Specialty Answering Service - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
We are happy to announce that the new version of your SAS portal (SASDesk.com) will be available to SAS customers globally in a few weeks. The new release features intuitively designed systems, allowing our customers to make account changes more easily. Our software and app will enhance navigation and simplify scripting, giving you more control over your account and call flow.
While the v3 release is still weeks away, you’ll see some changes starting tomorrow (2/4/2020) in your portal that will work in tandem with future updates. Here’s a list of what’s been adjusted:
- Campaigns are Scripts and Locations are Profiles: You’ll see Script and Profiles in place of Campaigns and Locations throughout the site.
- Call Status is Tag and Call Result is Outcome: Along with Script and Profile, Tag and Outcome will complete your new filters. They will be visible at the top of the call table, and the toolbar at the bottom will allow you to “change tag(s)” instead of “change status.”
- Status Update is now Agent Alert: Adding last-minute changes just got easier! Alerts will automatically display on every page, and the “Operator note” is where you’ll indicate the information you want our operators to be aware of - e.g., closure due to inclement weather.
Access Temporarily Disabled
- Adding Users: While we’re working on the v3 release, the ability to add users in your portal has been temporarily disabled. Don’t worry, you can still contact customer service if you need to add a user and we’ll do it for you.
- User Access Permissions: Adjusting user permissions as they relate to Scripts and Profiles has been temporarily disabled, as well. Again, if you need to adjust user permissions, please contact customer service. You can still adjust permissions as they relate to which parts of the SAS portal your users can access.
Deprecated Components Removed
- Messenger: Access to the Messenger feature has been removed from the left panel.
- Calendar: Access to the calendar has been removed from profiles, and settings have been removed from profiles. If you are using the SAS calendar and need to adjust your settings for any reason, please contact customer service. Please also note that this feature will be officially retired shortly after the v3 release.
As we get closer to the v3 release, we’ll post details here about what to expect to make sure your company has ample time to adjust to any changes.
Publish Date: February 3, 2020 5:00 AM
The right answering service can make all the difference in the success of your small business. But before you commit to what you think is the best answering service for your needs, you need to look at the service from all sides. We know it’s a daunting task, but we’re here to help. We’ve been in the answering service industry for over 30 years and speak to small businesses every day, helping them determine if SAS is the right solution for their needs. With literally thousands of telephone answering services, any of them can be ‘the one’. And with so many choices, the task of finding ‘the one’ isn’t that simple. The reality of looking for the right answering service can be a challenge. To make it easy, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for and what questions to ask to find what you need. So, to help, we’ve come up with a list of 10 essential factors to consider when searching for an answering service.
#1. Think 24/7
One of the most vital requirements your business may have for the perfect answering service is making sure the service is available 24/7. Because one of the answering service’s main goals is to make sure your business is always open, being able to rely on an answering service on nights, weekends, and holidays is crucial. If you’ll be relying on your answering service to capture leads and dispatch urgent calls, seriously think about a service that is open all day and night. While many answering services do offer 24/7 availability, it may come at a cost.
For example, some services may charge an extra fee to answer your calls after 9pm or on a holiday. Another caveat may be that the answering service only offers live support up until a certain time, and then switches over to an automated system. Answering services that offer 24/7 live support at no additional costs are the services that are truly there to help your business succeed, and is definitely a feature you should be looking for.
#2. Operators Are Representing Your Business
The right business answering service can make or break your company. The professionalism of the operators are one of the most important features you can look for in an answering service. Without great operators, you’ll have a difficult time ensuring all of your customers are being taken care the same way as your own employees would take care of them. For most businesses, one of the key components to a great service is the operators ability to properly represent the company they are answering for. Some businesses require a lively, energetic operator - while others, like funeral homes or medical practices, will require their operators to be calm and composed. Beneath any personality requirements is the operators ability to be nimble, to adapt to the needs of the caller, and be able to evaluate every situation and react accordingly. Because every caller is different, you’ll want to look for agents that can adapt well.
#3. Personalize Your Callers Experience
If you want to maintain continuity between the calls you handle in your own office and the calls the answering service is handling, you’ll need to make sure your answering service is as personal as can be. You won’t want your answering service to use generic call handling templates as that won’t make your clients feel like they’ve called your office. Generic call handling makes your customers feel like a number - personal call handling makes your callers feel like you care. In order for an answering service to feel like a part of your business, you’ll want to make sure their call scripting can be customized to your specific business needs. An answering service that answers and handles each call the same way for every business isn’t really helping anyone. Sure, gathering a name and number is important, but each business has different needs that should be able to be met by the service.
