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What is a Phone Answering Service?

Many businesses today have to manage tons of inbound phone calls and maintain great customer service on an everyday basis. Sometimes it can feel like there’s not enough employees to manage the calls on top of their daily workload! Phone answering services are a perfect fit for these types of businesses.

A phone answering service is a company that hires highly trained customer service professionals to manage inbound calls from clients, customers, and anyone else who needs to get in touch with the business. In addition to answering calls, they also manage other communication needs, such as message taking, appointment setting, resolving customer technical and/or support issues, and much more. 

A phone answering service can be a lifesaver for businesses who need to attend to their customer base regularly while also keeping their business running smoothly throughout the day. Plus, phone answering services work hard to make sure your customers are satisfied, which helps to improve your brand image and reputation.

How do phone answering services work?

Phone answering service providers can handle a wide variety of communication tasks for your business. They are customizable as well, so you can create a phone answering service that works for your business’s needs. For instance, when onboarding with your phone answering service, they may ask you the following questions:

  • Which types of calls do you want the service to answer? (For example, appointment setting, tech support, sales, etc.)
  • Which days/times do you want the phone answering service to work? (For example, weekdays, after hours, weekends, holidays?)
  • Do you want the service to take messages or forward calls to appropriate employees?
  • How would you like recorded messages to be relayed to you? (For example, email, SMS message, phone call, etc.)
  • What kind of caller data would you like the service to record?
  • What kind of greeting/script would you like the service to use?

In general, there’s no one way a phone answering service works! You get to choose a plan that best suits the needs of your business.

What types of answering services are there?

There are a few different kinds of phone answering services, and each caters to a different kind of business need.

Call Centers

Call center services are one of the most popular types of phone answering services because they operate using real people who answer the phone. They are usually large companies who may hire hundreds of customer service professionals. There are typically different types of call center providers that specialize in different industry needs. Generally, call centers are a good fit for businesses who need to answer a large volume of customer calls per day, but still need a real person on the line to answer customer-specific questions.

Related: What is a remote call center?

Automated Answering Services

Automated answering services, aka Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, are different from call centers because instead of real people, they use automated voices (AI technology) to respond to customer calls. This service acts as a “self service” system for customers and does not require real employees to answer each call. It reduces the amount of professionals needed to handle a business’s inbound calls, which typically means it can handle more calls more quickly. However, automated answering services may not be able to handle complex or detailed customer questions.

Which industries benefit most from phone answering services?

Essentially any business wants to better manage inbound customer calls can benefit from a phone answering service. But there are certain industries that typically receive a high volume of inbound calls regularly and would benefit the most from phone answering services:

  • Healthcare practices: Medical offices face high call volume from patients, billing questions, and appointment setting/cancellations
  • Real estate offices: Agents may need answering services to handle overflow calls or after-hours calls and set up appointments to show properties.
  • Large law firms: Lawyers are too busy with their daily workload to answer calls throughout the day. Answering services can help law firms redirect calls to the right attorney, schedule meetings, answer billing questions, and more.
  • Construction companies: Contractors and construction workers may need answering services to respond to customer calls while they’re busy working at a job site.
  • Retail stores (ie. big box retailers): Large retail stores receive tons of inbound calls regularly from customers. Answering services can help respond to customer questions.
  • Accounting firms: Accountants are challenged with a heavy workload while receiving frequent client questions and concerns. Answering services can help lighten this workload.
  • E-commerce businesses: Many online businesses do not have a physical office to answer calls, so they need to outsource customer service needs.
  • Other large businesses or businesses with high call volume

Which features are typically included?

As mentioned, phone answering services offer tons of communication benefits for companies. They can be so pivotal to some businesses because they offer certain features they need to run efficiently. For instance:

  • Call forwarding
  • Message delivery (via text, live chat, email, etc.)
  • HIPAA compliance
  • Bilingual communication
  • Appointment setting
  • CRM integration
  • Mobile apps

Some businesses assume they will have to call the phone answering service to get their messages throughout the day. But this is not the case! These convenient features help professionals rest assured that they will have access to their messages in a quick and easy way, anytime during the day.

What are the top business benefits of phone answering services?

In addition to the many convenient features phone answering services offer, they also benefit businesses in crucial ways! They can be pivotal in helping companies grow as a brand, improve revenue, and stay productive. Consider some of the top benefits:

1. Cost savings

Hiring a team of employees on-site to answer each and every call can be very expensive, not to mention time consuming. It is well-known that professional phone answering services cost less for companies out-of-pocket compared to hiring their own customer service team. Companies who use a phone answering service pay a small fraction of the cost compared to saying on-site employee salaries.

2. Provide professional customer service

Studies are showing that more and more customers are becoming frustrated with over-the-phone customer service each year. But phone answering service professionals are highly trained to provide A-level customer service. Most answering services have extensive training to assure their staff sounds professional on the phone and are capable of responding to a wide variety of customer questions. They focus on crucial customer satisfaction factors, such as short hold times and quick, efficient transfers to the correct representative.

3. Customizable

Phone answering services cater to each company’s preferences and needs. The answering service staff who works with your business will train on your call scripts, greetings and more so you can feel confident they are representing your brand well. Whether you want a service representative to transfer each and every call to to you or if you’d rather receive your messages at the end of the day, your answering service will take care of it.

4. Boost productivity

Without needing to answer each call throughout the day, your workday will be open to other important business tasks you need to get done. You will reduce interruptions, focus on your workload, and leave customer service to the professionals.

5. After hours, weekend, and holiday availability

Many businesses prefer to have their employees working regular business hours. However, customers may need assistance at any time of the day! You don’t want to leave your customers without help or give the impression that your business is unavailable. Instead of working after hours, hire a phone answering service to attend to customer questions outside of business hours.

How much do phone answering services cost?

It’s widely known that phone answering services can save your business money compared to hiring your own staff. But how much do they cost exactly? Note that different answering services have different pricing models. But there’s few standard ways that they typically charge their clients.

Phone answering services may charge you per:

  • Minute
  • Call
  • Communication unit

Pay per minute

When paying per minute, the answering service will charge you for each minute they spend on the phone with a customer. This is the most common way for answering services to charge. Your cost per minute may range from anywhere between $0.75 - $1.40. Usually, services that charge using this model will offer discounts on price per minute when you buy packages with more minutes.

Pay per call

When paying per call, the answering service will simply charge you a price per each call with a customer, regardless of how long the call lasts. This can be a good choice for companies whose customers tend to demand longer call times. The industry standard rate per call is usually around $1 per call. However, be aware that the number of calls can add up! 

Pay per communication unit

Lastly, paying per communication unit means that the answering service will charge you each time they need to communicate with you OR a customer. This means that if they send you email updates, transfer calls, send text messages, etc., you will be paying for each of these interactions. Each communication unit can cost up to $1. If an answering service uses this pricing model, make sure you ask what qualifies as a “unit,” because this can certainly cause a spike in your bill if you are not careful.

Make sure you take into account that many answering services charge a set-up fee. This is usually a 1-time fee of around $50-$100, but it’s smart to still factor into your overall budget.

Learn More

Check out our guide to finding the best answering service for your needs or learn all about inbound call center services.

To learn more about phone answering services and other kinds of inbound call centers, take a look at B2B appointment setting services and inbound call center buyer’s guide. If you are a healthcare professional looking at answering services, consider a medical answering service that is trained to help medical offices.

If you are ready to compare answering service quotes for free, just fill out our simple web form and we’ll help you find the best rate from top service providers!

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