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Answering Service Call Patching and Transferring
Jennifer M. Cronkhite

By: Jennifer M. Cronkhite on April 29th, 2024

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Answering Service Call Patching and Transferring

Customer Service | How Answering Services Work | Virtual Receptionists 101

This blog was originally published on 5/10/22 and has been updated for relevance.

When you hear the term ‘patching’ it usually refers to connecting or ‘bridging’ two people together by phone other than yourself. ‘Patching’ is a term used by call center agents, switchboard operators, virtual receptionists, and after-hours emergency dispatchers.

But, patching is often confused with terms like ‘call transferring’. Also, there are different kinds of patching too! And if you’re looking for an answering service, you’ve probably seen the term ‘patch minutes’, so what does that mean?. 

As an answering service partner, we’re well familiar with these terms, and we look forward to clearing up the air around all things to do with patching. By the end of this blog, you should know what patching means, the different ways to patch a call, how to patch a call, and how ‘patch minutes’ affect you.

Table of Contents:

  1. What does Patching a Call Mean?
  2. How Warm Patching a Call Works
  3. How Cold Patching a Call Works
  4. How Physician Meet Me Paging Works
  5. What are the Benefit to Patching a Call
  6. What are Patch Minutes?
  7. How are Patch Minutes Billed?
  8. Why are Patch Minutes Billed?

First, let’s take a closer look at what patching is.

What Does Patching a Call Mean?

So, you know when you're on a call with a customer service rep, and suddenly they say they need to put you on hold for a moment to "patch" you through to someone else or to another department? Well, that's what we're talking about here when we talk about the "patching" or call transferring that happens in call centers.

Basically, it's like connecting different parts of a call together - the incoming call and the outgoing number that was dialed.

Picture it like this: You're on a road trip and need to switch from one highway to another. The exit you take that connects both highways is essentially the call center agent. So, when you call customer service, and the agent patches you, think of the call like a car on that highway. 

This car goes from the highway you’re on, takes the exit, then hits the other highway, where you get to speak to the person in charge, or whoever else that you’d want to speak to.

So, next time you hear the term patching used by an answering service or call center, just think of it as their way of keeping your call moving in the right direction.

Some exits you take can be a little rougher than others. Think of that as we talk about the different ways you can patch: warm patching, cold patching, and physician meet-me paging.


Patching a call involves connecting different parts of a call together.

How Warm Patching a Call Works

Let’s assume you’re the person in charge at your business, and you have hired an answering service. Someone calls in, reaches the answering service, but wants to speak with you for whatever reason.

Warm patching, or a live warm transfer, is when the agent answers the call, places the caller on hold and tries your line. If you answer, the agent will announce who is calling and ask if you’re available to be connected. The agent will bring the caller on the line and confirm you’ve been connected. Then, the agent will disconnect. 

At this point, you and the caller have been “patched” and you are free to use the line as long as you like. Alternatively, when you're unavailable, the agent can simply relay a message to the caller and take a message and send it to you.

This is a smooth transition between calls, or a smooth exit if you will. Cold patching, however, is the rougher road to take when patching a call.


How Cold Patching a Call Works

Cold patching, also known as a blind transfer or cold transfer, is when an agent doesn’t check before connecting the caller. In this instance, let’s assume you are again the business owner. With cold patching, the caller is transferred to your line without being introduced. The caller could simply go into your normal voicemail or be greeted by you when you answer.

Pro Tip

If you’re looking to get an answering service, during the on-boarding process, ask your team if they prefer to be warm patched or cold patched.

How Physician Meet-Me Paging Works

Meet-Me Paging is a specialized tool for rapidly and efficiently connecting physicians to patients or hospital staff without requiring the agent to bridge them together. It also allows physicians to be connected to patients without having to give out personal telephone numbers since the call center can process the call from both parties and seamlessly connect them.


Meet-Me Paging is an operator-less way of patching a call.

