When selecting an answering service, it's important to ask the right questions. There are quite a few industry policies that aren't immediately recognizable to outsiders. In some cases, these policies can significantly inflate the cost of an answering service, so it's critical to find out the details of a company's policies before making a purchase decision. These questions will help you identify an answering service that's worth your time.
Can I see a breakdown of the monthly price?
Answering services commonly charge fees for setup and additional services. When you're considering an answering service, it's important to obtain a proposal that includes a complete breakdown of the price, letting you see exactly what goes into the total bill. If possible, request a breakdown of a typical month's pricing as well, as the first month often includes deposits and setup fees.
Are there any contracts or monthly minimums?
Most answering services in our review are month-to-month subscriptions and easily canceled. Some, however, require a contract or monthly minimum. It's important to know upfront if there is a mandatory contract or period of notice you must give the company before backing out. In case there is a problem with the service, examine the proposal closely for cancellation terms.
What billing increments does this answering service use?
Billing increments should be a major consideration when reviewing answering services. The billing increment determines how much an answering service rounds up per-minute usage, and it can significantly impact the monthly cost of the service. Some answering services bill second by second, but the industry standard is to bill in six-second increments. This means a call lasting one minute and one second would actually be billed as a one-minute and six-second phone call, appearing on the bill as "1.1 minutes." Some services bill in 12-second increments, and the highest in our review rounds up to the nearest minute. Be sure you understand the billing increments before signing up with a service, because they can make a seemingly affordable service expensive in reality.
Does this answering service bill in a 28-day cycle?
Another common pitfall businesses run into with answering services is the 28-day cycle. When a service bills in a 28-day cycle, it means you have less time to use your minutes. Moreover, it adds a 13th billing period to the year, so you essentially end up paying for an extra month. Taken together with billing increments, 28-day billing cycles can end up elevating costs.
Can I access on-demand reports?
Many answering services offer client portals, which you can access to review your account usage, run reports, and update the script that agents use when answering the phone on your company's behalf. These portals are useful windows into how an answering service is managing your account, not to mention a nice tool to have if you'd like to update how they answer the phones on the fly. Most client portals include an on-demand reporting function that allows you to run detailed reports, granting you additional insights into who is calling and why. Finding out a portal's reporting capabilities could help you make a decision.