How Will I Be Billed By My Answering Service?

When evaluating Answering Services, it is important that you understand exactly how you will be billed for their services. In particular, be aware that, when it comes to pricing, you may be comparing apples to oranges. In general, Answering Services either bill on a per call or per minute basis, but they may also bill on a per message, per unit or fixed rate plan. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages depending upon the types of calls you receive, the types of messages you would like taken and delivered, and how you would like them delivered.

Per Call Plans Questions to Ask / Things to Consider What is my current call volume including hang-ups and wrong numbers? What is considered a call? Are both Inbound Calls and Outbound Calls included? Text Messages? Emails? Faxes? Pages? If you have a billing plan that includes a certain number of calls per billing period, how will you be charged for calls that exceed my plan?

Per Minute Plans Questions to Ask / Things to Consider How long is my typical call? Can the service screen incoming calls with prerecorded message so that I have the option to reduce the number of calls that are answered by an operator? How are minutes calculated? Are they rounded to the nearest minute? 15 seconds? 6 seconds? What activity is included in my billed minutes? Most services bill for Live Operator Time, but some bill for Wrap Time (time required to complete and double-check the message after the caller hangs up to complete and double check the message) and some bill for Screen Time (time unrelated to the call when the answering service staff have your account open on their screen for various reasons. How will I be billed for text messages, emails, pages, and faxes? If my billing plan includes a certain number of minutes for each period, how will I be billed for overage minutes?

Per Message Plans Questions to Ask / Things to Consider What is included as a message (Some create a message for every call, such as “no message” or “caller will call back”)? If my plan includes a certain number of messages, how will I be billed for overage messages?

Per Unit Plans (These are the most complicated and vary from answering service to answering service) Questions to Ask / Things to consider Do they provide documentation showing how the units will be calculated?  Sometimes a call = 1 unit, but perhaps some calls (outbound call??) might = 2 units. Sometimes an email, text, page, or fax might be a unit as well. Will the bills you receive show the details behind how the total units are calculated?

Fixed Rate Plans (There are a few answering services that will provide fixed rate plans) Questions to Ask / Things to consider Will my rate increase if my call/minute count exceeds a certain level, so be sure that you understand what will trigger a rate increase? If there are automatic triggers for increases, make sure you understand if there are automatic triggers for rate decreases as well, so that an unusually busy period won’t cause the fixed rate to increase forever?

9 Things to Consider when Choosing a Telephone Answering Service


  • Are customer service representatives available 24/7, including holidays?   Does the company offer both live operator and automated response services? If appropriate for your business, the use of a personalized announcement to give office hours, etc. combined with an option to speak with a liver operator is an effective way to reduce expenses.

  • Can the handling of your calls and the dispatching of your messages be customized to meet your specific needs?

  • What other business support services do they offer?  Many services now have the capability to schedule appointments and makes reservations; provide help desk and dealer location services; track employee attendance, etc.

  • Do their customer service representatives have access to the internet if that is necessary for the handling of your calls?


  • Make sure you understand how charges will be computed.  Charges can be based upon the calls or on time.  Be aware that the definition of “call” and “time” may differ from one answering service to another.  See post “How will I be billed by my Answering Service”)

  • Ask for a written proposal.  Ask whether the pricing plan you chose can be modified in the future? Does the company require you to commit to a contact?


  • Does the company provide a variety of message delivery options such as voice, text, email, fax, alpha page, or encrypted messaging?

  • How long does the company retain information?

  • Are all calls recorded and, if so, are the recordings available to you on request?

  • Does the company have system redundancy and power backup to ensure service in times of phone and power outages?

  • Can the company provide interfacing with my company’s information system or CRM if that is necessary for the handing of your calls?


  • How does the company ensure there will be sufficient staff available to minimize long ring or hold times?

  • What type of notice will the company need from you if your call volume should increase due to special promotions, office hour changes, etc.?


  • How is the staff trained?  Does the company conduct standardized training programs from the Association of TeleServices International (ATSI) or other industry associations?

  • Do all employees receive regular HIPAA training prepared by ATSI or other industry associations?

Stability & Reliability

  • How long has the company been in business?  What is the average tenure of their staff?  Is the company active in the local business community?

  • Does the company have back-up power and redundancy of critical system components?


  • Does the company comply with local, state, and federal regulations and carry business insurance, including Error and Omissions coverage?

  • Does the company comply with HIPAA and HITECT regulations?

  • Is the company active member of an organization that keeps its membership up to date with the latest laws, regulations, and industry trends?

References / Testimonials

  • Ask for references you can call to discuss the service.  Be sure to ask for references in your particular industry or locations.

  • Check the company’s website to see if they have a testimonial page


  • Has the company earned any awards or recognition in the industry or local business community?  Does the company participate in the ATSI Award of Excellence service award?  This program assesses a company’s service level through the evaluation of test or “mystery shop” calls.

The Power of the Person

At its core, personal service is all about the person. The age of emails and text messages has caused many of today’s businesses to become nameless and faceless entities, emotionally detached from their customers. Live Operator Answering Services can help you better connect with your customers and put the personal back in personal service. In fact, a recent study by Consumer’s Union found the #1 customer annoyance was that they can’t get a real person on the phone when they call.

