Investing in an answering service for your small business can help you stay connected to customers and new opportunities. Customers, leads and vendors might be kept waiting while you’re taking care of other urgent needs. Every unanswered call or long customer service delay can affect your bottom line.
If you’re struggling with this issue, it might be time to consider a business answering service. Here’s what you should consider before investing in one.
Why Your Small Business Might Need an Answering Service
Unanswered phones can hurt your business. According to the Lead Response Management Study, your chances of qualifying a lead drop significantly if a five-minute wait turns into 30 minutes. If no one answers their calls, potential clients get frustrated and prospective customers head to the competition.
An answering service can help you mitigate these issues. Most answering services field incoming calls, take messages and forward them to you at regular intervals. If you’re on the road or with customers, for example, an answering service can keep you connected to your phone lines when you can’t get to them. At higher service tiers, answering services schedule appointments, gather customer details and answer basic questions about your business. Paying for a higher tier might sound like an unnecessary expense at first, but it could be more cost-effective than hiring staff.
And the cost of missed calls adds up. Map Communications estimates that every missed call costs heating, ventilation, and air conditioning techs $180 and attorneys about $40. Unanswered sales inquiries and frustrated customers mean lost revenue. Taking proactive steps to ensure that your business can answer calls, no matter what, could stop those losses — and could even unearth new profits.
What Features Should You Look for In an Answering Service?
Finding the right answering service provider begins with outlining the features you need.
Answering Service Tiers
First, figure out what kind of service you need. The most basic answering services pool customer service representatives to answer incoming phones for several businesses. When a call is forwarded to the agent, the agent greets the caller and gives basic details about your business. Basic-tier services typically include taking and forwarding messages.
At higher tiers, some answering services dedicate a specific representative who acts as an extension of your team when they answer your calls. They might also support specific requests, like checking an order’s status or scheduling an appointment.
How will you get the messages that the business answering service takes for you? Do you need messages shared instantly, hourly or daily? Some systems can email or text you your messages. Others have a customer service portal that’s easy to use but requires extra logins.
Consider how quickly you need to access information and what format you’d like it in. For example, Jenna’s consulting business often keeps her on the road, so having a dedicated answering service representative who emails and texts her whenever she misses a call helps her stay connected with demanding clients in real-time.
Do you need phone coverage during your business hours, your off-hours, or around the clock? Different answering services provide different options (at different price points) depending upon how your business is set up. Megan, for instance, runs a retail business and only needs phone support when she’s on the floor with customers.
Support for Other Channels
Some answering services for small businesses have diversified into other areas and can provide additional support, such as addressing live chat inquiries. Do you need a wider range of support, or do you expect to transition to digital channels?
Victor’s e-commerce team is busy fulfilling orders. Having an answering service that offers phone and chat support during off-hours helps Victor deliver higher customer satisfaction.
Another factor to consider is how much personalization you’ll need from your answering service. For example, is a business greeting with your company name enough? Or do you need a service that can supply a more complex script for incoming calls? This might involve a more detailed greeting or gathering details from customers about their inquiries before passing messages to you.
Think about this from a functional standpoint and an image standpoint. For example, Lucy runs an emergency electrical service, and she needs her phone support to gather critical information that helps her prioritize incoming calls.
Companies often need flexible coverage. Monica’s law firm is busy, but she typically answers her business phone. The ability to forward her calls to her answering service lets her get phone coverage when she’s with a client or working on a case. She keeps her flexibility while getting the support she needs with on-demand call forwarding.
There’s never been a more frustrating time to have your phone number publicly available. Spam calls are on the rise; using an answering service can help eliminate the time you spend dealing with these distractions. Some even report unwanted calls to help reduce the volume.
Do you need to provide customer support in many languages? Some answering services offer bilingual agents. Katie’s spa clients speak English and Spanish; by hiring an answering service that operates fluently in both languages, she’s able to extend her spa’s preferred customer experience to her phone interactions.
Where to Find Answering Services
There are a wide variety of answering services on the market. Here’s an overview of some of the best-known options designed for small businesses.
- Moneypenny offers live chat support and customized services for various industries.
- Abby Connect provides a variety of business answering service solutions, including support in English and Spanish.
- VoiceNation offers a wide range of solutions for small businesses in various areas.
- Ruby is an online small business answering service that helps small business owners deliver excellent customer service.
You’re busy, but you don’t have to keep customers, leads and other opportunities waiting. An answering service can give that personal touch to everyone who calls you. It also helps you present the polished, professional image that will keep your business thriving in an era when the customer experience matters more than ever.
If you need access to funding to help pay for answering services for your business, a small business loan may help you finance these needs.