Specialty Answering Service - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
You know the phrase. “For quality assurance, your call may be monitored or recorded.” Those words ring out millions of times a day as consumers contact businesses for customer service and support. But how about this – call recording started out in the air traffic control industry after the invention of magnetic tape. Who knew!
Today, call recording is a hugely important piece of the compliance puzzle, especially for industries that are extremely regulated, such as finance and insurance. And call recording in telephone answering services is a great way to check up on agents and evaluate their performance, while simultaneously providing the call center with a legal buffer.
Here’s an infographic we put together to help you learn about the basics of call recording software.
Read our extended resource to learn more about the history of call recording and the answering service industry.
If you’re writing about call recording software on your own website, please copy the code below to use this infographic:
Publish Date: November 2, 2017 5:00 AM
Reflect for a moment on how often you’ve dialed up a business and heard this: “Your call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes.” Sounds all too familiar, right? That phrase is commonplace these days, and it generally means that the company you’re trying to reach, or the answering service that is managing their inbound calls, is keeping tabs on communications to ensure that calls are fielded professionally and thoroughly.
Some answering services provide call recording for their clients as a courtesy. For many businesses, this is a great feature that enables you to have a full understanding of your customers’ needs, especially if you can’t quite catch all the details from the message you receive. It is also a means of protection against customers who may try to manipulate the system by stretching the truth. At the same time, it protects the consumer, should an issue arise with how they were treated.
What about Federal wiretapping laws?
Federal law and many State laws say that recording telephone calls and in-person conversations is permissible, as long as one party consents. That means that your call may be recorded, without your knowledge, because your consent isn’t required. However, there are some places where both parties must consent in order to legally record any communication. And that is where the “your call may be recorded” soundbite comes in. At the call center level, that brief, upfront recording lets both the caller and the operator know that they are on a monitored line.
Do all call centers record calls?
Some advanced answering services include call recording as part of your plan, and call recordings are made accessible via a public-facing portal. You’ll also find answering services that record calls, but recordings cannot be retrieved without directly requesting them. And if a bunch of clients call in at once for their recordings, the service will have a logistical nightmare on their hands. For smaller centers, recording software and file storage are expenses that they can’t justify. So, you may not have the option to record anything.
One thing that it’s important to be aware of is that your call center may technically be recording calls illegally. For example, let’s say that calls are being answered in a one-party state, such as New York, but the caller is located in a two-party state, such as California. Even though New York doesn’t require callers to be informed that they’re being recorded, if the call originates from a two-party state, then you usually defer to the stricter of the two States’ laws. You’ll want to keep that in mind if you run a national business with customers in both one-party and two-party States.
Is call recording right for my business?
With certain industries, e.g., criminal law, whistleblower hotlines, and medical clinics, if someone knows that their call is being recorded, they may be less inclined to stay on the line. And that can be a hindrance to growing your customer base. For the most part, though, call recording is ubiquitous, and consumers have come to expect it. Not only that, but there are a number of benefits to listening to a call after your customer hangs up.
That being said, if you are using an answering service that offers call recording, but you aren’t currently taking advantage of the feature, here are the top six reasons why you should!
- Identify areas for script content improvement based on call flow: Are there commonalities in the places where operators stumble, e.g., phrasing or industry-specific words? If you can find the spots that are tripping them up, then you may be able to tweak the language to make calls more fluid.
- Identify the most common questions / call types, and program the script accordingly: You might start off with a basic script - one path where you’re only gathering name, number and regarding. Then, as you listen to calls and review messages, you may notice that most after-hours callers need emergency service, whereas most business-hours callers are asking for the owner. That one path can then be split into three: Calling for Service, Calling for the Owner, and All Other Calls. You could even include a business hours function in the Service path to accommodate an after-hours reach on-call schedule.
- Identify operators who are unsure of themselves or unprofessional so that they can be trained or addressed accordingly: It’s easy to pick out the operators who just don’t feel comfortable on the phones. Maybe they are confused about your business, maybe they’re new, or maybe they’re just having a bad day. By listening to call recordings and providing feedback, you are giving the service a heads up on any holes in their training and helping them ensure that only the best of the best are fielding your calls.
- Identify operators who excel at what they do so that they can be recognized for their achievement: In the same way that you provide feedback for less-than-stellar performance, it is also a boon to any operator’s self-confidence when they know that they’ve represented your business exactly as you had hoped. A little kudos goes a long way to inspiring continued success!
- Gather call details in the event that the operator’s message is confusing, incomplete, or inaccurate: Despite any operator’s best efforts, there will be occasional mistakes in documentation. They are only human, afterall. In the event of errors or unclear message details, having that recording to refer to as a backup can mean the difference between hooking a new client or losing a lead.
- Have recordings on file when it comes to disgruntled or harassing customers: As a business owner, you hope that you’ll never have the displeasure of dealing with a customer who is determined to give you an earful. But as a realist, you know that you can’t please everyone all the time. That being said, for those times when callers are raging on the phone, having a recording of abusive behavior may afford you some leverage in how you choose to respond.
When the first device that recorded sounds was invented in 1857, no one could have predicted just how useful it would become in the modern era. So, as your business continues to move forward, keep up with the technology that was designed to make your life easier. Ask your answering service about call recording, and use it to your advantage!
Publish Date: October 30, 2017 5:00 AM
When you think about it, it costs an awful lot to fill your office with staff. We’re not just talking about the salaries that you’re paying. There are slew of expenses that, taken as a whole, may make your head spin. It’s a little thing called overhead, and there’s usually nothing little about it.
For many small businesses, there is a world of savings out there when you consider the benefits afforded by outsourcing your reception desk or customer service to a 24-hour answering service. For starters, you can forget about paying for things such as salaries, health insurance, computers, phones, desks, printers, paper, etc. And heck, if the business is super small, you may not need a brick-and-mortar office space at all! Rent and electricity savings. Check check.
Depending on the complexity of your business, call center services can do quite a bit to support operations at a fraction of the cost that it would require for you to do the same. So, the next time you’re walking through your office, make a mental note of the bags of money that you spend daily to keep things running. Once your head stops spinning, contact Specialty Answering Service, and sign up for a free two-week trial. Both you and your wallet will breathe a sigh of relief.
Publish Date: September 27, 2017 5:00 AM
As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, Mother Nature is unpredictable. One minute, she’ll give us sunshine and blue skies, and in the next, a hurricane will be barreling down your door. While we can’t always fully prepare for Mother Nature’s wrath, ensuring that your business’ communication lines are in constant operation in the midst of a crisis should never be left to chance.
For any industry, loss from fires, floods, natural disasters and other calamities can be mitigated by a well-designed business continuity plan (BCP), inclusive of an IT disaster recovery plan, that will outline specific, predetermined steps to be taken to help the business recover. This is especially true for the call center industry, which your business may rely on 24/7/365. Call center destruction impacts employees and their families, and quite obviously, the client base that the call center serves, should goods and services become temporarily or completely unavailable.
If you are currently outsourcing to an answering service that was hard-hit by Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma and had no business continuity plan in place, then you know firsthand how quickly communications can cease. Depending on the type of business you run, disaster recovery may not have been a major issue. But if you could not function without your offsite receptionists, then you were likely faced with a tough choice: can we stay afloat while we wait for the service to bounce back, or is it time to jump ship in search of a safer port-of-call?
Whether you’re working with an answering service, or you’re in the market for one, the guide below will provide an overview of the questions you’ll want to ask them to ensure that your business has maximum protection from any unwelcome events that may interrupt call center support. The more comprehensive the BCP, the more likely you won’t be dragged down with a sinking ship.
Power to the People
No, it’s not a rally cry. We mean power. Real power. Every piece of technology that the call center uses requires electricity. Ask these questions:
- What if your primary power source is cut off? Do you have a generator?
- If your generator goes down, do you have additional battery backup?
