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Answering Services: The Top 13 Questions to Ask Potential Providers

 Rarely are two providers of answering services alike.  To help you compare apples-to-apples, the following 13 questions will create a framework for your evaluation.  They’ll also highlight the most important criteria in selecting a true partner for the long-haul.

1. Does the provider keep a log of past phone calls, and if so, for how long? Occasionally, you may need to review past calls or messages. When these needs arise, the information must be easily accessible. Make sure to ask each provider specifically how long they retain messages and call logs. 2. How long is the initial training program and what does it encompass? Training quality will determine service quality to your customers. Therefore, it’s especially important. Is the training for three days or three weeks? Does it cover company specific topics? Does it include dispatch, typing speed and accuracy, phone etiquette and customer service?

3. What are the billing terms? Do you pay only for the time you use or are other billing methods employed? Ask for a sample billing statement to see how easy it is to understand. You need to make sure the provider’s billing is clear and fair.

4. Does the provider carry Errors & Omissions insurance? This insurance is an important safeguard for you and necessary protection for the provider. You should ask providers if they’ve ever had to file a claim on this insurance.

5. What safeguards does the provider have in the event of a power failure? Any interruption of your answering services could be devastating. Therefore, you need to know your provider is protected should an outage occur. Is the provider 99.999% run time certified? What type of back-up system do they have and can they guarantee uninterrupted service 24/7? Do they have an on-site diesel generator? Do they have redundant phone lines? Do they have an off-site backup to store your company information? A sound and proven disaster recovery plan is an absolute must.

6. Can the answering services be provided in Spanish? Bilingual capability should be a requirement for all answering services providers. You should determine the percentage of the provider’s total staff that is fluent in both English and Spanish. Having only a couple Spanish-speaking employees doesn’t qualify as a bilingual service. Also make sure all shifts are adequately staffed with bilingual speakers. In addition to verifying that the services are provided, you must make sure they are provided in house 24/7. Many providers can’t guarantee coverage during graveyard hours – the hours between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. Sometimes, providers will use an outsourced third-party translation company, which will significantly increase call time and provide less of a seamless interaction for the caller.

7. What is a typical call wait time? With every call potentially a sale, you don’t want to risk losing anyone because of long waits. Inquire about software applications used to monitor call wait times. What’s the percentage of calls answered in three rings or less? What’s the average hold time and does the provider have reports to confirm these numbers? How often are call wait times monitored during the day? Also find out what the provider does in the event of high volume calls. Is additional staff on-call? 8. Will the provider’s phone system have any limitations in terms of callers getting through? It’s important to know about the telephony platform the provider uses. For example, how many simultaneous incoming calls can the platform process? A next-gen system can accept more than 200 simultaneous incoming calls. In that case, callers would never experience a busy signal.

9. Does the provider outsource its answering services? You want to know who is answering calls on behalf of your company. So, ask potential providers about whether they outsource, as well as where their employees work. Do they have telecommuters or are all calls taken in-house?

10. Does the provider offer automated appointed reminders? In addition to answering services, some providers host automated appointment reminder systems in-house. The ability to consolidate services can be a bonus. The right provider can help with custom scripting, call tracking, using automated or human voices and more.

11. Is there one point of contact? Nobody wants to call several people within a provider’s organization to get questions answered or work done. Having one go-to person respects your time and helps the partnership succeed. It also facilitates the transition to outsourcing your answering services. 12. Does the provider operate 24/7? Today’s businesses don’t work nine-to-five anymore. Nor should your answering services provider. When you need help, you should be able to call your provider any time of the day or night.

13. Does the provider offer a “one size fits all” solution? Your business probably isn’t like any other. So, your outsourced answering services should be tailored to your requirements. Your provider should customize scripts and all account information, as well as conduct a live demo with you before going beginning to take calls.

Michelle Weiss is Vice President of AnswerNow, a premiere answering service and bilingual call center service provider. Learn more about Answering Services by visiting

Answering Services: The Top 13 Questions to Ask Potential Providers  

Rarely are two providers of answering services alike. To help you compare apples-to-apples, the following 13 questions will create a framew...