How much does an answering service cost?

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You’re here because you have a question:

How much does an answering service cost?

Maybe you’re a business owner and you don’t have the time to answer phone calls and other messages on your own. Maybe you’re wondering if an outsourced service would be more cost-effective than adding one or more receptionists to your staff. You might be looking for answering service pricing so you can compare providers. Or maybe you’re just curious about answering services and how they work.

Whatever you’re looking for, we have the answers you need—the answers about answering services. Answering answers. (“Answer” is a kind of a weird word, isn’t it?)

Anyway, in this article, you’ll learn…

  • what an answering service is
  • different ways answering service providers price their services and plans
  • why cheaper doesn’t always mean better
  • how the right answering service pays for itself

…and more. But first, let’s start with the reason you’re here:

How much does an answering service cost?

As a small business owner considering outsourcing to an answering service, likely one of the first considerations that comes to mind is “How much does an answering service cost?”

Initially, an answering service can seem like an additional cost. However, they are surprisingly affordable and cost-effective, and can offer tremendous value to a variety of businesses.

The good news is that you’ll be able to find an answering service that fits your budget. However, you may initially feel overwhelmed by your options. An answering service cost comparison isn’t always straightforward, but a little education can help you decide which one is right for your business.

The prices for answering services can vary significantly and depend on several factors, including call volume and duration of each call. Pricing also differs depending on the complexity of your business calls. Some clients simply need the name, number, and a brief message taken (about 1 minute), while others will require time upwards of 5 to 6 minutes, thereby significantly increasing the cost per call.

Your billing structure will differ based upon the type of agents you contract. Some services offer a choice of “shared” or “dedicated” agents. Shared agents also handle calls for other companies, and these services are typically paid for by the minute.

Dedicated agents are those that only handle calls for your business, and these services typically charge by the hour. Most services require that you buy full 8-hour workdays when hiring dedicated agents.

As there is no concrete law for how companies should bill for service, pricing for answering service plans can be confusing. The two most common methods of charging for answering services are per-minute billing and per-call billing.

Per-minute billing

As you may guess, with a billing-by-the-minute model, you pay for the time answering service agents spend on the phone talking to your callers. The company bills you for any outbound and inbound call increments, and you only pay for what you use.

Make sure you understand how the provider calculates call time. If it isn’t clear enough, ask how they calculate it. Also, ask if your provider rounds up your call time. For example, you want to find out if it bills in intervals, such as 1 second, 6 seconds, or 12 seconds. You also want to find out if there’s a minimum call time and if the agent’s post-call actions (such as entering notes about the call into the system or relaying messages) count toward your minutes.

Per-call billing

Pay-per-call answering service rates are another accepted billing method. The service charges a specified flat fee regardless of call length, based on the number of calls they receive. This model is less common because it can increase variability in the amount of time the answering service needs to spend on each call.

The rates can also fluctuate based on call volume. For instance, a service may opt to quote a “per call rate” of $1. While it seems straightforward enough, consider that services often charge for hang-ups and wrong numbers, which can add up rapidly.

While the cost per call can be quoted as little as $0.59, some companies may also charge for each message delivered, as opposed to providers that do not have additional fees for message delivery.

Now that you understand the pricing basics, if you’re on the fence about hiring service, continue reading. Learn everything you can about answering services, from how they work to how to choose the right answering service for your business.

You’ll come away with a deeper understanding of how an answering service can help move the dial for your business and gain confidence in the selection process moving forward.

What is an answering service?

Simply put, an answering service is a company that answers phone calls on behalf of another business. Depending on the type you choose, using an answering service can be much more than paying someone to pick up the phone for you.

A first-rate professional answering service can present your business in a positive light to existing customers and prospects, improving your brand image as well as customer satisfaction and retention rates.

The best answering service providers create meaningful, personal connections with every caller, ensuring your business stands out as truly attentive and customer-centric.

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of answering services:

Interactive voice response systems

These are the “automated response” systems that provide lists of rudimentary self-service and transfer options (e.g., “press ‘3’ to check the status of a prescription” or “press ‘6’ to speak to a pharmacist”).

