have an IVR option be a recording that will relay all of that information instead of having your callers sit through the menu options each time they call.
- Always have a press 0 auto-attendant option route to your answering service to answer simple questions via your FAQs so your callers can get the information they need from a real person. If your callers are asking questions the operators are not able to answer, they can at least take messages or transfer the call, whereas your auto-attendant would simply hang up. Rude!
- Have a live voice record your auto-attendant messages instead of a computer. The live voice gives your company a personal touch and will be easier for your callers to understand.
#2. Nothing compares to a live voice.
Sometimes auto-attendants are necessary, like when you want your callers to choose 1 to speak with an English representative or 2 to speak with a Spanish representative. However, nothing compares to speaking to an actual human being that can hear their concerns, understand what they are asking for, and ultimately come up with a resolution.
Even if you’re using an answering service and the agent isn’t able to immediately help the caller, they can still take a message and assure them their call will be returned in a timely fashion. This approach is a lot better than having your customers leave a voicemail, as they won’t be certain when or even if their call will be returned.
#3. Auto-attendants aren’t always right.
Technology is only as smart as it’s creator. If your business or answering service is using an auto-attendant, you’ll want to make sure it’s always relaying the most up to date information. For example, if you have an extension list for callers to choose who they want to speak with, make sure it has the most current employees. Sometimes callers will find that the staff member they wish to speak with no longer works there, but their name still appears as an option. Or, worse yet, if a new hire isn’t included in the dial by name directory.
In addition, businesses often times move locations or add temporary holiday messages but then forget to update their automated greetings. While small, all of these hiccups can give your business a bad look as customers may think you’re not on your game. I love Christmas as much as the next person, but having a business wish me a Merry Christmas in March just isn’t cool.
#4. Your customers don’t feel heard.
While IVR services (interactive voice response) can mean pressing different options on the keypad to get to a specific department or person, the true meaning of IVR means the caller is speaking into the phone to the machine to be directed accordingly. Often times you’ll see this option with telecommunication companies like Comcast or Verizon. While it seems like a more technologically advanced solution, it can be quite annoying if the caller has to keep repeating themselves because the attendant can’t figure what they’re saying, or if the callers’ option isn’t pre-programmed and the IVR is left confused.
When the caller does finally get through to a live agent, IVR hell has them worked up which makes for an unpleasant experience for the support rep on the other line. While CSRs are supposed to remain calm and collected no matter what the situation, no body likes to be yelled at, especially if it can be avoided with live operator love.
#5. Callers want options.
Relatively speaking, many people enjoy helping themselves and may actually prefer using an auto-attendant over having to speak to a real person. However, there are just as many people who still like the personal touch of talking to another human when they need help. You should give your callers the option to choose how they want to be assisted instead of just giving them one option over the other.
It’s helpful if your auto-attendant offers callers a choice on how they’d like to continue. For example, if they’d like to continue with the self service route, they can press 1 to be taken to the directory of options. If they would like to speak to a live person, press 2 or say ‘Operator’. It’s also a good idea to make it known that if they choose the self-service option and change their mind, they can press 0 at any time to either be taken back to the main menu, or be transferred directly to a customer service agent. While auto-attendants are helpful, they should not be the primary means of support for your customers. Ultimately, auto-attendants are the most effective when they are working in tandem with real agents.
Publish Date: December 7, 2018 5:00 AM
Way back in the day, before automatic call distribution technologies evolved, calls used to be manually routed by operators working massive switchboards – so gigantor and with so many lines that many switchboard supervisors had to wear roller skates to get around faster! Sadly, the days of roller skating supervisors are long gone. (The office would be so much more fun on 8 wheels!) But call routing is bigger and better than ever.
Today, ACD software and skills-based routing help calls get from A to B in a flash, and callers’ issues are handled by the most knowledgeable customer service representatives for the job. It’s a far cry from switchboard operators and manual connection, and decidedly more efficient. Here’s a fun infographic to help you explore the wide world of modern call routing.
Want to learn more about call routing and ACD technology? Get your read on with this white paper!
A History of Call Routing
Did you know that the first call routing systems involved live operators manually connecting calls on a switchboard? But the drawbacks were:
- Some operators worked hard while others did nothing
- There were delays due to operator error
- Operators weren’t perfect. They made many mistakes
Later automation began in the form of: Automatic Call Distribution (ACD)
Learn About Today’s ACD Technology
Current ACD routing has drastically improved. ACD offers reporting capabilities such as:
- Measuring agent productivity
- Reporting the number of calls dropped
#1. The role of ACD is to route incoming calls in the following situations:
- When there is a sudden spike of incoming calls
- When call response time is critical
#2. Direct Call Routing
- Allows users to direct themselves to the appropriate agent based on their needs
#3. Remote Routing
- Allows workforce to be located around the globe (virtual call centers)
- Achieved by the use of routers
ACDs in Call Centers
Call centers use ACD technology to improve efficiency by:
- Reducing downtime
- Distributing workload equally among agents
Identifying Types of Call Centers
#1. Outbound Call Centers
- ACDs are used where predictive dialing methods are used
- Predictive dialer - makes outbound calls from a database
- Did you know that outbound call centers are used mainly for telemarketing and sales?
