Answering Service Pricing: How to Compare Apples and Oranges
You think a minute is really a just a minute? Nope. It would make sense that a call is just a call too, right? Not even close.
Now, please understand it’s not part of some grand conspiracy on the part of our industry to confuse and confound. Technology, company values and historical reasons are all factors in the lack of uniformity in pricing for virtual receptionist and telephone answering services.
So you as the customer are left with comparing apples and oranges. Not at all helpful when you're trying to make an informed purchase decision. We hope that the following explanations help you to make sense of it all.
Per Minute vs. Per Call Answering Service
Both of these methods for billing for services are based on the amount of work that is performed for you (usage based). You will find that most modern answering services have moved to time based billing instead of the per call pricing model.
A per call price might be easier to understand at first. If you know that you receive 50 calls a day, you can look for a plan that matches these needs as closely as possible.
The problem is that a ‘call’ is classified by call centers as many things you wouldn’t count as a call. For example, wrong numbers, hang-ups, and quick questions like “What time does the office open?” all get counted as a full ‘call’.
Time based pricing is it sounds, based off of the amount of time work is being performed on your behalf. At its heart, time based billing it is the fairer of the two options available. In short, you only pay for what you use.
Let’s say that an average ‘take a message’ call takes 45 seconds to gather the name, phone number and message. In this instance, you would only page for a fraction of a minute.
With per call pricing, you would pay the full per call rate.
If you received a wrong number call lasting only 6 seconds, time billing only counts as a single minute increment towards the minutes in your plan. Per call pricing counts this call as a full ‘call’. Not ideal under any circumstance, right?
A Minute is not 60 seconds
In the real world, a minute is 60 seconds. In the answering service and call center world, a minute for the purpose of billing is generally broken up into increments.
It is important to ask what increment they are using. Some even have whole minute increments. In this instance, if you received a call that lasted 1 minute and 1 second you would actually be billed for 2 minutes, as the increment would round up.
Calls are generally defined as an incoming call or an outgoing call. However, some companies have cooked up several ways to stretch the boundaries of this definition.
Some may also limit the amount of information they will take on you behalf such as only the caller’s name, phone number and message. Throttling a customer service experience is never ideal. Some companies will count longer messages as 2 calls or charge multiple calls for tasks such as patching calls together.
When it comes to per call pricing, the devil is in the details. It all comes down the simple fact that companies need to cover their costs. They either throttle the service to you in some fashion (amount of information taken, service level, etc.) or figure out to charge for more calls for the tasks they perform in order to cover their costs.
Beware of the 13th Invoice
28 day billing, it’s an often-discussed topic at call center industry conferences and on email list serves. What it comes down to is this, it is a way to bill you the customer more.
You are charged for 13 monthly service plans per year instead of 12. This method is plain and simple a way to send you an extra bill each year. Who needs it? We’re guessing you don’t!
Nickel and Dimed
Sometimes call centers offer a low monthly service plans that are stripped down versions of the service. To receive the full benefit of the service, or in reality to get what you really want out of the service, you will be charged extra.
Common Answering Service Add-On Charges
- Per text charge.
- Outgoing call or 'Tracing' charges- which generally refers to when they call you on the phone. This is in addition to the per call or minute usage for the outgoing call.
- Per fax or email charge.
- Monthly charges to receive messages via email or fax.
Be sure to get clarification about what other fees, taxes and other ‘revenue enhancers’ that will be tacked on to your bill. Some common examples of these are:
- Charging an extra 'holiday charge' to answer on holidays.
- Additional charges for 24/7 coverage as opposed to business hours.
- ‘Semi-Annual’ line charges or some equally confusing and seemingly official sounding term.
- Charging you for the time the caller is on hold.
So as you search for a telephone answering service partner, make sure that you have a comfort level with how you will be charged for services.
About Aaron Boatin
Aaron Boatin is President of Ambs Call Center, a virtual receptionist and telephone answering service provider. His passion is helping clients' businesses succeed. Melding high tech with high touch to provide the best customer service experience for clients is his core focus.