Call centers

These are the traditional answering services that are less personal than a virtual receptionist but still a human being. Call centers are large operations that specialize in sales, marketing, and customer support over the phone. They are a good option for businesses in high-sales industries with thousands of customers such as retail, automotive insurance, and telecommunications.

Virtual receptionists

Virtual receptionists are real people who manage phone calls remotely (virtually) for business clients. The only difference is that they work offsite. Virtual receptionists are great for small and medium-sized businesses, businesses in high-touch industries (e.g., healthcare, real estate, law, and financial services), businesses that receive calls at nontraditional times, and businesses looking to differentiate their customer service.

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Answering service pricing: Why is it all over the place?

Answering services vary widely in terms of price and features, depending on how you use them. As we discussed earlier, most services charge by the minute or per-call. Whichever model you choose is contingent upon your business’s call volume, the features you need, and how long you intend to work with a service. 

Typically, answering services are priced based on month-to-month plan structures, contingent on the volume of calls handled by the service. Most providers offer various plans, and prices vary based on the number of minutes provided. If the minutes in a plan are exceeded, charges are usually incurred by the minute at a predetermined rate. Higher tiered packages include premium benefits and services, such as 24/7 availability and, in some instances, some internet platform answering services.

Answering services are highly personalized; it requires time for agents to learn your business inside and out. Some services charge a setup fee, while others build it into their rates.

Some answering services charge various other fees and upcharges. When calling for price quotes, ask about additional costs (e.g., setting up your account) as well as any recurring and incidental expenses (e.g., overages or holiday rates) that you may be charged. Before selecting a service, scrutinize the company’s contract to ensure you’re aware of all potential fees.

What should you look for in an answering service?

In a Clutch survey of 301 businesses that use an answering service provider, call quality received the highest average rating (4.61 out of 5), followed by responsiveness (4.55). Surprisingly, price was outranked by four other features. This most likely reflects that the cost for answer services is low enough that other features take precedent.

The right answering service can make all the difference in the success of your business. But with literally thousands of telephone answering services, the task of finding ‘the one’ isn’t that simple. Looking for the right answering service can be a challenge.

To make it easier on yourself, you need to know precisely what you’re looking for and what questions to ask to get the information you need.

Opting for the cheapest answering service plan available can be tempting. But although you may save money upfront, you ultimately get what you pay for.

Providers that offer the lowest prices on the market can compete on just one thing —price. Their service levels suffer because their clients don’t adequately compensate them to staff appropriately, hire the best talent, and train them thoroughly. Services with rock bottom rates often employ inexperienced receptionists or disregard the quality of callers’ experiences.

The right answering service can make or break your business. Agents’ experience and professionalism are two of the most important features you can look for in a service. Without great operators, you’ll have difficulty ensuring all of your customers are cared for the same way your employees would care for them. Because every caller is different, you need agents that can adapt well. Sure, gathering a name and number is essential, but each business has different needs the service should be able to meet.

As all businesses depend on customer loyalty, a personal answering service will let your callers know how important their business is. You love your customers, and a personal experience will show them how much you appreciate them. The right answering service will ensure your business creates positive first impressions and genuine connections with your callers, every time.

Best answering service: What makes a quality answering service?

Every answering service answers phone calls on behalf of another business. In choosing the right service for your business, here are some things to consider:

  • Do they provide live agent answering 24/7/365?
  • What is their typical response time?
  • Are they 100% US-based to ensure the most out of every customer conversation?
  • Can they support your needs, whether it’s full-time call answering or backup and fill-in support?
  • Can they work with your existing phone number or keep your number private with a custom, provider-hosted number?
  • Does their net promoter score (NPS) exceed industry standards?
  • In addition to call answering, do they provide online chat?

The recent shift from in-person to online presents new challenges as well as significant opportunities—companies without the ability to respond quickly enough risk losing valuable leads. Chat can close the gap, helping you respond rapidly to potentially valuable connections. Adding chat to your website can help increase leads, conversions, sales, and customer satisfaction.

Ruby: the #1 business answering service.

Trusted by over 13,000 small business owners, Ruby is a virtual receptionist and chat service company that answers your business phone during and after hours or anytime you need us. We are based in the USA and genuinely care about the level of service we provide to every client.

Learn how Ruby empowers your business to deliver personalized experiences and stay connected.

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