#2. Virtual Call Centers
- Did you know that many “call centers” actually consists of different people from multiple locations all working together?
#3. Inbound Call Centers
- A call center with agents who mainly answer the calls for the company
- Important advantage: The caller does not know the location of the agent. This can give the company a local presence when in reality the caller is across the country.
#4. Fully Integrated Call Centers
- A fully integrated call center can handle both inbound and outbound calls.
What is Skills Based Routing?
Skills Based Routing is simply the process of directing calls to the most qualified agents. Incoming calls are placed in call groups based on:
- The customers’ questions/concerns
- The customers’ previous call history
But how is the appropriate call representative chosen?
- Clients will get paired with a representative who is best suited to answer their questions or help them with an issue
- Enhances customer experience by routing call to knowledgeable agent
- Clients will get paired with a representative that handled their previous calls
What are the benefits of ACD systems? They can:
- Reduce the amount of time a caller is on hold
- Reduce the number of calls dropped
- Handle many calls per hour
- Make it easier to reach operators
- Extend the hours of operation since ACDs allow businesses to accept calls 24/7
Customer Service is Key!
ACD technology can offer:
- Faster connection times: Automatically routes the calls to an available agent
- Minimal waiting time: If live agents are busy, callers will be connected to automated agents
- Increased conversion rates: Reduces the number of calls dropped
- Higher percentage of first call resolution: Skill-based routing leads to a better resolution of the call
About ACD Functions & Features
#1. Advanced Functions
- The ability to recognize and properly route incoming calls (Skills Based Routing)
- Did you know that some ACD software allows the call operator to view the callers information of their computer screen while they are on the phone?
- With this technology there is the option to create reports based on the call information, such as:
- Type of calls
- How the agent handled the call
- Volume of calls
#2. Basic Functions
All of these features come standard with ACD software:
- Ability to assign incoming calls
- To terminal that has been idle for the longest period of time
- If all terminals are busy, the calls are queued
- Offer the option to leave a message
- Measure average wait time of the calls
#1. Database Systems Corp. (DSC)
- Makes their own integrated IVR software (both digital and analog), which:
- Can manage multiple call queues
- Can maintain call logs and reports on:
- Call queues
- Agent idle time
- Hold times
- Offers integrated software with features like:
- Skills-Based Routing
- Links the telephone and the computer
- Report generating
- Is a hosted solution, which means it runs over the internet. This software includes:
- Report generation
- Real-time monitoring
- Quick set up
- Call distribution
#4. CosmoCom’s Universe
- Is a virtual ACD software, which is ideal for call centers/businesses who are using a virtual presence. This software offers features like:
- Text chats
- Inbound/outbound calls
Publish Date: December 5, 2018 5:00 AM
Call Center software, also known as contact center software, is the technology that call centers and answering services use to not only route and answer calls, but to also provide your callers with exceptional customer support. Call center software allows calls to be routed to the appropriate distribution (think “press 1 for English, press 2 for Spanish” options), but it also allows the virtual staff to push information through to your customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and manage omni-channel interactions, on top of the standard technology of entering data and placing callers on hold when necessary.
Since technology is ever changing, industries that use technology need to change with it in order to keep up with the growing market. But the problem for call centers is this: with so many entries into the marketplace, how do you know which software will work best for your small business? Great news! We made a neat infographic with a bunch of useful intel that just might help you decide.
Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Software
- Can multiple agents work on the same case?
- Is there an integrated knowledge base?
- Is there a free trial?
- Is the call center software CRM compatible?
- Does the software handle inbound calls, outbound calls, or both?
- Can the software be custom developed?
- Case Collaboration
- A Web Panel
- Real Time Reporting features
- Call forwarding
- Virtual call queue
- Easy integration with popular CRM software
Terms You’ll Want to Know
- Case Collaboration: Allows employees to communicate and work together.
- Web Panel: Allows sales agents to view and enter information about customers.
- Multi-Communication: Enables e-mail, social media, and chat capabilities.
- Knowledge Base Integration: Articles your agents may need to reference when taking a call.
- Virtual Queuing: Allows calls to be placed on hold.
- Text to Speech: A feature that allows text information to be automatically converted into spoken words.