Since all businesses depend on customer loyalty, a personal answering service will let your callers know how important their business is. You love your customers, and a personal experience will show them how much you really do love them. Make sure you take the time to work with your answering service and personalize the experience as much as you can to make sure your business is being reflected.
#4. Know Your Budget
You’ll find telephone answering services ranging from $0 to start on a free trial to just about any price you can imagine. Most services do not have a flat rate structure but instead charge based on line activity. The more traffic you put through the answering service, the more expensive your price. So, if you have a high volume business - you can do the math there. Other answering services have different pricing tiers which offer allotments in use. With this, the cost is more affordable but you need to have a predictable monthly call volume for the cost to make sense. If you know your budget, your call volume, and how you plan on using the answering service, you can dictate the best pricing model for your business. Here are two common answering service billing structures:
- Per minute billing: In a per-minute billing structure, you are billed by the minute. Similar to a cell phone plan, these types of structures usually provide an allotment of minutes to use each month before having to pay for overages. A good answering service will offer several different plans depending on your call volume, and may even change your plan automatically if you happen to go over your usage threshold.
- Per call billing: In a per-call billing structure, you are billed by each call that comes in. Within this billing structure, it doesn’t matter how long your calls are. However, your answering service may charge extra for any messages sent, and calls that need to be dispatched may count as a separate billable call.
Pro tip: If your answering service offers both per-minute and per-call billing structures, it may be helpful to see which structure would be most cost-effective for you. Your service should be able to pull reports that break down your average monthly usage, which will help determine the better billing structure.
#5. Evaluate Features Before You Buy
Before signing up with an answering service, always check to see if they offer a free trial period. This is a great way to get a feel for the service before having to pay, especially if the service requires you to sign a contract. If they do offer a free trial, here are some tips on getting the most out of that trial period:
- Place test calls: Placing test calls will give you an idea of what your customers will experience when they call. It’s also a great opportunity to make sure there are no hiccups with the call handling.
- Make updates: If there are any issues, the free trial period is a good time to iron out kinks and make necessary changes before going live with your customers.
- Test various features: Like this post suggests, answering services can typically do more than just answer your calls. The trial period is a good time to get acquainted with the various features they offer, and if they’ll work with your business structure. For example, you can test out their appointment scheduling software or see how their on-call dispatching system works.
#6. Consider You’ll Need an Online Interface
Some answering services offer email, text, or fax transmission of messages without the ability to check those messages online. While piecemeal messages may work for some, most businesses prefer having the ability to see their current and past messages online. With a web portal, you’ll have more control over reviewing your messages. While customer portals will differ from answering service to answering service, some common features may include:
- A log of call of your calls/messages
- The ability to listen to call recordings
- Access to your call handling and the ability to make updates in real time
- On-demand access to reports
- The ability to upload and manage your on-call schedule
#7. Emergency Dispatching System
No matter what type of business you run, you’ll most likely have a need for urgent dispatch. Whether you’re dispatching hot leads or urgent medical situations, you’ll want to find an answering service that can work closely with your in-house team and can adhere to your schedule(s) accordingly. Here are some things to look for in an answering service’s dispatching system:
- Are they available 24/7? Usually businesses use their on-call system for urgent issues that happen after-hours. If an answering service’s dispatching system is not available when you need them most, they probably aren’t the service for you.
- Can you make updates on your own or do they have to be submitted? Having to wait to submit changes can be detrimental if you’re in a bind. For example, say your on-call technician has a family emergency and can’t cover the shift. However, it’s already after-hours so your answering service’s customer support team is unavailable for immediate changes. When your answering service gives you access to an online portal or mobile app that allows you to make changes in real time, you can save the hassle of reaching out to customer service, and make the changes all on your own.
- Can you upload your existing schedule? Having the ability to upload your existing schedule right into your answering service’s system is a great time-saver and eliminates the need to do double the work.
- Are they HIPAA compliant? For medical practices, this is a big one. A HIPAA compliant answering service will not leave any patient information on your voicemail or through any messages. You would either be able to call your service back or log into a secure online portal to retrieve the message.
#8. Make Things Easy
Your answering service needs to be easy to use, and easy to make any changes. If you select a provider that makes it difficult to make script changes, make simple updates like changing a text message number or email address, or update your on-call schedule, it will hinder your company’s ability to work smoothly with your answering service provider. The point of an answering service is to help make running your business and handling day to day communication tasks easier - not more difficult. If you’re able to take free trial periods, you’ll need to spend a bit of time testing. Take advantage of any live demos to find out if the service you’re considering is user-friendly enough for your business and employees. Otherwise, you may find that your answering service is more of a pain to use and it’s not helping anything.
