Given that the vast bulk of the 5 million plus businesses in the UK are “small” ones, http://www.fsb.org.uk/stats , then the number of them who have a use for a telephone answering service is significant. There could be a variety of reasons why they find it beneficial to use an answering service:
- A roofer might not want to miss new enquiries whilst they’re out on site.
- A solicitor will not want to be interrupted while they’re preparing a brief or in court.
- A medical practitioner can’t be disturbed if they’re with a patient.
So if you’ve recognised the need for an answering service then it will be a good idea to think about the following:
- What do you need them for?
Is it simply a case of having someone on hand to answer the phone and take messages, or do you require more complicated work to be carried out? Either way, you need to be certain that your calls will handled with professionalism at all times.
- Ask how long they’ve been in business.
A good reputation takes time to acquire. So does expertise. Startups are simply unlikely to have all the resources to employ the number of staff required to operate a professional service. Those that don’t aren’t going to be around for very long. If they’ve been in business for 10 years or more then they must be keeping their customers happy.
- Ask for testimonials.
These will help you sort the wheat from the chaff. A good answering service will be able to provide plenty of references and testimonials. It may also pay to ask around or do some research online.
- Test them out.
At the very least, a professional telephone answering service will offer a free trial. This will allow you to gauge the quality of the service, and how many calls they might take for you.
- What are their response times?
How long does it take for them to answer the phone? How did they answer the phone when you made your initial enquiry? Were you able to speak to someone about your requirements straightaway, or were they so busy it took some time for them to get back to you?
- Ask about accuracy.
A common issue with call answering services is poor accuracy, with phone numbers being taken down incorrectly, and callers’ names being spelt wrong. Whilst 100 per cent accuracy can never be achieved, the agents should at least be reading back numbers and asking for unusual names to be spelt out. Familiarity with the phonetic alphabet is essential.
- Find a local company.
Having some knowledge of the local area, coupled with agents speaking with the same accent as your callers will help if you want the service to be seamless.
- What does their website look like? Are they investing money in their shop front?
If they’re unable to find the resources to fund an up to date website then they’re unlikely to be running a successful business.
- Is their technology state of the art?
Technology has become crucial for the delivery of an efficient call answering service. Ask the provider what systems they use and how often they update them.
- What size are they? Too small or too big?
A company with thousands of clients will certainly have lost the personal touch, but if they’re small with just one or two staff then their capacity won’t extend beyond handling a couple of dozen clients
- Treat them like your own staff.
Ensure you brief your call answering service thoroughly, giving them as much information as you would provide to your own team.
- You’re investing in the future of your business.
You may think that your calls are better handled in-house by your team, or by yourself. However, you or your team might not always be available, or you could spend your time more productively on the tasks in hand. Compare your missed call rate and potential lost business with the modest spend you’d make on telephone answering.
- He who buys on price buys twice.
Beware of answering services offering out their services too cheaply. This inevitably means they have to compromise on the number of staff they employ and how much they pay them. Poorly paid staff are poorly motivated. This will be reflected in the service they provide.
- Is it their core business?
There are plenty of business centres and other companies who have decided to offer or include telephone answering as a bolt on service. Most of their revenue will be derived from other sources, such as office rental. Consequently, there is no incentive for them to provide an efficient service.