- Customer Information Display: When a call comes in, the customer’s information and any associated cases will also pop up.
- Telephony Integration: Allows a cloud or virtual based service to communicate flawlessly with standard telephone systems.
Comparing Call Center Software Providers
Salesforce.com’s Service Cloud
- User friendly
- Can integrate with Salesforce’s cloud.
- Only available as part of the Service Cloud package.
- Detailed reports
- Multi-communication reduces labor costs
- Native integration with Salesforce CRM
- Award winning user interface
- 99.99% uptime
- No free trial
- Professional service capabilities
- Knowledge base integration
- Excellent service
- Multi-communication and click-to-dial features
- No knowledge base integration
- Web panel displays all information needed by call center agents
- Allows agents access to campaign management tools, reporting features, and recorded conversations
- Great range of features
- Offers disaster recovery services
- Cannot integrate knowledge bases
- Self-hosted so no telephony integration
- Service supports multi-communication and CRM integration
- Some pretty robust report generating capabilities
- Handles automatic case forwarding and virtual queuing
- No annual service fees
- Exceptional list of features
- No knowledge base integration
- Allows multi site or home office locations
- 24/7 support
- No case collaboration
- No knowledge base integrations
- Training videos
- Pricing structure varies by type of company
- Can handle spikes in volume and load balancing
- More basic than competitors
- Business continuity through natural disasters, security emergencies, etc.
- Load balancing
- Call monitoring
Want more details and tips on call center software? More great news! Check out this white paper on call center software!
Publish Date: June 21, 2018 5:00 AM
Working in a call center can be stressful. However, it does come with it’s fair share of perks, like being able to speak to people all over the world and not having to take any work home with you when your shift is up.
To help put you in the shoes (or headset) of a virtual receptionist, we interviewed Krystle M., one of our long time answering service agents. Keep reading to hear some great stories and to get amazing tips for beginners on how to survive working at a call center.
1. Tell us a little about yourself, Krystle.
I am one of the operators at SAS and have been working in the answering service industry for 10 years.
2. What’s your favorite part of being a customer service representative?
Being able to speak to people all over the United States.
3. Is it hard to talk on the phone when you get home?
Yes. I usually don’t answer calls at home, I only text.
4. Have you ever lost your voice from talking on the phone so much?
No, but my throat gets really dry, so I drink a lot of water all day.
5. What’s the hardest part(s) of working in a call center?
As in any other job, you can’t please everyone.
6. How do you handle stressful situations at work? (e.g., upset callers, being on the phone all day, etc.)
I just get up from my station and take a break to collect myself.
7. Describe the strangest call you’ve ever received at work.
I had a person call swearing someone was playing a prank on her by throwing dog feces all over her yard. Then she said that she has all of these holes all over my yard. Well come to find out she had her lawn aerated.
8. What’s the most awkward way a company has asked you to answer their phones?
“Sexual addiction hotline how may I help you?”
9. On average, how many different companies do you think you represent each day?
10. In 10 words or less, how would you describe the work environment in a call center?
Roller coaster of emotions.
11. Do you have any tips on keeping a good tone throughout your shift?
Getting an angry tone won’t make anything better, so try to calm the situation.
12. What kind of advice would you give to a new hire?
Don’t take any calls personal.
13. Is it hard not to laugh if someone gives you a funny email address?
No, I keep it professional.
14. What do you do in between taking phone calls?
Check over accounts to make sure there is nothing that needs to be done.
15. What’s your favorite snack to eat at work?
16. What do you do when you’re not sure how to answer a caller’s question?
I just apologize to them and explain that I am the receptionist and not qualified to answer their particular question.
Publish Date: June 19, 2018 5:00 AM
So, you run a small business. You’re super busy every day and your to-do list is growing and growing. Sometimes it can feel like there’s no end in sight. You’re considering using a live telephone answering service to assist with daily activities like answering phones, scheduling appointments, capturing new leads and providing around the clock customer service. You’ve researched different services but still have questions. If you’re still wondering if a virtual receptionist is going to be right for you, we’ve put together the top 6 reasons why your business may need an answering service.
Defining “Answering Service”
An answering service does exactly what its name suggests: it’s a group of receptionists there to answer your telephone when you can’t - or just don’t want to. Typically, these calls are of a message taking nature; someone calls your business, you aren’t available, the receptionist takes a message on your behalf and sends you the details. Every day businesses rely on answering services to provide personal, live customer service around the clock.
An answering service is often the first point of contact when you reach out to a small business. Customers need to know their request is received, and an answering service representative is there 24/7 with a warm, friendly voice to help.