#9. Check 3rd Party App Compatibility
One of the issues you may have in finding the right answering service solution is that the system may need to be compatible with any software you’re currently using in your office. Because some software and calendars don’t play well with others (i.e. there is no API and operators may need to log in to post updates), the task can be a bit of a challenge. Depending on how important the integration is, you may need to rethink how important it is for your answering service to use it. If you do find a service that works with the software you’re already using, most integrations will push information gathered by the operators directly through to your software, updating it in real time and simultaneously cutting down on the amount of work you and your staff have to do since you won’t need to log into multiple systems to retrieve your data.
#10. Don’t Forget About Security
In many cases, your answering service will either be housing sensitive information or passing information back and forth between systems you’re already using. For medical practices or eCommerce companies, finding an answering service that is either PCI and/or HIPAA compliant is essential. If a medical or eCommerce company is using an answering service that is not compliant, they could be held accountable for any violations, which may result in thousands of dollars in fines, a loss of business, an even jail time. For these reasons, make sure the answering service you use is secure. Below is a break down of what it means to be both PCI and HIPAA compliant, and how answering services adhere to those rules.
- PCI Compliant: To combat the increase in security data breaches, The Payment Card Industry and the Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) were created. In order to maintain PCI compliance, companies who accept credit card information must complete a yearly self-assessment and pass a quarterly security scan. Some ways that answering services maintain PCI compliance is by requiring employees to work in paperless environments and turning off call recordings when taking payment information.
- HIPAA Compliant: HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was created to help regulate and protect the private health information of patients. In order to maintain HIPAA compliance, answering services cannot send any patient information through text, email or voicemail. All messages and calls should be stored in a secure online portal that customers can log into using a username and password. Answering services who are HIPAA compliant should also sign a BAA with your company to securely disclose private information.
An Answering Service Is An Essential Business Tool
Remember, a telephone answering service serves a much greater purpose than just answering your telephone lines, taking messages, and dispatching important calls. It will make your customer service stronger, your day more productive, and callers won’t fall through the cracks like they do with voicemail.
Publish Date: January 21, 2020 5:00 AM
Many businesses lean on answering services to help streamline customer communication and increase customer satisfaction. Answering services provide a group of real people to answer calls on behalf of companies 24/7. However, not many businesses really understand the inner workings of an answering service, and who they rely on to handle their businesses communications day in and day out. Answering services are more than just receptionists answering calls. There are a lot of moving parts working together to achieve one common goal; to help grow your business through exceptional customer service. Let’s take a look at the top 5 key personnel from your answering service and why they are so important.
#1. The Operators
Operators, or virtual receptionists, are the front line of your business at the answering service, which means they are often the first impression your customers have. If your customers can’t reach a live voice when they call and are either playing phone tag or waiting (and waiting) for a call back, they’re going to get the feeling like they don’t matter. Callers who are greeted with a warm, friendly voice who can help answer their questions are 70% more likely to become paying customers over callers who reach an impersonal answering machine.
Being your businesses voice takes more skill than being able to speak. Operators utilize a variety of different skills and easily adapt to many scenarios. For example, one moment they could be speaking to a senior citizen who may need the operator to patiently help them understand a specific insurance policy, while the next call could be someone seeking legal assistance regarding delicate matters. And of course, you can’t forget the phone calls from angry customers who just want their issue resolved now. Operators have:
- Excellent listening and communication skills
- Have an amazing phone demeanor
- Can be empathetic when the situation calls for it
- Have a strong attention to detail and are able to document calls and relay messages perfectly
- Have a great short term memory if they need to document calls after the caller has hung up
- Able to keep a steady composure and calmly diffuse even the most tense situations
- Have intuition and perception to quickly determine the needs of each individual caller
Agents have to learn to maintain their composure in tough situations and decipher what the caller needs to help them as quickly and efficiently as possible. This job can be tough but it can also be very rewarding. To learn more about what makes up a good operator, check out our virtual receptionist interview!
#2. The Programmers
Simple programming changes, like swapping one number for another, can usually be done by the operator while you’re on the phone. However, a change like adding a new script path or programming a complex on-call scenario is usually done by the programmers. A successful answering service programmer is:
- Proficient in the specific programming and/or coding terminology the answering service uses
- Able to come up with creative solutions to build a script that will work for the operators as well as the customer
- Skilled at time management and able to prioritize their workload to the account changes that are urgent, and ones that can wait
- A great communicator and able to work with the support team to clarify programming notes to make sure what the client is asking for is actually something the answering service can do effectively
If you have concerns with the quality of your calls or how much usage you’re accruing, programmers are great at offering suggestions that will help cut down on calls and and usage. As an outsider, you may be quick to set up your call script to match your in-house protocols. However, the programmers at your answering service will know best if certain call handling procedures will work or not and how to come up with a solution that is suitable for everybody.