- How often do you check your backup systems to make sure that they are working properly?
- Are your building and systems grounded in the event of a lightning strike or other power surge?
VoIP and Phone Connectivity
A call center without phones is like a car without wheels. There’s not a whole lot the answering service agent can do other than sit there. Ask these questions:
- Are you using a hosted PBX with an automatic backup so that calls can be remotely rerouted to alternate lines, e.g., cell phones or voicemail?
- If you have an on-premises PBX system, do you have an SIP provider or hosted backup? (Centers with an on-premises PBX system will be at a loss to accept or reroute calls if the PBX fails, unless they are using an SIP trunking system or a hosted backup.)
- Is the system easily scalable for spikes in call volume?
- Do you have copper phone lines as a backup if all else fails?
- Do you have spare phones and VoIP connectors if individual devices fail?
The Data Dilemma
Many answering services provide more than message taking. They may be placing web-based orders, scheduling appointments online, managing your live chat channel, and more. Ask these questions:
- Are you running your data lines on a separate circuit than your voice lines? (The answer should be yes. If VoIP goes down, you may still have data. Or if data goes down, you may still have VoIP.)
- If data lines are affected, can agents access call center systems to work from home or from an alternate location, if necessary?
Servers and Networks and Software, Oh My!
Infrastructure. It’s an important word because it encompasses a lot of stuff. Call centers use a boatload of different software, they probably have a number of systems working off a shared network, and depending on their size, they might house a whole room full of servers. Ask these questions:
- Do you have up-to-date copies of all software applications stored in a safe place or available in the Cloud?
- How will calls be processed if your network connection is lost?
- If LAN connectivity fails, do you have a redundant router to provide an alternate default network gateway?
- Can the network be accessed remotely, if necessary?
- Do you have separate systems in place for things such as hold music, call recordings, and voicemail?
Servers and Databases
- How often do you check your servers to make sure that they are working properly?
- Where are your servers located, on-site or off-site?
- If the servers are on-site: 1) Do you have off-site backup?; 2) Are the servers housed in a separate room from the rest of the center?; and 3) Is the room well-ventilated, with a separate HVAC thermostat to ensure a constant temperature?
- If your backup servers go down, do you have Cloud backup?
- How often do you back up data? (The answer should be daily.)
How the Call Center Can Help
Aside from the above technical considerations, it’s important to know what your options are when assessing your business communications disaster recovery plan. Ask these questions:
- What communication channels will you use to inform clients of potential problems?
- Do you have a service level agreement, or will you enter into one?
- Do you have a plan in place to colocate calls at another call center in case of emergency?
- Do you have a distributed workforce to help, such as at-home operators?
- Do clients have access to scripting software to make emergency changes or to download for their records?
- Will you provide credits for service outages?
What You Should Do When Your Call Center is Down
Just in case your answering service cannot recover from a catastrophic event, you’ll want to have a backup plan.
- Choose a point of contact at your workplace, and designate this person as responsible for informing all key players of the present circumstances.
- Unforward your phones, and determine how to triage calls.
- Ask your phone provider if they have a hunt group feature that will ring different numbers in succession until someone picks up.
- It may be necessary to send out an email blast or post to your social media account to inform your customer base of a short “transition time” while you’re reestablishing communication channels.
- Search for answering services that offer a free trial, and for ultrafast set-up, opt for the most basic script – name, number, and regarding. That will give you a little time to decide what will work best for your business.
What You Should Do When Your Call Center is Up, but Your Phones Are Down
As many businesses recently experienced, you may be located in the danger zone while your call center is in the clear. In that case, you’ll need another checklist on hand to get through the days ahead:
- It is a good idea to have an emergency recording saved that will inform callers of existing issues and let them know when they can expect a return call. For example, “Thank you for calling. Due to the hurricane, requests are currently taking up to 72 hours to process. We will return your call as soon as we are able. Thank you for your patience.”
- If you do not have interruptions in cell phone or Internet connectivity, and you can view your call log via an online portal, then make sure that you have users set up or that the appropriate personnel know how to access the site.
- If you lose your business phone lines altogether, and they were forwarded when your system went down, you’ll need to ask your phone provider if your lines will remain forwarded or if they will have to be re-forwarded remotely.
- Have an alternate, simplified version of your script available in case your existing script contains transfers or reach protocol. Implement it as quickly as possible, either via your online portal or by requesting programming assistance from the service. If your lines are down, the operators will not be able to contact you, and this will lead to increased, unnecessary usage.
Even if we happen to know when and where disaster will strike, it doesn’t always mean that the area is prepped for a crisis. As a business owner, anytime you put your livelihood in the hands of another, you’re taking a chance. So, do your due diligence, research the questions we’ve put together, and have a disaster recovery plan of your own so that you’ll be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
Publish Date: September 12, 2017 5:00 AM
When it comes to your company, how do you define success? Is it solely about your bottom line? How about meeting your sales goals, what your employees think of you, or how many people’s lives you’ve improved? Depending on whom you talk to and what industry you’re in, success can mean any number of things. But as a general rule, if you want to be successful, you have to keep customers happy.
Now aside from the occasional flattering Google + or Yelp review, or unless you’ve mastered the art of mental telepathy and magical crystal balls, how do you know what your customers are really thinking? The answer is, you probably don’t - but the SAS Survey app can help with that. Configuring the survey app in your portal gives you two ways to poll your callers and solicit their feedback, and it is fully customizable, right down to your company logo. Let’s take a look at what it can do.
Create Live Surveys
What better way to find out what customers think than to ask them while you already have them on the line? Live-operator surveys go beyond the standard question, “Are you happy with the service you received today?” When calls are coming to a close, operators can effortlessly add, “It was my pleasure to help you today! Do you mind if I ask you a few quick questions about your experience?” Since the caller is still connected, they are much more likely to say, “Sure.” And that’s where the app comes in. The operators will read the survey questions you created to the caller. Once they’ve completed the survey, you have valuable feedback to slice and dice from your portal.
Instantly Email Post-Call Surveys
Another option to uncover customers’ honest opinions about your business is to email them a survey at the end of their call. As long as the script is programmed to ask for a caller’s email address, the survey you created will land in each customer’s inbox. You can customize the subject and body of the email so that they will know it’s from you, and if you’ve built the survey with your company logo, that will be displayed on every page. Emailing the call center survey instead of completing it via phone allows customers to provide feedback in their own time.
Use the Survey Link to Support Your Marketing Efforts
For most Specialty Answering Service clients, the survey app is free-of-charge and available for use, inside or outside of the call script. That means that you can include a direct link in your own workflows, such as part of your help desk or after-case surveys, when soliciting post-purchase reviews, or even as a footer in automated customer feedback emails. The results are readily available for download as a .CSV file that will include the date and time the survey was completed, the originating IP address, and of course, your respondent’s answers. In addition, the portal provides you with a visual summary, in graph format.
With an inside track on the positive and not-so-positive aspects of your small business, you’ll have the info you need to succeed. So, go ahead and test out the SAS Survey app today!
Publish Date: September 5, 2017 5:00 AM
When you call your TV service to find out why cable is on the fritz and hear, “For Service, say ‘Service,’ or press 1,” that’s Interactive Voice Response or IVR for short. Basically, IVR allows a combination of voice and keypad responses to get callers where they want to go. IVR makes it super easy for call centers to filter calls and route them to the appropriate person or department. It can also do a lot on its own so that the caller doesn’t always need to be transferred (think account balances, paying bills, etc.). But outside of the call center environment, it isn’t necessarily well-liked.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of IVR, much like a technological pariah, IVR is shunned by many consumers. But IVR is not going away anytime soon. The goal is to develop IVR in such a way that makes it a plus instead of a minus. Here’s a great infographic giving you a glimpse into the history and evolution of Interactive Voice Response!
Read our extended resource to learn more about how IVR works and how it’s used by call centers.
