8 Surefire Ways to Reduce Your Answering Service Bill
Like most, you know about the great benefits of using a telephone answering service. What you might not know are the secrets to getting the best service possible at the lowest cost.
Here are eight tips to reduce your answering service bill.
Switch from Phone Calls to Text or Email
If you remember one tip to reduce your answering service bill, this is the one.
Outgoing telephone calls are the most inefficient and expensive method that you can choose when asking the call center to contact your staff.
When calling someone on the phone, the clock starts as soon as the number is dialed.
- Each ring takes 6 seconds of time. If someone answers within 3 rings, you've already used 18 seconds worth of time.
- Assuming the person is ready to write down the message at that very instant, figure on at least 1-2 minutes.
- If the person is not ready, it's not uncommon for them to request for the agent to 'hold on while I pull over' or 'find something to write with'. Plan on 5 minutes on a good day for these calls.
So, at best, phone calls average 1.5 to 2.5 minutes. Worst case average could be 5 minutes or more per call.
Multiply this time by the number of outgoing calls per month. The minutes add up quickly. It's easy to see why considering alternate message delivery options might be a good idea.
Receive Information via Text Message Instead
All information in the example above can be texted to you in seconds using SMS text messaging. If your business is a health care organization, you would use Secure Text Messaging to receive PHI via encrypted text message.
The person receiving the message can text back to acknowledge the message was received. It's even easier on the secure text message app, clear the call by simply pressing a button to clear the call.
Receive Information via Email Instead
Just like the text messaging example, receiving messages via email might be a good option to consider. Most phones now have the capability to automatically trigger an alert tone for specific email addresses. Health care providers will want to use an encrypted email option.
Bonus: The best answering service providers allow the end user to stop escalation with a quick email response.
"My guys will never wake up to a text message!"
We hear you. We get that some people won't wake up to the 'ding' of a text message, no matter how many times they set it to repeat. Never fear, all is not lost with taking advantage of technology and saving some money at the same time.
A viable option is to send out a text message with the information immediately followed by a phone call. When the person answers the phone, they can simply acknowledge that they received all of the details via text message.
Update On-Call Schedules Online
If your company offers after-hours service coverage, you probably have a rotating person on-call. Most companies have a monthly schedule which rotates week by week. Some rotate the person on-call daily.
Making sure that the answering service has accurate, up to the second information is critical for things to go right with the call.
Relaying this information manually to the answering service will drive up your bill. Some call centers will charge a flat monthly fee to load your on-call schedules. More commonly, you are charged for the amount of time spent entering the on-call information into their system.
The good news is that using a web on-call app eliminates all these charges!
The best answering services offer web on-call for free on their web portal which gives you the ability to make real-time on-call changes. Chances are that you'll find that you can create your on-call schedule faster than using a spreadsheet or writing things down by hand.
You can also give your staff the ability to view your schedule online so they always have the latest on-call information.
Average monthly costs by method of updating on-call information:
- Calling in on-call information each night when you call forward your phone. Estimated monthly cost: $30.
- Emailing or faxing weekly on-call schedules. Estimated monthly cost: $25.
- Emailing or faxing monthly on-call schedules. Estimated monthly cost: $20.
- Using web on-call. Estimated monthly cost: $0, zip, nada, zilch, nothing!
If you have many locations or on-call schedules, simply multiply each of the above options times the number of schedules. Unless you are using web on-call, the costs add up in a hurry.
Screen Routine Calls with a Voice Mail Greeting
If many of the calls that you receive are routine in nature such as questions about office hours, directions and FAQs, consider having a greeting play for the caller before they ring into an operator. Most call centers refer to this as voice mail prescreen.
We've seen a reduction of upward of 40% for some of our call center customers.
The greeting can be provided by the answering service or in some cases, by the phone system at your office.
You can also add multiple greetings to accommodate multiple languages as well as giving the caller the option to leave voice mail messages.
To hear an example of voice mail prescreen in action, call 888.222.6160.
Caller ID Match for Repeat Callers
If many of your callers are repeat callers, the answering service can configure their software to remember them. The next time they call, the software automatically populates their information on the screen.
It allows the agent to simply confirm information rather than entering in from scratch. This is a nice touch from a customer service standpoint as the caller feels 'they know who I am'.
It also reduces the amount of time needed to handle the call which equates to a cost savings for you.
This is similar to Caller ID Recall but with more gusto. A database look up can be used in a number of different ways. A good example is verifying that a caller is has an after-hours service contract.
You can import as much information as you wish and it makes the caller's customer service experience a delightful one.
A good example of its use is to confirm that a caller has an after-hours service plan before waking up a member of your staff. It reduces costs from the answering service but also can help you reduce staff fatigue and overtime costs.
Keeping Information Up to Date
It sounds simple, but trust us, phone numbers and instructions become out of date faster than you might think. Staff, procedures and instructions all change over time.
We recommend that you review your account information quarterly for the best results. Some companies allow you to view or download this information from their web portal. While others even let you update your answering service information online.
Making sure your information is up to date information reduces costs by eliminating errors caused by incorrect information.
A common example is when an operator needs to relay an urgent call to your staff. She calls the on-call cell phone number repeatedly to relay a message, only to find out that the number had changed 6 months prior. This drives up cost and more importantly, service to your customers is compromised.
By auditing your information, you'll improve the quality of the service to your customers and save money at the same time.
Staff Response Time
Making sure that your staff responds in a timely message to acknowledge calls is key. It will save you a significant amount of money. If your message center needs to call and text the on-call person repeatedly to get them to respond, you'll chew through the minutes in no time.
There are a few ways which work well to make sure that the escalation protocol works as efficiently as possible.
- Educate staff on the importance of responding to customers in need in a timely fashion.
- 'Inspect what you expect' by looking at the daily reports that show response time and escalation steps taken for customer calls.
- Test out cell phone coverage for the areas that your staff will physically be located in. If there are dead zones, consider a different using a different carrier or perhaps a pay-as-you-go back up cell phone on a different network.
Get 'Just the Facts'
Gathering detailed information is an important part of what answering services do.
In some situations, it is imperative that a lot of detailed information is gathered on a call. However, this isn't always the case. We generally recommend to clients who want to reduce their costs to have us gather just the pertinent information they need.
Asking for too much information from the caller does two things:
- It frustrates the caller
- If drives up your minute usage, making for a higher answering service bill.
Look at your work flow to determine what information your staff needs to handle the customer request. Then figure out the questions your caller should be asked. Sometimes less is more.