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Answering Service Call Patching and Transferring
Jennifer M. Cronkhite

By: Jennifer M. Cronkhite on November 30th, 2020

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Answering Service Call Patching and Transferring

Customer Service | How Answering Services Work | Virtual Receptionists 101

Patching is essentially call center lingo for transferring a caller to your team. Patching is frequently used by switchboard operators, virtual receptionist and after-hours emergency dispatchers. In the telephone answering service industry, there are two common ways callers can be patched including, warm and cold.

Warm Patching

Warm patching or a live warm transfer is when an agent answers a call, places a 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. 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.

Cold Patching

Cold patching or a blind transfer is when an agent doesn’t check before connecting the caller. In this instance, the caller is connected 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
During the on-boarding process, ask your team if they prefer warm or cold patching.

What else is possible with patching?

Additionally, 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.

What are patch minutes?

If patching is transferring, what are patch minutes? Patch minutes are based on the time a caller stays connected to you while using the answering service’s 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 disconnects.

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 their work is being billed as work time, which is what your monthly package includes. Once the agent disconnects and you are speaking 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 $0.12 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. So, there is truly no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to patch time.

Pro Tip
If you’ve ever gotten a phone message and grumbled, “I am usually up until 10 pm. If the Answering Service would have just called my cell phone, I could have taken that call it's only 8:30 pm.” Patching maybe right for you.

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 insure 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 $0.05 per minute. So, two hours of patch time would only amount to $6. Less than two cups of coffee. How much time do you waste playing phone tag?

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Feature Photo Credit: Sherri Noel, rebeccamaedesigns.com 

About Jennifer M. Cronkhite