If you’re writing about IVR systems on your own website, please copy the code below to use this infographic:
Publish Date: August 30, 2017 5:00 AM
If you’re thinking of outsourcing call handling to an answering service, or if you’re already using a call center but wondering if you selected the best service for your budget, then reading this comprehensive guide to answering service pricing should move to the top of your to-do list.
With the right call center on your side, you can invest time fostering relationships with existing customers without missing opportunities to qualify new leads. The easy part is making the decision to work with an answering service. The hard part is knowing which one to choose. Not only are there innumerable call center companies, but there are also different pricing models that, at first glance, may be a bit confusing. In “The Ultimate Answering Service Pricing Guide,” we’ll review four pricing models, their benefits and downfalls, which types of accounts may work best with each, and a list of the potential charges that you may incur. Let’s get started!
- 4 Basic Pricing Models: Learn about Per-Call, Per-Minute, Flat-Rate, and Pay-As-You-Go pricing models.
- Benefits & Downfalls: Depending on which pricing model meets your needs, each structure has pluses and minuses.
- The Value in Cost-Effective Design: Learn how to cut costs while making the most of your call center experience.
- Standard Fees & Up-Charges: Review the standard fees and potential charges associated with your service.
- Buyer Beware: Less isn’t always more. Do your research before going with an ultra low-cost service.
- Billing Considerations: Be informed about topics such as contracts, how often you’ll be invoiced, and more.
- Cancellation Process: In case you ever need to leave service, be sure to carefully review the cancellation terms.
- Conclusion: Breeze through a quick re-cap of key points, and you’ll be on your way to finding your ideal service!
4 Basic Pricing Models
The first thing to know about call center pricing is that there are four pricing models to choose from: Per-Call, Per-Minute, Flat-Rate, and Pay-As-You-Go. They are all relatively different and will have pluses and minuses, depending on your needs. Read on for a brief description of each model along with typical base-rate pricing and supplementary fees.
Billing for per-call plans is based on the quantity of inbound and/or outbound actions on your account. An action may consist of inbound and/or outbound calls, inbound and/or outbound texts and emails, daily reports, paging, faxes, call wrap-up time, etc. The length of the call is not taken into consideration but rather the sheer volume of actions during each billing cycle. While it may sound simple, it’s not as straightforward as you might think. In fact, if you look at everything that you might be charged for, it can be pretty tricky.
With per-call services, their goal is to process each call in under a minute to maximize profits. The easiest way to do that is to take nothing more than a basic message. That generally means Name, Number, and Regarding. Anything more complicated than that, e.g., a reach on-call schedule, warm transfers, or having the operators answer FAQs, is going to cost you. And there are some things you just can’t do with per-call such as order taking, website navigation, etc.
Typical Pricing: With some per-call plans starting as low as $19, base rates may or may not include a set number of call counts per billing cycle. Overage fees are assessed for each action if your base rate does not include any calls or when you exceed the cost-effectiveness of your selected plan.
Overages: While overages can range anywhere from $0.45 to $1.75 per action, most seem to fall between $0.65 and $0.85. Overage fees are inversely correlated to the cost of the plan. As the plan increases, the overage fee decreases.
Expected Add-On Fees: In addition to overage rates, per-call accounts often have incremental fees that may be assessed for items such as: changing on-call personnel, email and text notification, temporary status updates, call reports, auto announcements, initial programming, script modifications, call transfers, holiday fees, etc. For example, if you dial your forward number to make a last-minute on-call switch, you will likely be charged a call count for the call you placed along with an “If” charge and a “Locate” charge: If there is an emergency, Locate a different on-call tech.
- $150 for 200 calls
- $0.70 for each overage
- $0.50 for each message delivered on each call
- 250 calls with 2 texts and 1 email on each call
- TOTAL: $560
The key to per-minute pricing is that any inbound or outbound calls are billed in increments. The service you select may bill in 1-second, 8-second, or 15-second intervals, they may have a 30-second or 1-minute minimum per-call, etc. Accrued time includes any time that the operator is engaged in some part of the call. This includes speaking with the caller, placing them on hold, transferring calls, entering wrap-up notes after the caller has disconnected, and contacting on-call staff. For example, the operator may speak with the caller for 1.5 minutes, and it may take him 45 seconds to document details or 3 minutes to get ahold of an on-call doctor. This is all included in live-operator time.
The best-case scenario is finding a service that bills by the second. Service providers that are offering per-minute plans may or may not include additional actions, such as text and email notification, in your base rate. In that case, each action may incur a separate fee.
Typical Pricing: Just as with per-call pricing, per-minute base rates may or may not include a set number of minutes per billing cycle. Overage fees are assessed per minute if you are on a basic plan that does not include any minutes or for exceeding the usage threshold of the plan you select.
Overages: Fees will vary depending on the allotted minutes. On average, they range from $0.90 to $1.20 and are also inversely correlated to the plan price.
Expected Add-On Fees: Per-minute accounts may have similar incremental fees to per-call accounts such as programming, patch minutes, IVR, etc. In most cases, there are less add-on fees for per-minute accounts than per-call.
- $150 for 200 minutes
- $0.70 for each overage
- Message delivery included
- 100 calls @ 3-minutes average = 300 minutes with 2 texts and 1 email on each call
- TOTAL: $220
Flat-rate pricing can be cost-effective or a budget-breaker, depending on how steady your call volume is. In some respects, it is like per-call or per-minute pricing where you are paying a base rate for a package of calls or minutes. The difference is that there is no overage rate. There may be a handful of services that offer a truly flat rate no matter your call volume. However, in most cases, flat-rate pricing means that once you reach a plan’s threshold, you are automatically bumped up to the next plan. For example, if you pay $100 for 125 minutes, and you reach 126 minutes, your plan will increase to the next pricing tier, e.g., $200 for 250 minutes. That means you may wind up paying a considerable amount more for only minimal overages.
Typical Pricing: Flat-rate pricing can vary widely depending on the plan you select, so it’s best to have a good idea of your average call volume before you make any decisions.
Overages: While some services may say that they are charging a flat rate, if they are also advertising overage fees, then it is more likely per-call or per-minute billing.
Expected Add-On Fees: Pricing for simplified flat-rate service likely only covers the actual calls or minutes included in the plan you select. While flat-rate plans may offer features such as call transfers, appointment scheduling, etc., you will pay a premium for those services.
- $150 for 200 minutes
- No overage – automatic upgrade to next plan at 300 minutes ($250 for 300 minutes)
- $0.50 for each message delivered on each call
- 100 calls @ 3-minutes average = 300 minutes with 2 texts and 1 email on each call
- TOTAL: $400
Pay-as-you-go pricing works a lot like a prepaid mobile phone. You add a “credit” to your account, and then each time you receive a call, funds are deducted from your balance. This requires money up front, but it is different than some answering service economy plans where you pay a base rate to keep the line open and active, plus a fee per-call or per-minute. Generally, the fee for each call or minute is inversely correlated to the amount of credit you add to your account. The more credit you add, the less individual transactions will cost.
Typical Pricing: Providers have tiered amounts of credit that you can add, e.g., $20, $50, $100. Depending on how much you prepay, the actual amount deducted for each call or minute will vary.
Overages: Be sure to read the fine print, and ask a few questions: Will the account be automatically replenished each month or once you reach a certain level of remaining credit? Does any unused monthly balance roll over to the next month, or is it a use-it-or-lose-it policy? What about line charges or costs for message delivery? It is important to do your homework to avoid any surprise fees.
Expected Add-On Fees: Pay-as-you-go service is strictly a message service, and advanced features will not be offered.
- $150 credit
- $1.00 per call
- $0.50 for each message delivered on each call
- 2 texts and 1 email on each call
- TOTAL: 60 calls if balance can zero out; 52 calls if you are required to maintain a $20 credit
Benefits & Downfalls
If you aren’t sure which pricing model is the right fit for your needs, then peruse the table below for an at-a-glance view of the benefits and downfalls of each model. That should help you narrow things down.