#3. The Team Leads
Operators are people. People will make mistakes from time to time, which is why Team Leads are so important. The Team Leads are typically responsible ensuring the quality of a small operator group. One way they do this is by pulling random calls for quality reviews and helping operators improve by offering advice and additional training classes. When things get busy, they can don the operator hat and hop on the phones as well. However, their main goal is to make sure the operators are always at their very best! Team leads are responsible for:
- Keeping their team of operators on track
- Answering questions and helping operators solve problems
- Handling escalations for irate callers before a floor supervisor needs to be involved
If you’re ever concerned with how a call was handled, the Team Lead is the go-to person to help get to the bottom of the issue. A change in the scripted call handling may be warranted or the operator may need to receive some additional training. Essentially, the Team Lead is there to oversee their specific group of team members and make sure they are operating like a well-oiled machine.
#4. The Floor Supervisor
Similar to a Team Lead, the Floor Supervisor is crucial in day to day operations. Floor Supervisors typically have years of call center experience and understand what it takes to be an operator, as well as a manager. They oversee everyone, operators and Team Leads alike, and are the last line in phone escalations to diffuse tough situations. When calls are escalated to a floor supervisor it is because the operator and the team lead have tried all they can to appease the customer, but they need backup. Ultimately, the floor supervisor accepts responsibility for everyone they employ. They will always work with you to come to a solution that is best for both parties and improve your overall quality of service. Each day, the floor supervisor:
- Provides further training opportunities for employees
- Analyzes data from days, weeks, and even months prior to ensure they are always staffed accordingly and meeting call center goals
- Identifies operational issues and works to come to a solution
- Monitors agent performance and provides coaching as needed
#5. The Support Team
The answering service customer support team is a group of problem solvers and help desk gurus. If they are troubleshooting a call, they evaluate where caller interactions went wrong and who of the above choices needs to be tapped in to help rectify the situation. In they are asked a question, like “how can I update my script?”, they have a strong knowledge of the system you’re using to lend a helping hand. A lot of the time, customer service works as a team with one or all of the aforementioned departments to resolve any issue. They bring ideas and creative solutions to the table as well. If you aren’t happy with your script, start with support! They handle hundreds of accounts every day and will have a handful of tips and tricks, suggestions and advice on how to create the best answering service experience and ultimately help your business relationship succeed. The support team is responsible for:
- Handling customer communication
- Making updates that don’t require an escalation to the programmers
- Suggesting script reviews and updates
- Diffusing situations where customers are angry
- Multitasking and handling multiple channels of communication including email, phone support and live chat
- Engaging in ongoing training about the systems they are using
Every answering service of course has their own hierarchy and their own troubleshooting process. This overview consists of the “must have” roles in the answering service business, and why they are so important to have. When you use a 24/7 answering service, it’s important to know who is behind the scenes at all times. Assembling a quality answering service team requires people who are patient, kind, adaptable, thick-skinned, creative, and quick thinking! With the team described above, you can’t possibly go wrong!
Publish Date: January 16, 2020 5:00 AM
Test your memory skills with our phone themed memory tile game. Specialty Answering Service’s memory tile game is a fun challenge that requires intense concentration, powerful observation, the ability to memorize tile positions, and a love for telephones. Be reminded of your favorite telephones of the past while developing your cognitive abilities!
Start improving your concentration today with the best telephone themed tile game available anywhere. Seriously. Simply print the downloadable PDF and follow the instructions! Want a preview? Check out the game below.
Publish Date: January 13, 2020 5:00 AM
It’s the start of 2020! And that means it’s time to bring the past into focus. Wait. What? That’s right, we’re talking about analyzing the top questions our support team were asked during the 2019 holiday season. Why would we do this? Great question. As we prepare our customer support team for the new year, we spend time analyzing data from last year’s support requests to find out more about gaps that may exist in how we’re educating customers about the self-service tools we offer, or just simply how our answering service operates over the holiday season.
By analyzing our customer service requests, we’re working towards a better, friendlier customer experience to help drive customer delight throughout the year! Here are the top 5 questions our Support Team received and how we answered them!
#1. Will my calls still be answered?
The #1 question we get from customers each holiday season is if we will still be available to answer their calls while their business is closed. Of course, our answer is always a resounding “yes!” Specialty Answering Service is a 24/7 answering service. That means we’re available all day, every day - even holidays. While you were enjoying quality time with your friends and family, sipping on eggnog and kissing under the mistletoe, our operators were hard at work making sure each of your customers were greeted with a warm, friendly voice.
