An Office Manager’s Guide to Choosing The Best Answering Service

We frequently hear from office managers who have been tasked with finding a better option for managing customer service. Depending on their industry and their customer base, their needs vary from wanting a backup option for after hours calls to needing a service that can answer each and every call. We are always happy to help them find the best solution for their company’s unique needs, and have found that a few basic questions can help pinpoint just what that solution should look like.  

What options are available for live answering and automated answering?

Think about the majority of your incoming calls and how many require prompt, personal attention. Automated answering services allow callers to hear general information or leave voice messages based on their response to recorded prompts. Automated answering may be adequate if your customers are calling for basic information or if their needs aren’t urgent.

However, if a customer needs more guidance or immediate attention then it would be ideal to have a prompt such as “push 0 to speak to an operator.” And on the other hand, some businesses prefer that all of their calls are answered immediately by a receptionist, 24/7, so it depends on your customers’ needs. The point is that you should have options for both live and automated answering depending on the type and timing of each call.

How qualified are the operators?

Answering service operators will become an extension of your business, and if they are properly trained your customers won’t even realize they’re not staff members in your office. Ask where the operators are located, and to avoid potential language barriers be sure that all agents are U.S. based rather than overseas. Ask for referrals from businesses in your area similar to yours, and look for relatively low operator turnover.

Ask how quickly calls are typically answered, and what the average hold time is. Inquire about how the operators are trained to manage urgent calls, to record and transfer information, and how they’ll represent your business protocols. Office managers with medical or healthcare practices also need to ask how receptionists are trained to comply with HIPAA regulations and how messages are securely sent.

How will you be able to access information?

Ask how you’ll be able to view and manage your account information. Will you have access to a web portal that will allow your to access detailed information about each call? Are all calls recorded, and will they be available to you at no charge? Ask if you will be able to make changes online, such as if there’s a last-minute switch to your on-call contact information.

What types of fees do they charge?

This is a big indicator of whether an answering service provider is motivated by serving the needs of your business and your customers, or is more driven by their own bottom line. Ask what types of monthly fees you might expect to see. Avoid answering services that charge “hold time” fees, or extra charges if you need to make a change in day to day details such as the contact person for after-hours calls. Ask what the policy is if your call volume unexpectedly exceeds your plan during any given month. The call demands of businesses vary from day to day, night to night, and weekend to weekend, so look for a provider that allows for some flexibility. Exceeding your call volume during one month shouldn’t mean you’ll automatically be changed to, plus charged for, a different plan.

The purpose of an answering service is to enhance your business and make your life easier. The right answering service will work with you to customize their communication expertise and technology to suit your needs. The answering service receptionists will care for your customers as if they’re their own—which, essentially, they are.

If you’d like to know how Towne Answering Service can enhance your customer service, call us at 800-660-4316 for a free consultation. You can also visit our website to learn more about our various business solutions and service commitment, and how we can partner with your business to provide personalized, exceptional customer care that meets your specific needs and goals.


Deb Crown

About Deb Crown

Towne Answering Service was established in 1968 to provide answering services for medical and commercial clients in the southeastern Pennsylvania area. Utilizing the best technology available at the time (the time was 1968 and the technology was a switchboard), Towne was able to establish a very faithful clientele, the majority of whom are still with us today. As time passed and technology advanced, so did the equipment. The answering service equipment evolved from switchboards to a basic computerized system with handwritten messages. From that, we were able to move to a fully computerized, paperless, state-of-the-art messaging system with digital lines and switching and were able to partner with our clients and provide a higher level of service.