- Per-Call: Businesses that tend to have lengthy calls
- Per-Minute: Fits most businesses regardless of call volume
- Flat-Rate: Businesses that have around the same number of calls each month
- Pay-As-You-Go: Businesses that are new, unsure of expected usage, or have a limited budget
- Per-Call: Call length is not a factor. So, a call could last 10 minutes, and you would only incur 1 call count. If you stay within your call allotment, your bill will be relatively the same each month.
- Per-Minute: Billed in short intervals. So, wrong numbers, hang ups, etc. will not accrue much usage. If you stay within your minute allotment, your bill will be relatively the same each month.
- Flat-Rate: If you stay within your plan allotment or you have a truly flat-rate plan, your bill will be the same each month.
- Pay-As-You-Go: You don’t have to keep tabs on usage or worry about call volume. This allows you to stay within a budget that you can afford.
- Per-Call: If your call center charges for short calls such as wrong numbers, hang ups, prank calls, etc., then each of these will count towards your usage, even if they only last a few seconds.
- Per-Minute: Sudden spikes in call volume can push you past your allotted minutes, resulting in significant overage charges. At the same time, if you don’t use all your minutes, you could be wasting money.
- Flat-Rate: If you exceed your plan, you may be upgraded to the next plan rather than paying for each overage. This could wind up costing you a lot more than you anticipated.
- Pay-As-You-Go: If the account is automatically replenished when the balance is low, and the payment method on file is not viable, your line may be disabled.
- Per-Call: Add your land line or cell phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. Stop robocalls by adding an IVR to your line, which requires callers to press a number to reach an agent.
- Per-Minute: Look for a service that gives you on-demand access to your usage or the ability to adjust your rate plan within the current billing cycle.
- Flat-Rate: Track your call volume before choosing a service. This will help to determine the correct plan and eliminate any surprises on your bill.
- Pay-As-You-Go: Keep your credit account in good standing, and remember to update payment information if your card number or expiration date changes.
The Value in Cost-Effective Design
Every good business owner is concerned with the bottom line. So, when you reach the point where you’re ready to outsource, construct your call center services to meet your needs without breaking the bank. Depending on which pricing model you select, there are always ways to reduce costs.
- Keep your call script simple. The fewer questions the operators have to ask, the less time they’ll be on the call.
- Limit the number of on-call contacts, and opt not to leave a voicemail on unsuccessful attempts.
- If you have multiple employees who need to receive messages, set up a distribution group email. That way, you will only be charged for one message.
- Request a weekly call report rather than a daily account.
- Monitor your call volume, and adjust your plan as necessary to ensure that you are not paying too many overage charges or paying for calls or time that you aren’t using.
- Forward your calls after-hours rather than 24 hours.
- Set your line so that it rings a few times before forwarding. It will only roll over to the service if you are not able to answer.
- Add a frontend IVR to your line to eliminate automated calls.
- Circumvent programming charges by looking for a service that will give you the ability to make your own scripting or on-call schedule changes.
- If you have a strict monthly budget, review your usage regularly, and unforward your calls when you’ve reached your limit.
- Save time by not having the operators verify the information they are gathering from your callers.
- Reduce call counts, call time, or line charges by utilizing a cold transfer instead of a warm transfer.
- For appointments, have operators schedule but only take messages for canceling or rescheduling.
- If you are using a service for after-hours emergencies, include language in your upfront greeting letting callers know that the line is for emergencies only, and all other callers should contact the office during business hours.
Standard Fees & Up-Charges
Certain fees are common in the call center world, e.g., paying for toll-free numbers, sub account rates, programming costs, and auto attendant fees. While your provider should be transparent about pricing from the get-go, it would behoove you to do your homework before you become an active client. In other words, read the fine print.
Here is a list of potential fees that you’ll want to explore for any call center on your short list. Aside from a Set-Up Fee, which most services will charge, the items listed below may or may not be included with your plan, and thus, may result in additional fees.
|24-Hr/After-Hours*||Appointment Setting||Auto Attendant||Bilingual Service|
|Call Recording||Frontend Greeting||HIPAA Compliance||Holiday Rates|
|ISO Certification||IVR Time||Local Number**||Message Delivery|
|Mobile App||Multiple User Access||On-Call Schedules||Order Taking|
|Overages||Patch Time||PCI Compliance||Programming|
|Queue Time||Script Access||Sub-Account||Third-Party Software|
|Toll-Free Number**||Usage Reports||User Interface||Voicemail|
* Per-call or per-minute rates may increase after-hours.
** Line charges may be billed annually, semi-annually, or monthly, as opposed to a one-time fee.
Beware of ultra-low-cost plans – anything under $0.70. If you aren’t a high-volume customer (which would warrant a low rate), then here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The service might be as low-quality as the cost of the plan, and they may offer flexible rates because they are desperate for business.
- It might be a small service (e.g., run out of someone’s home) or a service that is not scalable or able to handle your call volume.
- Calls may be outsourced overseas, which is cheaper for the call center, but not necessarily the right fit for you.
- You may be charged a hefty sum for every account action. For example, if you sign up for a plan that says it’s a $15.00 flat rate but you are paying $2.00 per minute, then the plan is not nearly as economical as you thought.
- There may not be a direct contact person, account representative, or support team whom you can call for assistance with changes or if any issues arise.
If you are taking advantage of a free trial, then your answering service should not require any billing information until after the trial period ends, and you become an active client. At that point, you’ll submit a billing authorization, and the customer support or accounting department will explain the invoicing process so that you have a solid understanding of how you will be charged going forward. When it comes to billing, there are few questions to ask.
Is there a contract?
Many services offer month-to-month billing, so there is no need to sign up for a specific, contracted length of time. If your provider requires a contract, read it carefully, and be aware of the ramifications should you need to cancel service.
What are the payment terms?
This one can be a little tricky. Let’s say that you sign up for a service advertising a low monthly cost. Depending on the payment terms, that cost may not be as low as you think. Here’s what we mean by that. If your premium is $20 per billing cycle (typically thought of as a month), and your service has 28-day terms, then you will receive 13 invoices annually. Therefore, you’ll pay for a full month more than you had anticipated. The moral of the story is, ask about the payment terms before you move ahead.
What if I go over my minutes / calls?
Depending on the service provider, exceeding the usage threshold for your selected plan may result in an upgrade to the next most cost-effective plan. For example, if a 100-call plan is cost-effective to 150 calls, and you exceed 150 calls, you may be automatically bumped up to save you money. Other providers may simply calculate your overages based on the quoted rate for your plan, which could end up costing you more than a plan upgrade.
Can I switch plans?
If your need for call center services is seasonal, such as with landscapers, tax accountants, roofing contractors, or pledge drives, there will be peaks and valleys in your call volume. Look for a service that will allow you to downgrade plans during slow months. Seasonal businesses aren’t the only ones whose call volume may vary, though. In any given month, if it appears that your usage is considerably lower than your plan allows, ask if your provider will allow you to downgrade your plan within the billing cycle to save you money.
And last, but not least, find out about the cancellation policy. Here are few key questions to ask:
- How many days’ notice is required to cancel?
- If you are month-to-month and you cancel in the middle of a billing cycle, are there cancellation penalties, or will you receive a prorated credit for unused funds?
- If you are under contract, what happens if you discontinue service prematurely?
- If you pay for your plan’s base rate in advance, will the next month’s base rate be refunded upon cancellation?
Ideally, your answering service will continuously meet or exceed your expectations, and you won’t want or need to cancel your account. However, it’s better to be informed just in case things don’t go as anticipated.