Mention Answering Services and many people think only of their doctor or maybe their fuel oil company. Today’s Answering Services are so much more, providing customized Live operator services to a wide range of companies that are without the time or the staff it takes to effectively handle their calls during the day or after hours.

Many of today’s Answering Services provide detailed and personalized “scripting” of your calls to ensure that your messages have all the vital and accurate information you need to meet your unique business requirements. Well developed “scripting” enables the answering service to be an extension of your company providing the caller with a seamless customer service experience.

Full-service Answering Services provide so much more than simply “take a message and deliver a message” service. Messages are tracked and recorded for auditing purposes and can be delivered to your people using via email, text message, fax or a good old-fashioned phone call to their cell or landline phone. Summary messages can be sent to you daily or weekly to help you manage your customer calls and on-call staff. Some Answering Services can even directly enter call information into your business systems enabling your staff to work more efficiently by eliminating the need to re-enter customer information.

How to Make the Most Out of Call Forwarding (Part III)

Here is one more common type of Call Forwarding:

Virtual Call Forwarding (different carriers have different names for this)

This feature allows you to forward your office number to another number even when you are away from the office.  This feature is great for emergency situations or when you forget and leave the office without forwarding your calls to the answering service.  You are given a toll-free number to call along with a PIN to activate or deactivate.

For more information on how you can best utilize Call Forwarding, please contact Chris Gordon at 315-255-9125 ext 225.

How to Make the Most Out of Call Forwarding (Part II)

Here are some other common types of Call Forwarding:

Call Forwarding When Busy

This feature allows for your incoming calls to be automatically forwarded to another telephone number whenever your line is busy. This is great for an office where there are fewer numbers than there are simultaneous callers.

• This feature must be set up in advance through your local phone carrier.

• Once activated, this feature will forward calls to an answering service when your line is in use so that your customers never reach a busy signal and you never miss a call.

Call Forwarding if there is No Answer

Works similar to Call Forward When Busy, except this feature forwards calls whenever the call is not answered within a designated number of rings. This is great for those times when staff is away from their desk phones.

• This feature must be set up through the phone carrier. You determine how many rings you would like the caller to hear before the call is forwarded to the Call Forward telephone number

For more information on how you can best utilize Call Forwarding, please contact Chris Gordon at 315-255-9125 ext 225.

The Cost of Missed Opportunities

It is easy to keep track of the dollars that go out the door each month when you pay our bills. More difficult to calculate, but just as important to the health of your company, is the cost of the opportunities missed when a customer or prospect calls and there is no one there to speak to them.

• Are your marketing campaigns generating more inbound call activity than your staff can handle?

• How many prospects did not bother to leave a voicemail message when they call and do not reach a live person? Statistics say that more than 50% of callers will not leave a message if they reach your voicemail. They simple hang up the phone and call someone else.

• How efficient is your sales staff? Are they tied up asking routine questions instead of concentrating their efforts on qualified prospects?

• Are your people spending too much time listening to their voicemails to find the business prospects your future depends on? How often do they have to listen to messages multiple times to gather all the message information? (An average American worker takes about 50 seconds to listen to a voicemail. An average American worker takes about 6 seconds to read a text message of that same call)

• What kind of impression does an endlessly ringing telephone or voicemail greeting make on the people trying to reach your company? Is it impression you would like to make on your callers? Nothing can replace the positive impact of a courteous and professional live operator answering your calls.

Consider letting an Answering Service assist you in capturing the sales leads and new business prospects that call you each day. Not only will the Answering Service save you time gathering the vital information necessary for you to do your job, but they will give your company the professional and friendly image that will set you apart from your competition.

How to Make the Most Out of Call Forwarding (Part I)

Most of our customers use Call Forwarding to connect with the answering service.  This feature is available through the local phone carriers and is controlled by you and them.

There are several types of Call Forwarding available through the phone carriers. Here are the most commonly used types of call forwarding and when they may be beneficial:

Call Forwarding Variable This is the basic plan.  This Call Forwarding option allows you to call forward your telephone number manually to any telephone number that you select.

Typical procedure:

  • Activated by dialing *72 and the telephone number that you want to forward your calls to.  You must be dialing from the phone number that you want to have forwarded for this to work.
  • Once you have received confirmation that you have reached the correct number (either a live operator’s greeting or a recorded message) you can hang up.  The call forwarding has been activated.  It is not necessary to actually speak with an operator to tell them that you are forwarding your phones.  In fact, most calls are forwarded at our peak call volume times so you may experience longer than usual wait times if you stay on the line to speak with an operator.


  • Dial *72 and the telephone number that you want to forward your calls to, hang up after the first ring and repeat the process until you hear a confirmation tone – this indicates that you have successfully forwarded the line.
  • The Call Forwarding feature is usually cancelled or deactivated by dialing *73 from the telephone line that was forwarded.   There is no need to speak with anyone to do this.

For more information on how you can best utilize Call Forwarding, please contact Chris Gordon at 315-255-9125 ext. 225.