#2. How do I let my customers know I’m closed?
December office schedules are always variable. Between closing early for holiday parties, or even being closed for days or weeks leading up to and after the holidays, business owners need a quick way to let their customers know they’re unavailable - or an easy way to let the operators know they should be following a holiday or after-hours schedule. With SAS, there are many ways to go about doing this and it really depends on the customer’s preference on how they want to proceed. Below is a list of things we can do to an account:
- Add a temporary recorded greeting on the line which lists the holiday hours.
- Update the script by adding a Date/Time Function that will automatically direct the operator to the temporary call handling.
- Add a Status Update or Special to the account which will expire after the designated date and time.
#3. Can I add a temporary greeting to my line?
Adding a temporary recorded greeting to your line is a great way to alert your customers right away of your holiday hours and is much less time consuming than making edits to your actual scripting protocol. In addition, it can help cut down on your call volume as customers who are just calling to hear your business hours will get their answer before reaching an operator.
Just send us a shout and our in-house recording artist will record your temporary greeting, and we attach it right to your line. Then, after the holidays are over, get in touch with us again to remove the temporary greeting and apply your old greeting.
#4. Can I update my script temporarily?
For customers who want the operators to relay a different message or follow a different protocol during a specific time frame over the holidays, we can implement a programming feature called a Date/Time Function. Once programmed in, this feature will automatically direct the operator down a different path depending on the date and/or time of the call. Then, after the the specified time frame is over, the script will automatically revert back to normal.
For customers wanting to implement this type of programming update, we always suggest that they submit changes at least a week before they want the change to go into effect.
#5. I forgot to submit my changes before the holiday. How can I update my account in a jiffy?
We always recommend sending updates to our support staff during business hours and at least 2 days in advance. However, customers can still make on the go updates right from their portal or mobile app whenever they’re in a bind by adding a Status Update. A Status Update is a temporary note that appears in red on the first screen of your script for the operators to see.
Since Status Updates are just temporary notes and not an actual script adjustment, we usually don’t recommend adding these in lieu of a programming update. However, if a customer forgot to reach out to our Support staff in time for the change to go into effect, they are able to add a Special themselves by either calling into their own line and having an operator do it, or logging into their portal.
Publish Date: January 7, 2020 5:00 AM
You may recall from your 6th grade science class that the first telephone was invented in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell. However, you may be surprised to learn that the first answering machine, called the Telegraphone, was created shortly after in 1898 by a man named Valdemar Poulsen. The Telegraphone was very different than the more modernized devices many people became familiar with in later decades, and looked more like a hand-crank pasta machine than an answering machine. Poulsen’s creation recorded sound on a magnetized wire, which could then be played back by the listener.
After Poulsen’s Telegraphone, the next model of answering machine wouldn’t be created until almost 20 years later. In 1914, Thomas Edison created the Telescribe, followed by Truman Stevens’ Phonograph created in 1925. While both the Telescribe and the Phonograph were unsuccessful products, they led to the design of other models that would launch the technology of telephone recording devices into a whole new playing field.
Starting in the 1930’s, the first automatic answering machine was created by Willy Mueller, and by the 1980’s there was a new model coming out almost every year. As new answering machines developed, they became smaller and more efficient by offering features like call screening, remote operation, digital voice prompting and more. At the turn of the new millennium, technology began to take off at a rapid speed, and answering machines soon developed into voicemail boxes that were pre-programmed into telephones. Not long after that, smart phone technology was introduced and today in 2019, separate answering machine devices are pretty much obsolete.
To learn more about answering machines, please check out the complete history of answering machines, where you can get an in-depth look at machines throughout the years. In our timeline, we’ve included pieces of history like newspaper clippings, TV advertisements, and more!
Publish Date: December 18, 2019 5:00 AM
2019 is coming to an end, which means we’re heading into a brand new decade. This change has us all feeling nostalgic, so we decided to do some research on novelty phones. Unless you were born within the past 15 years or so, you’re probably familiar with landline phones - the ones with the cords that were attached to your kitchen wall. Novelty phones are just like landline phones, just more fun.
If you don’t know what a novelty phone is or what one looks like, don’t worry. Check out our Ultimate Novelty Phone page to take a trip down memory lane. Some of the phones can still be found on eBay, and with Christmas just around the corner, we’re sure your loved ones would love to have a phone shaped like Crest toothpaste. Who doesn’t love a good novelty telephone! Click here to learn more about novelty telephones!
Publish Date: December 3, 2019 5:00 AM
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