No matter what type of call center services you are in search of, you can be certain of one thing – research is the key to ensuring that you are getting everything you need at a price you can afford. While providers will often have similarities in their plans and billing approach, they will also have policies that are unique to their organization. Be sure to ask a ton of questions during the sales process, and clear up any questions you have about billing before you convert from a trial customer to an active client.
Nearly all the questions above should be plainly outlined in your call center’s Terms and Conditions, which, if we’re being honest, most people don’t read… So, take the time to go through those line-by-line. Spending a few minutes reviewing the terms at the start can save you from billing headaches down the road. And remember, you signed up for an answering service to make your life easier. Stay informed, and be proactive about tailoring the service to your needs. In turn, you’ll watch your business grow, one call at a time!
Publish Date: August 28, 2017 5:00 AM
Picture this – it’s approaching 9 o’clock in the evening, and your office has been closed for a few hours now. Much to your chagrin, you’re still there, chipping away at the mountain of paperwork and patient records that accumulated throughout the day. This is the third night in a row that you’ve missed dinner with your family, and you’re wondering if it’s even worth it. The good news is, there is a solution. Enter this story’s hero: a Medical Answering Service.
Once you’ve made the decision to outsource phone support to an answering service, the next thing you have to decide is how you want the service to handle your calls. Obviously, call center representatives aren’t going to know the ins and outs of your practice. However, there are many ways to give the people answering your line a better feel for what it is that you do and the type of assistance your callers will require.
While answering services may not be able to see patients for you, what they can do is screen calls and schedule appointments, and in some cases, push the information they gather from your callers directly into your CRM software. There’s a lot to consider before you take the plunge, so take a look at the tips and tricks below, and you’ll be well on your way to getting the most out of your call center!
- HIPAA Compliance: This is a must anytime Protected Health Information is changing hands.
- Scheduling Appointments: We’ve included a few key points on the calls that drive your practice.
- Emergency Calls: When time is of the essence, flawless programming is of the utmost importance.
- Prescription Refills: Some refills just can’t wait and may warrant separate call handling.
- The Right FAQs: While operators can’t give out medical advice, they can certainly address general questions.
- Customer Relationship Management & Other Integrations: CRM and other software integrations will give your staff more time to focus on in-office patients who need your undivided attention.
- Hospital & Consult Calls: Depending on the nature of the practice, consult calls may be considered emergencies.
- Specific People: When people ask for doctors and staff directly, this ensures that the operators know who they are.
- Overflow & After-Hours: In many cases, call handling will be different based on your business hours.
- Download the Mobile App: Find out how technology can keep you informed and on time.
- Stick to the Basics: Common call types and straightforward scripts make life easier for operators and callers alike.
- Repeat Callers: Even the most fine-tuned practice can let return calls fall by the wayside. Be prepared for repeats.
- Triaging Techniques: Use pointed questions or an IVR recording to filter out priority calls.
- Look for a Free Trial: Don’t rely on anyone else’s opinion. Do your research, make use of the trial period, and choose the service that’s right for you.
First things first. Any kind of medical practice, or any office where Protected Health Information (PHI) is changing hands, is going to need a HIPAA compliant answering service. Data privacy for covered entities is a requirement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, so you’ll want to make sure that the service you choose is up to speed.
1. Patient information cannot be transmitted via text or email; however, those message delivery methods are still viable, adhering to the following:
- A generic text or email that states something along the lines of, “You have a new message. Please dial your forward number for more information.” This may require specific programming or software that will enable you to customize the outbound message.
- PHI must not be included.
2. Fax remains HIPAA compliant, so that is another option for message delivery.
3. Some services may give you access to an online portal where you’ll be able to view all of your messages and listen to call recordings in a secure environment.
4. If you have requested text notification, you may want to delegate internally who will be receiving what. For example, urgent messages might be sent to the on-call physician, while general messages could be addressed by an office manager.
The majority of people who call a doctor’s office will probably want to schedule, cancel, or reschedule an appointment, and hiring an answering service that has the ability to manage your calendar will take a lot off your plate. While you’ll have to do your research on which scheduling platform integrations are available with prospective call centers, in most cases, your service will be able to book appointments directly on your website, integrate with Google Calendar, or use proprietary scheduling software.
Typically, if a service is HIPAA compliant, operators should not be able to view or edit previously scheduled appointments, so cancellation and reschedule requests will need to be handled outside of the calendar. You may want operators to take a message for those calls. For same-day cancellations, it might be beneficial to transfer callers to you during business hours to avoid unnecessary prep for a no-show appointment.
Appointment Setting 101
Consider these questions when you’re establishing appointment setting parameters.
- What days and times can appointments be scheduled?
- Can operators schedule more than one patient per time slot?
- What is the duration of each appointment, or do you offer services of varying lengths?
- Should your lunch hour be blocked out?
- Do you offer evening or weekend appointments?
- Do you have multiple practice locations, but all intake calls are directed to the same line?
Also, try to think of every possible scenario so that the scripting makes sense.
- If you have a different protocol for new patients as opposed to existing patients, you’ll want to address proper scripting. For example, existing patients may only need to provide their name and number for a quick look up in your system, whereas if a new patient calls, you may need to ask for their insurance information, address, referral source, date of birth, etc.
- If your practice sees children, or if caregivers frequently call in lieu of patients (e.g., elder care, hospice, etc.), perhaps you should have your service set up a screening question to ask if the caller is the patient or if they’re calling on behalf of the patient.
- If you only accept certain medical plans, it would help to ask upfront if the patient will be using insurance to avoid scheduling self-pay appointments that the patient cannot afford.
- If you have several doctors in your practice, or if certain doctors are not accepting new patients, operators should inquire as to which doctor the patient would like to see, and each practitioner should have their own calendar.
- Emergency appointments may be best scheduled by your office staff rather than the call center, as operators will not be able to “tweak” availability or move things around to accommodate an urgent need.
In addition to scheduling appointments, another call type that you can be sure you’ll receive is emergencies. Unless you have an ironclad immune system or ridiculously good luck, you’ve likely been sick at some point. When you don’t feel well, sometimes you just want to talk to your doctor. If it is after hours or no one is available, you may be left telling your story to a message machine. And with busy practices, who knows when that message will be picked up? Having a live operator field emergency calls rather than pushing everyone to voicemail gives patients a sense of relief.
Emergency Scripting Considerations
- Adding screening questions will help ensure that only true medical emergencies are being handled right away. For example, the operator could open with, “Are you calling regarding an emergency?” And a secondary question could be asked such as, “Can this wait until business hours, or do you need to speak with the doctor urgently?”
- Most services have some sort of ER system in place. Before signing up with a call center, it’s of the utmost importance that you decide on the appropriate protocol for calls that warrant immediate attention. For example, your account can be programmed to transfer emergency calls directly to the on-call practitioner.
Emergency Message Notification
If calls are to be transferred, determine which hours operators should connect calls to you vs. sending a message.
If there is a reach on-call, you may want to find out if you are able to call in to the service and have them patch you through to the patient so that you can protect your own privacy.
You may use any combination of emergency notification such as:
- Warm Transferring Calls – the operator will remain on the line with the caller and give you the opportunity to accept or decline the call. If the call is declined, the operator returns to the caller and continues with information gathering or closes the call.
- Reaching On-Call Staff – after the caller disconnects, the operator will dial through your on-call staff list as many times as you would like. Note that voicemail messages including patient information are not HIPAA compliant. Instead, the operator can leave a message such as, “This is your answering service. You have a new urgent call. Please dial your forward number for assistance.”
- Texting – for a HIPAA compliant text message, the message itself cannot include patient information.
- Emailing – this is compliant, as long as the email does not include patient information.
- Paging – this is compliant, as long as the page is numeric only, as opposed to alpha-numeric.
