As a small business owner, you wear many hats. You are probably part of the sales department, accountant, hiring manager, and sometimes play the role of customer service. It can be too much to handle—a ball is inevitably going to get dropped somewhere. You will have to prioritize your time and efforts to see what is most beneficial for your company. Some tasks on your plate can likely be outsourced or implemented by an outside agency. At the top of your important list should be impeccable customer service. A lack of customer service is unacceptable in this day and age. We live in a “cancel culture” where a minor inconvenience or unanswered question can not only lose a potential customer but repeat clients as well. Let’s look at why it’s beneficial for a startup to hire an answering service to free up time and use resources most efficiently.
What is an Answering Service?
An answering service is hired to help handle a small or large amount of business communications, depending on what you need. Traditional answering services pretty strictly dealt with inbound and outbound phone calls and were more robotic in nature (i.e., couldn’t help answer questions, sounded like a recording, etc.) but modern answering services are also able to handle emails, send out appointment reminders, schedule calls, and help with tech support. Answering services tend to get confused with other similar services and within reason. Answering services, virtual assistants, and call centers all have very similar functionalities to support your business. Here are a few things to note about the differences in these commonly interchangeable services:
- Answering services offer inbound and outbound communications. They usually take messages and transfer calls.
- Virtual assistants can do more than an answering service. They typically are more involved with the business and may do sales tasks or work leads through a CRM system.
- A call center is best used for mass communication for larger businesses. They can deal with help desk tickets, placing orders, and email monitoring.
Why Startups Should Hire an Answering Service
Saving time, consolidating resources, and growing your startup are all aspects that an answering service can help with.
Never Miss a Call
A common problem that many startups face is the capacity to answer and an influx of calls. When you’re running with a small team, it can be hard to have one dedicated person for incoming calls who is always available. They won’t be held up in meetings or get preoccupied with a customer in-store. Their sole job is to make sure your calls get answered! Sending a potential customer or current client to a never-ending abyss of rings when they try to call your company is one of the worst customer service mistakes you can make.
Once you put a bad taste in someone’s mouth, it can start to chip away at your reputation, and it’s tough to come back from that. It’s much better to be proactive and hire an answering service when you need it before any major damage has been done. With an answering service, you will even be able to have representatives answer your calls outside of your regular business hours! The majority of answering services offer their assistance 24/7, including weekends, holidays, and emergency situations.
Tying into the point above, hiring an answering service can help you cut costs. Along with never missing a call, hiring a company to help answer your flood of calls can save you money. Imagine how much a receptionist or admin assistant costs. On average (depending on their skill level), hiring a single person in a position for simply answering calls can be upwards of $15/hour, resulting in $31,000 a year in salary alone. On top of that, you also have to consider overtime pay, health benefits, and PTO, which is are expenses that can quickly add up to a hefty amount.
Comparing that to the cost of an answering service can be a little difficult once you get into the nitty-gritty because every company works differently. Pricing models can be based on different factors, like how many days a week you need their service, how many incoming calls you get, and what additional features you use from them aside from the answering services. On average, for a small business that uses 250-500 answering service minutes a month, their cost may be around $200-$450 a month. If we go back to our example, a receptionist could cost $2,500 a month, so you could be saving 82% of staff costs.
Leave the Hiring to Someone Else
Going through resumes, marking off time on your calendar, interviewing potential candidates just to fill one position is incredibly time-consuming. By hiring an answering service, you will never have to worry about hiring a single customer service representative. After you’ve found a trustworthy answering service company to work with, they will do the hiring moving forward since that is part of their time. Having this off your plate saves you time and money and gives you the ability to grow your company because your customer service side will essentially grow with you as it’s needed.
Professional answering services will also act as a seamless extension of your team. Most answering service companies will learn your scripts and sales process and be able to answer generic questions. You won’t have to worry about them treating your clients as you would because they should be capable of adapting to your guidelines and criteria. If the answering service is not abiding by your scripts and preferences, they are not the right partner for your company.
Grow Your Business
Your bandwidth is limited by your business’ growth. When hiring an answering service, you will be hiring as many customer service reps as you need. Plus, most answering services come with many other features in addition to simply answering phones. Not only do they answer calls around the clock, but they can also schedule appointments and send reminders, work as a virtual assistant, and complete high-level admin duties as needed. This frees you to focus on the more essential aspects of growing the business.
What to do Before Hiring an Answering Service
Finding the right answering service for your startup can be the most challenging part of hiring an outside agency. There are many factors to consider when looking for the right fit.
Figure out What Your Business Needs
The more obvious advice is to figure out what your business needs in an answering service and what features are non-negotiable. With so many companies offering so many options, it can be easy to get overwhelmed because everything sounds like a great addition to optimize your business. Keep in mind that all these additions more than likely will come with a cost as well, so you want to make sure you are only taking on ones that will be most utilized right now for your startup. As your business grows and results in more revenue, you can add on features.
Evaluate Your Options
There are many options for answering services on the market. No matter what your company needs, you will probably find multiple businesses that fit your criteria, so how do you tell them apart? Some questions to ask potential answering service companies to help you dwindle down your options are:
- What other solutions are provided in addition to answering calls?
- How much does your answering service cost?
- What type of clients have you worked with?
- How do you charge? (monthly fee, X amount per call, etc.)
- What is the hiring process for your answering staff?
- Is your staff experienced in handling customer complaints?
After getting answers for most, if not all, of the above questions, it should help you pick out the best fit for your company.
Ask About Their Backup Systems
What happens when your backup needs backup? Or there’s a natural disaster or a simple power outage? A question that seems obvious but commonly gets overlooked in the hiring process is asking about their backup system. Is there a power solution for when things fail? What do they plan to do with an outage strikes? Once you depend on an answering service to be responsible for your calls and your business relies on them, you’ll need them to keep up their end of the deal.
See Who is on Their Client List
You’ll want to see what companies an answering service has worked with before to make sure they have experience in your field. If they have a portfolio full of medical clients, could their representatives sound too uptight for your customers? If they work with a lot of IT help-desk clients, would they be able to offer a friendly service to your retail customers? If an answering service has worked in your industry previously, there’s a great chance their services will work for you as well.
Answering Services are Beneficial for Small Businesses
By hiring a professional answering service, you will have a dedicated team to become a seamless extension of your company. They will learn about your company, know how to answer common customer questions, and never let another potential customer slip through the cracks. When you hire the right answering service company, you’ll be able to focus more on growing your company and less time on tasks that you’re not necessarily needed for.