Top 6 Reasons Why Your Business Needs an Answering Service
1. To Help Handle High Volume
As a business owner, you’re familiar with the days when the phone never seems to stop ringing. From the time you walk in the door to the time you walk out (and maybe even when you get home, too), your phone is poppin’. Whether you’re airing a new product or campaign and expecting high call volume, or your business is just amazing and naturally busy, answering services are a great tool to help alleviate some pressure on you and your employees.
Since answering services are equipped to handle thousands of customer interactions a day, they can seriously help level up your customer service game by giving each of your callers the attention they deserve. Think about it. If you let your callers wait on hold for too long or direct them to a voicemail, chances are they won’t be too happy. Sure, they could call back at a later time, or they could contact your competitor instead. Womp womp.
2. To Help Capture New Leads
As a small business owner, it can be hard getting your feet off the ground and growing your client base. If you don’t have enough staff members to ensure none of your callers are waiting too long for help, you can kiss potential business goodbye. Answering services are not only there to answer your calls quickly, but they can also act as an extension to your business. Instead of just taking messages for a return call, they can actually assist your callers and help turn them into long-lasting customers.
Another way answering services can help capture new leads is by making outbound phone calls to people who have previously expressed interest in your company, whether it be through your website or previous interactions. Usually you can simply provide your service with the list of people to call, and a script for them to follow. If you’re like most small businesses, you don’t have the time to make many outbound phone calls to try and capture new leads, so having an answering service help with this task is a great way to save time and get some new customers on board.
3. To Help Dispatch Urgent Calls
For businesses that may expect urgent calls (medical practices, HVAC companies, etc.), answering services can really come in handy. Since they are usually available to field calls 24/7, they will be able to help handle any emergency call that may come in and direct the caller to the appropriate person via an on-call dispatching system.
The way in which answering services will dispatch calls and messages may vary, but the premise is the same - you let them know who to call and when, and they will get the message to the correct person. If your on-call schedule rotates on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, most answering services are able to accommodate that as well by providing you with access to an online portal which would allow you to make the changes on the go, or by allowing you to call into the service to make changes over the phone. The last thing you want is for one of your patients or customers to have to wait until business hours for assistance when the issue they are calling in about is serious.
4. To Help Schedule Appointments
In addition to helping dispatch urgent calls and messages 24/7, answering services are usually able to schedule appointments as well. Services that give you multiple scheduling options will be your best bet, as you don’t want to have to limit yourself or spend the time switching over to a brand new system. In addition, if you are a medical practice you’ll want to make sure that the answering service is HIPAA compliant so that all of your patient information stays protected.
Even if you do not run a medical practice, many businesses still rely on appointments. Some different ways you can utilize appointment scheduling based off your industry include:
- Beauty Salons: If you run a beauty salon, then you definitely need appointment scheduling. Depending on the way in which your answering service schedules, you may even be able to set up different services. For example, a cut and color may cost $80 and may last for an hour, whereas a simple trim may cost $10 and may only last for 15 minutes. Adding various services into your schedule will allow you to maximize your day and will also help your answering service learn more about your business.
- HVAC Companies: HVAC companies also use appointments to map out their daily jobs. While they may not offer as many services as a beauty salon, another feature that would be compatible with HVAC companies is checking to see if a caller is in your service area. Some answering services can do this just by asking for the caller’s zip code, and others may be able to actually input the caller’s address into an app like Google Maps. By having the answering service gather and check this information, you and your team can save a lot of time by not having to weed these callers out yourself.
- Law Firms: If you’re an attorney, chances are you spend the majority of your time meeting with clients or representing them in court, which means you aren’t free to schedule appointments yourself. As long as you give your answering service your schedule, they’ll be able to schedule consultations with new potential clients so that you don’t wind up missing any business opportunities.
5. To Help Place Orders
Whether you run an eCommerce company or if your business allows customers to purchase products online, answering services can rock your world too. While not all services can go out to your website to place orders, many of them can, so you’ll want to make sure you do your research before hand.
In addition, you’ll want to make sure that the service is ISO 27001 certified and PCI compliant if they will be taking credit card information from your customers. The last thing you want is for one of your customers to experience fraud at the hands of your answering service, which could fall back on your company.
6. To Provide 24/7 Customer Service
Last, but not least, many businesses need an answering service to help provide their callers with 24/7 customer support. Many businesses aren’t able to stay open all the time, which means their customers suffer, especially if something happens over the weekend and no one is available to assist them. No matter what type of business you run, you can’t go wrong with giving your customers a number to call should they need help after hours.
If you don’t happen to have any sort of support after hours, the likelihood that your customers will leave your service or company in search of another one that IS available 24/7 is not a chance you should be willing to take. Unless of course you have too many customers and are trying to thin out the herd…said no business ever.
Publish Date: June 13, 2018 5:00 AM