While prescription refill calls are generally not urgent, there are times when a refill request cannot wait. For this call type, you’ll want to add a screening question – perhaps something along the lines of, “Have you already run out?” or, “Are you about to run out?” If the patient has already run out, and it is critical that they re-up, these calls could result in some sort of transfer or urgent text. If the patient still has some time before they run out, your service could give the caller the option to call back during normal business hours or leave their information and have the office follow up with them on the next business day. Patients can also be referred to their pharmacy, as pharmacists can often submit electronic refill requests on the patient’s behalf.
The Right FAQs
Though FAQs aren’t really part of your “call handling,” they do help out the operators substantially. You don’t want to overload them with information regarding your practice, but they should be able to answer basic questions and have a few details on the more common questions that your callers ask. For example, your FAQs could include the following:
- Your location
- Your business hours
- The office phone and/or fax number
- What insurance plans you accept
- Can a patient pay out-of-pocket? If so what are the prices?
- What services do you provide? Is it a standard family practice, or do you specialize in anything in particular?
- List the names of all the doctors in the practice
- Is there an email address where callers can send general inquiries?
- Is there a website?
- Do you have a cancellation policy?
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) & Other Integrations
We can all agree that perhaps the most annoying aspect of your first appointment with a new doctor is the time spent filling out a seemingly endless clipboard of paperwork. Perhaps even more annoying than filling it out is the job of the individuals who have to enter every piece of data into the office’s CRM system. Tedious, right? While an answering service can’t do all of your work for you, the right service can be a huge asset to any medical office’s front desk team by asking essential information in that first phone call and sending the details to your records system.
- A Medical Answering Service with CRM integrations are a huge time-saver. By pushing each caller’s data directly to your database, you’ll have the information at your fingertips. Sure, you’ll still have work to do – but less time spent filling up your database is more time spent ensuring that your patients have the best possible in-office experience.
- Calendar integrations eliminate the need for you to book appointments on your own. (See the section on Scheduling Appointments).
- With an email integration, your service may be able to send out new patient paperwork that can be completed prior to the office visit. Alternately, they can push data into your outbound mail system, e.g., MailChimp or Constant Contact, so that you can email important documents in one click.
Hospital Calls or Consult Calls from Other Medical Professionals
Does your office receive calls from neighboring hospitals, practices, or home care services that may be treating your patients? If so, consider how these calls should be handled when they reach the service. Some information that may be helpful to you would be:
- Name of the medical facility they are calling from
- Caller’s name and/or Doctor’s name
- Call back number
- Patient’s name
- Patient’s date of birth
- Location of the patient (if admitted, floor and room number)
- What the call is regarding
Depending on the facility, issue (e.g., an emergency consult), or time of day, a message alone may not be suitable. You may want certain calls transferred to the office during business hours, and for after-hours calls, a reach on-call protocol may be necessary.
Sometimes, callers will ask to speak directly with a doctor or staff member. While you may not be available to speak with them, you’ll still want them to know that their call is important to you, and you will be in touch with them as soon as you are available. A Specific Person path really comes in handy, especially if you have a number of practitioners and support staff in your practice. Generally, your script would be programmed with a drop-down list of all the individuals that may be requested along with a small identifier next to each name. For example, whom did the caller ask to speak with?
- Dr. Jones (Neurologist)
- Dr. Smith (Physical Therapist)
- Dr. Richardson (Counselor)
- Ms. Williams (Office Manager)
This way, if someone calls and asks to speak with the office manager but doesn’t give a name, the operator will be able to look at this list and see that Ms. Williams is the office manager. If it is important to you to have your answering service seem like your actual office, this minor tidbit of information could create that feel.
Overflow & After-Hours
Even if you are fully-staffed during business hours, chances are good that you’ll miss a few calls. And no matter what office you run, there will always be someone who tries to reach you after-hours. If you’ve ever called your doctor’s office, only to be met with a super annoying voicemail system instead of a live operator , then from a patient’s perspective, you can see the value in using a service for overflow and after-hours calls. The value for your personnel is that they don’t have to waste precious minutes listening to voicemail. Messages have already been taken and are available for review, so you can immediately begin returning calls and getting patients the assistance they need.
- Typically, services will allow you to set up some sort of business hours/after-hours handling. During your open hours, the operators will have one set of instructions, and after hours, they’ll use a different script.
- If the practice is open and calls are set to roll over to the service when no one is available, operators can let your patients know that due to a high volume of calls, they are taking messages on the office’s behalf. If callers are leery about leaving a message, you may also give them the option to try back later.
- After hours, operators can let your patients know that the office is closed, but they would be happy to take a message and have the call returned when the office re-opens. Or, if it’s an emergency, the script can be built with a reach on-call step to get in touch with the on-call staff.
Download the Mobile App
As technology continues to evolve, people and businesses are forced to evolve with it. Many answering services now offer a mobile app that you can download to retrieve your messages. Having this feature available to someone who can’t sit idly by a computer is a must in patient care industries. If you’re out and receive an urgent message, you can log in to your mobile app, view the details of the call, and possibly even listen to it, if your answering service offers call recording.
- For offices with rotating on-call staff, or in cases where callers request a specific person, your call center may be able to provide a unique login ID for each of your staff members.
- Permissions may be set to provide complete access to all calls, or partial access, where only calls that pertain to the particular individual may be seen.
Stick to the Basics
When you start using an answering service, your first reaction is often to overload the operators with information about your practice, and hope for the best. Would that same approach work for a new in-house receptionist who is just learning the ropes? Not likely. So, while it is important that you provide the service with key FAQs such as address, hours, and a description of what you do, callers and operators alike will have more successful interactions if you stick to the basics. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Providing too many options for the operator can be overwhelming and may result in mishandled calls. Remember that your call center is there to lend a helping hand, not to run your business for you.
- Keep in mind that while your service may answer for 100 doctors’ offices, no two accounts are the same. Thus, what works for one account may not necessarily be appropriate for another.
- It’s always a good idea to have an All Other Calls path in your script. If a caller’s request or issue doesn’t match the primary path options, the operator will still have an avenue by which to document the nature of the call.
Even if messages are gathered and sent swiftly, a busy practice may need more than 24 hours to return a patient’s call. That being said, not every patient can wait 24 hours. They may grow weary of sitting by the phone and dial your office again instead, stating that they called yesterday and haven’t heard back. How should your service handle these calls? Should the operator simply take another message? Should the call be considered urgent? Or should they try and patch the call through to the office? Preparing your service for these types of scenarios will ensure that calls are handled as efficiently as possible and minimize frustration on the part of the caller.
What if you only want to use an answering service for after-hours emergencies? If that is the case, then many of the tips above won’t apply – but, there are still options that you can explore to keep call handling crisp.
- Have a screening question up front. For example, “You’ve reached the emergency after-hours service for Dr. Smith. This is Gabby. Are you calling with emergency?” If the caller responds in the affirmative, the operator could reach out to the on-call doctor. If it is not an emergency, you might want the operator to say something along the lines of, “I apologize, but this line is for emergencies only. Please try calling back during regular business hours.”
- Include a brief list of what is considered an emergency, e.g., bleeding, pain, post-op complications, suicidal thoughts, etc. You certainly don’t want to leave this judgment up to the operators, so having a short rundown of emergent issues will help them triage calls appropriately and follow the proper procedures for true emergencies.
- Add IVR to your line. This would be an upfront recording and could say something such as, “You have reached the after-hours answering service for the Office of Dr. Jones. If this is a true medical emergency, please hang up and dial 9-1-1, or go to your nearest emergency room. If you need to speak with the doctor urgently, please press 1 to be transferred to an agent.”
Having these types of screeners will filter out legitimate emergencies from callers who just want a direct line to you and your staff. In turn, you may have less usage and a lower monthly invoice.