When an agent answers a call that is appropriate for the Meet-Me connection, the caller is advised to remain on the line and the physician will join them momentarily. The physician is then sent the Meet-Me bridge phone number unique to the call via a regular text message (with no PHI), a secure texting app, pager, or by email.

Once dialed, the physician is then connected to the caller waiting on the Meet-Me Bridge. 

When seconds count, Meet-Me Paging is an exceptional tool for departments which require a lot of patching of callers to physicians that may not be reachable immediately. If the physician isn’t available to call the Meet-Me bridge number, the caller is routed back to the operator.


What are the Benefits of Patching a Call?

Gives You and Your Business Extra Privacy

Patching can be used to maintain privacy. With patching, you may return a call without sharing your personal cell phone number. In this case, you would call the answering service. The agent would place you on hold while getting the initial caller on the phone. 

Once the initial caller is available, the agent will complete introductions and disconnect. All while, the Caller ID will show a call from the answering service, not your cell phone.

Pro Tip 

If you’re having callers cold patched to your team’s personal cell phones, ask them to record a professional voicemail greeting.

Improves Your Business’ Customer Experience

Who doesn’t like to be connected to the person in mind immediately upon request. Patching, specifically warm patching, allows your callers to feel a seamless transition between calls in a curated experience for them. It shows that there was a thought about their customer experience by your business. 

If they’re a customer, you’ve kept them satisfied. If they’re a prospect, and you’ve given them a positive moment that they’ll remember when it comes time for them to decide on a business partner.


What are patch minutes?

Patch minutes are based on the time a caller stays connected to you while using the answering service’s phone line. Just like an old-school phone fee. Patch minutes are billed in one-minute increments and begin once the agent disconnects. Patch minutes continue until you and the caller disconnect.


How are patch minutes billed?

You may be wondering why this matters. The answer is of course, money. Up until an agent disconnects from the line, the call center agent’s work is being billed as work time. If you work with an answering service, you know that this is what your monthly package includes. Once the agent disconnects and you speak with a caller, you’re being billed for “patch time”.

There are different methods that answering services use to bill for patched calls.

  • Low per minute rate - patched calls are billed at a separate, low rate, typically $0.06 per minute or less.
  • Charged as minutes in your plan - patched calls are charged at the same rate as your operator minutes.
  • Included in your plan - Some companies include the patch time in the monthly plan. Yet, the per minute cost of your work time minutes are 2x or 3x what a typical answering service charges. In our time around the block, we feel it an obligation to let people know the many hidden charges of answering services. There is truly no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to patch time.

Why are patch minutes billed?

Patch time is billed because telephone lines are a finite resource at call centers. After the answering service operator connects a caller to you, there are two lines in use for the duration of the telephone call. Thus to ensure there are enough phone lines to serve you and all clients, patch time is billed as used.

Patch time is usage based and will always be billed in arrears. Patch time used during a given month will show as a separate line item on the next monthly invoice.

Ambs Call Center charges for patch time at $0.06 per minute. So, two hours of patch time would only amount to $7.20. Less than two cups of coffee. How much time do you waste playing phone tag?


Should You Include Patching In Your Answering Service Plan?

If you’ve ever gotten a phone message and grumbled, “I’m usually up until 10 pm. Why didn’t the answering service just call my cell phone - I could have taken that call! It's only 8:30 pm!” Well, patching may be right for you.

Now, if you currently aren’t working with an answering service, we recommend reading about the pros and cons of hiring an answering service so you can decide if an answering service is right for your business. Also, you may want to check out how to compare answering services pricing.

Now that you know what patching is, we hope you are more informed about whether patching would be right for your business. If you are still curious, or have a couple questions, just fill out the simple form below and one of our professionals will be right with you! 

We want people to make more informed decisions about their answering service partners, so even if you don’t do business with us, we would be glad to point you in the right direction to a company with what you’re looking for.


About Jennifer M. Cronkhite