Look for a Free Trial
If you’re in the market for a medical answering service, be sure to do your due diligence before signing on. While online reviews may be useful to a degree, nothing compares to your own experience and opinion. That’s where a free trial comes in. Most services will offer a trial period that will give you a solid understanding of how your calls will flow, the professionalism of the operators manning your phones, the availability and help offered via customer support channels, your average minutes usage, and more. To find the best fit for you, take advantage of everything the free trial offers, and place test calls if you’re not ready to forward your lines. The sooner you sign on with the right service, the sooner you’ll be home for those family dinners you’ve been missing!
Publish Date: June 13, 2017 5:00 AM
Let’s say that you’re an equipment manufacturer with multiple products. You have a division that builds rockets, another that builds washing machines, and another that builds garage door openers. Each product has its own toll-free support number for customers to call for assistance. Each of those numbers rings to your in-house telephone answering service, where you have different groups staffed with stellar agents that have expert knowledge of a single product.
Your business is booming! You receive hundreds of calls daily on each number, so each of these calls needs to go to the appropriate agent. How does the answering service software know which number your callers dialed in order to route the calls correctly? If you guessed DNIS, then give yourself a round of applause!
Dialed Number Identification Service is a feature offered by telecom network providers that allows the recipient, in this case the answering service, to determine the number each customer dialed to reach you. It works by transmitting DTMF digits to a decoder that will make them available to a device on the receiving end. So, when the phone rings at the Private Branch Exchange (PBX), the DTMF is transmitted along with the call, telling the PBX if the call came in on your rocket line, washing machine line, or garage door opener line. Based on that information, the system will route the call to an agent who is using the corresponding support script.
If you’re setting up DNIS at your own business location, here’s a great infographic to explain a bit more about how DNIS works.
In addition to DNIS giving virtual receptionist businesses the ability to answer for more than one customer, it can be used as a means to improve productivity in the call center itself. Accurate call routing means that the right agent gets the right call every time, thereby increasing efficiency, and decreasing the time agents spend on calls.
Read our extended resource to learn more about how DNIS works and how it’s used by call centers.
If you’re writing about DNIS on your own website, please copy the code below to use this infographic:
Publish Date: May 24, 2017 5:00 AM
What happens when you let a robot answer your phones? The simple answer is, nothing good. Even if it’s a super friendly virtual robot like Siri or Alexa, there are just some things that robots can’t do. Let’s start with empathy, for one. How can a robot address an upset caller? If the caller is confused, will the computer lady in the phone understand the caller’s query? Um, not so much.
If you’re talking about basic data retrieval, e.g., account balances, paying bills, etc., automated call center systems will get the job done. Sure, they lack a personal touch, but for some callers, they don’t have time for pleasantries and would rather punch in a few buttons, and move on to the next task. But the question is, if you’re a business owner, do you want to be known for impersonal service or for having the most amazing receptionists that the world has to offer? We’re guessing you’d prefer the latter.
Live agents can sense emotion and respond accordingly. Live agents can joke with customers and keep the conversation light. Live agents can explain things to callers that robots can’t, and more importantly, their faces won’t melt off during a call!
Publish Date: April 13, 2017 5:00 AM
Did you know that the explosive growth of smartphones and tablet PCs in the last decade resulted in 12.5 billion devices being connected to the Internet? That’s almost twice as many as the world’s 6.8 billion people! According to Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the point in time when there are more devices or ‘things’ connected to the Internet than people. While the potential revenue that this creates varies from company to company, more than 60% of IT and business leaders agree that the IoT will have long-term transformative effects on their businesses.
The IoT is a game changer, impacting the economy in more ways than one. As devices connected to the Internet continue to skyrocket, it is imperative that companies have the back-end capacity to handle the huge volume of information that technology will generate. And call centers are no exception.
Take a look at 7 ways that telephone answering services need to scale up and evolve right alongside the IoT.
- Ability to Handle Text Messages: Instead of wasting time dialing a contact center and waiting for an agent to respond, callers will let their devices handle routine tasks for them. This may include one-touch text messages for service requests, or even sending call-back requests. Answering services would need the capability to apply automated customer service rules to parsed messages, prioritize them, and route them to the appropriate agent.
- Amazing Agents: With IoT making customer service go to a more self-service, self-repair model, those calls that do reach the agents will need to be expertly handled. Great customer service will be the basis for interactions, but amazing interactions will need specialized agents. For the answering service, this means a focus on dedicated agents who have in-depth training in the brands they represent. The more that systems themselves are able to repair routine issues, the more that highly complex technical issues will require ninja-level customer service agents.
- Device-to-Device Interaction: Soon, answering services will be managing service requests entirely from devices. Devices at contact centers would directly connect to CRM systems, relay the necessary information, or perform transactions without the need for any human intervention. This does not mean that agents would completely disappear. Instead, contact centers would need to hire agents who can handle complex queries while maintaining the personal touch that consumers want.
- Proactive Service Delivery: As the IoT evolves, household devices connected to the Internet will be able to send service requests directly for maintenance and repair. In turn, answering services could use sophisticated route planning, prioritization algorithms, and rule bases to schedule how the maintenance engineers would respond to these requests.
- More Complex Infrastructure: Contact centers of the future will be the ones willing to invest heavily in the right technology to enable complex data analysis and predictive modeling, not to mention the need for heightened privacy and security requirements. With respect to customer data, answering services will be poised to compile mountains of data about consumer customer support habits as well as product deficiencies. Whatever issues arise from your connected device, in an inbound capacity, the call center will be well-prepared to address those calls lightning fast as an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction. Answering service agents can proactively reach out to customers once trends surface.
- Ecosystem-Level Collaboration: Collaboration between departments and service channels would be a given, but winning businesses would go one step further. Contact centers would be leveraged to collaborate across their ecosystem, working closely with vendors and customers, and offering completely personalized solutions.
- Strategic Business Partner: Contact centers can already monitor a number of customer service channels, and with the IoT wave, centers would become strategic business partners. The insights obtained from the analysis of device interactions would determine the future course of business – be it new products, new features, or even new geographies that the company should target.
However large the IoT becomes, answering services and contact centers will always play a critical role in ensuring customer loyalty and business growth. When products can repair themselves, customer service interactions will need to be both proficient and proactive. As customers continue to expect fast customer service, choosing the right center for your business is fundamental to your continued success in the rapidly changing era of the Internet of Things.
Publish Date: March 31, 2017 5:00 AM
If you’ve hired an answering service to manage your calls, then virtual receptionists, not your own employees, are likely the first point of contact for your customers. Since these receptionists aren’t sitting in your office with firsthand knowledge about the inner workings of your company, you’ll need to manage outsourcing a bit different that you would manage your own office receptionists. We’ve put together 5 things you can do to ensure a successful interaction each time an answering service agent answers your line. Check out our tips below, and you’ll quickly be on your way to creating the best answering service experience imaginable.
#1: Lead the way with a custom greeting!
Do you have a business name that’s a little difficult to pronounce? Maybe it’s so complicated, even you get tongue-tied trying to say it. If that rings true, then place the company name in a recorded opening greeting instead of having the operators say it. Even better, have the greeting professionally recorded to really wow your callers.
- A recorded greeting means customers will immediately know that they’ve reached your office, and your business name will sound the same on every call.
- Customize your recording with an advertisement, a professional tone, something a little more upbeat, or even an English accent!
#2: We’re at your “answering service.”
When callers think we are your receptionist, they may expect the operators to have a certain understanding of your products, services, policies and procedures. There are always a few basic FAQs listed in your account to help the operators, but allowing us to represent you as an answering service is the ideal situation for both operators and callers alike.
- Letting callers know they’ve reached the service sets the tone for a more relaxed call flow and will help disengage callers who normally push for answers.
- Your customers may not receive the immediate answers they’ve requested, but they’ll have peace of mind knowing that their message will reach the correct person or department.
#3: Keep your FAQs short and sweet.
Frequently Asked Questions can empower operators and help move calls along. You may be thinking, the more FAQs the operators have, the better they’ll be able to answer customer questions, right? Wrong. Having the operators field a bunch of questions may sound like a great idea, but the more questions they have to weed through, the longer calls will take, and the more likely customers will become frustrated.
- Some things are better off explained by you and your staff, and it’s really is okay to let callers know that the appropriate party will get back to them.
- Make your FAQs as clear and concise as possible. When operators can confidently assist your callers, they’ll feel more at ease answering your calls.
#4: The best calls begin with the right questions.
There is usually a primary reason why your customers need to reach you. With that idea in mind, updating your live greeting to triage callers’ requests will steer the call in the right direction from the get-go. For example, an after-hours HVAC contractor may want the operator to say, “Are you calling for emergency service?” Similarly, a medical practice might open with, “Are you calling to schedule an appointment?”
- The more efficiently we can approach your calls, the smoother the operators can transition through your script.
- The end result is less overall usage, lower monthly bills, and an increased number of satisfied customers!
#5: Just the basics, please.
Keep your script simple. If you are utilizing an answering service to screen callers and determine which leads to call back, then stick to the basics you’ll need to get the conversation going. While asking everything from blood type to favorite pasta may seem like a good idea in theory, it’s really not. More questions mean more time spent on each call, which means a higher bill.
- If your answering service is asking for an abundance of information, callers may assume that the operators have in-depth knowledge of your products and services.
- It’s a good idea to whittle your call script down to the key questions you’d like us to ask. We’ll collect your basic requirements and leave the heavy lifting to your experts.
Keeping your protocols simple and taking advantage of recorded greetings and voice talent are some of the ways your company can improve it’s outsourcing and help create the best answering service for your callers. Specialty Answering Service offers a treasure trove of experience and can give you the best suggestions to make sure we’re creating the best experience - it’s simply a matter of letting us guide you to creating an experience that will dazzle, instead of deflate.
Publish Date: March 6, 2017 5:00 AM
My smartphone has changed my life. As a small business owner, being able to check my email, update orders, and research companies on the go is absolutely invaluable. Unfortunately, just because my phone is smart, it doesn’t necessarily imply that the user is. As a result, the smartphone is dropped. Repeatedly. And it cracks. Gets all scratched up. And occasionally, winds up in a puddle of water.
My most recent foray into smartphone idiocy came when the phone fell from my pocket…while I was riding a bicycle. “Great,” I thought, “now I have to go listen to the old ‘Crapple’ store song and dance.” Well, I was fed up. So, I decide to branch out this time. I found a small company that did phone repairs, and, WHAT’S THIS?!?! DOES HOUSE CALLS?!?! Don’t they know that my greatest joy in life is driving twenty minutes one way for a repair that takes sixty seconds? I soon changed my tone, however, when a courteous repair technician showed up at my front door, fixed my screen quickly, and charged me half as much as the geniuses downtown.
This visit got me thinking not just about how I should probably get a case that is idiot-proof, but also about how amazing this home visit was. It was the apex of customer service: someone came to my house - on my schedule - to help me solve a problem. In this case, the service ended up being less expensive than the brand name, but I probably would have paid more just for the convenience alone.
Specialty is an answering service, so we can’t make house calls. If we did, we would be your office receptionist. You’d high five us every morning when you walk into work and we’d give you coffee. But we’re not in your office. We work at our call center. However, if you have a small business that is house call capable (like physicians, veterinarians, computer repair technicians, and ), here are 2 compelling reasons why you should offer them:
Improved customer experience.
Go to the website for a company that does house calls. Seriously, take a second and see what the customer reviews say. They rave about the services, they rave about the affable repair people, and they rave about the company. When you break it down, the company’s services are really not so different: they perform a basic task, the repair technicians aren’t that much more courteous, and the prices are relatively similar. The only separation is the element of convenience.
This one factor can enhance a customer’s impression of your company in every facet. If you make home visits, customers will laud everything from your professionalism to your logo design to your brother-in-law’s new mustache. What does this have to do with home visits, you ask? Nothing, and that’s what makes home visits so awesome. They make everything seem better.
Here is the exact thought process I went through when deciding to get my phone fixed: “Hmmm, this seems a little bit expensive for a third party repair company. Wait, they come to my house? When I want them to? Service charge, smervice charge; take my money already!”
‘Convenience trumps all when it comes to sales. If company A sells a product for ten dollars less than company B, but company B delivers it to your house and sets it up, which one would you prefer? What’s more, when a customer has a positive experience with your home visit services, they will tell their friends about it. Word of mouth is critical to the growth of small business.
So, go ahead. Turn your clients into your sales team, and start making house calls today!
Publish Date: February 13, 2017 5:00 AM
Has this ever happened to you? You walk by the front desk at the office and find the receptionist hidden behind a magazine or glued to their iPad. The phones are ringing off the hook, literally screaming for someone to pick them up. Eventually, the ringing stops, and the sound of new business blowing out the window rushes past you faster than The Flash on fire.
Every business owner knows that missed calls are missed opportunities. And nowhere is this concept more critical than in the small business marketplace, where competition is fierce, and one potential lead can make or break your bottom line. That means you can’t afford to miss even one call. So, if you’re not using Specialty Answering Service, you can bet you’re losing business.
Don’t let this happen to you! Test our answering service for free today, and you’ll never miss an opportunity to turn each call into a long-lasting customer relationship.
Publish Date: February 6, 2017 5:00 AM
If you’ve ever watched television for more than five minutes at a time, then there’s a solid chance you’ve seen the Lincoln commercial featuring everyone’s favorite Texan, Matthew McConaughey. “It’s not about hugging trees. It’s not about being wasteful, either. You just gotta find that balance.”
If you’re having trouble finding that balance, you’ll definitely want to let Specialty Answering Service handle your calls. Enlisting the help of an answering service to manage your phone support can help you “Go Green” and “Save Green” at the same time, granola optional. Call centers are an eco-friendly, small business outsourcing solution that will leave you with so much time, you won’t have to wait for Arbor Day to plant a forest.
Here are 6 ways Specialty Answering Service is helping save the planet:
- The days of paper calendars are long gone. So, go ahead – recycle your day planner and your desk pad. In most cases, your call center can set appointments directly on your online calendar and message you when new appointments are booked.
- Cubicles, desks and computers, oh my. With customer service housed outside of your office, you’ll save on office supplies, desks, chairs, phones and computers, not to mention employees’ salaries, benefits, paid time off, etc.
- Downsizing gets a bad rap, but just think of the resources you’ll reclaim. Call centers answer for bunch of industries and businesses across the world, which often translates into less staff to employ. That enables those businesses to reduce their carbon footprint by decreasing the use of paper products, plastics, Styrofoam, water consumption, energy, and more.
- Who needs paper and pencils, anyway? Handwriting is overrated. Paper and writing utensils aren’t permitted on the call center floor. All of the information the operators collect is documented electronically and available on-the-go. No paper messages or wooden pencils mean more trees get to stay firmly planted in the earth. Woohoo!
- Forget the backhoe. Depending on the type of small business you run, you may not even need to dig up a brick-and-mortar office, as many customer service issues can be addressed remotely. Bricks and mortar are made of clay (and other stuff), and clay (and other stuff) comes from the earth. No physical office = happier dirt.
- Outsourcing calls gives you more hours in the day to focus on your existing customers as well as establish relationships with prospective customers. This sense of freedom will offer you peace of mind while creating a meditative state. In meditation, you’ll be sending out good vibes. And good vibes heal the earth.
If you want your business to go green, get an answering service! Heck, we’ll even give you a list of ways to reuse your old desk phone. When you’re ready for a more balanced approach to customer service, sign up for a free trial with feature-rich SAS, and find out what the right call center can do for you. Your valued customers will appreciate being able to connect with you 24/7/365, and you’ll reduce overhead while making an environmentally-friendly, financially-sound choice for your small business.
Publish Date: January 13, 2017 5:00 AM