As a business grows and expands, it must meet the needs of a bustling office -- and answering services are an increasingly realistic way to do that. Answering services answer and direct your phone calls so that your dedicated employees don’t have to, saving the business both time and money.
In addition, your answering service is the primary way for customers to communicate with your company. Callers value the chance to talk to another person: according to a recent survey on answering services by Clutch, the ability to speak to a live representative is customers’ top priority.
Looking for an answering service means wading through a sea of unfamiliar terms, though, and it can be confusing to keep track of them all. What’s the difference between call centers, contact centers and answering services? Do you want a company that is onshore, nearshore or offshore?
Here are the basics you need to know when you’re deciding whether an answering service is right for your business.
First things first, there are differences between call centers, contact centers and answering services. They’re all types of voice services, but they have distinct sizes and specialties.
Call centers are large companies that house rooms full of customer service representatives, who answer phone calls on behalf of other companies.
For example, if you order a product online and call a phone number to check on the status of your order, you’ll likely talk to a call center operator. This type of service allows companies to save money by sharing a group of operators who are available 24/7. However, operators’ skill sets and depth of training vary greatly depending on the specific call center.
Contact centers also have customer service representatives who answer phone calls, but they may also send or respond to traditional mail or customer emails.
Answering services are similar to call centers but tend to be smaller, with better-trained employees who are capable of meeting specific customer needs.
A call center employee may work from a script and tends to answer the same questions over and over, whereas an answering service has representatives who can accommodate individual needs. An operator who serves a health insurance agency, for example, can typically answer in-depth questions.
We’ll focus on answering services, since call and contact centers tend to be a better fit for enterprise businesses.
Technology has made the business world much smaller. However, globalization and business process outsourcing can complicate your decision -- you have so many companies to choose from, you may not know where to begin.
There are three types of answering service locations for you to consider: onshore, nearshore and offshore. Each has distinct pros and cons.
Onshore -- Onshore answering services are located in the same country where you’re conducting business.
For instance, if you live and work in the United States, then your onshore service will also be located in the United States. This option has obvious benefits: culture and language barriers are minimal, and you can even choose a company within your time zone to ensure that your orders and deliveries are quickly executed.
The downside: depending on where these services are located, they can cost you much more (think of how much office space in San Francisco or New York costs).
Nearshore -- Nearshore answering services refers to countries surrounding the one in which your company is located.
For companies located in the United States, nearshore companies may include Canada and Mexico, as well as other Central American and Caribbean countries like El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the Bahamas. Nearshoring may even include South American countries, especially Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.
These countries are close enough to the United States to understand the culture well and know English as a second language. Additionally, the time zone is either the same or slightly off, so you still can overlap business hours.
If onshore companies aren’t within your budget, nearshore companies may be a better fit.
Offshore -- Offshore answering services are located in countries far from their clients.
People tend to think of India as the offshoring epicenter. However, the Philippines is also harnessing the potential of answering services -- they generated about $25 billion from the industry in 2016, and that number will increase to about $55 billion by 2020. However, European countries such as the UK, Poland, Ireland and Spain are also seeing growth in this industry.
Offshore companies usually offer the lowest rates, but they also present the most challenges when it comes to the differences in business hours, language fluency, cultural nuances, and fair working conditions for employees.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you’re deciding between an onshore, nearshore or offshore answering services provider:
- How difficult are the tasks that I need to have addressed? Making appointments or taking product orders are basic skills, which offshore companies can likely handle with ease. Assessing medical needs or walking someone through a complex computer hitch, on the other hand, requires a specialized employee who has customer service training and an advanced grasp of the target language.
- Can I test drive the company first? -- Research several different companies and their rates and call them. Do representatives treat you with respect? How clear is the quality of the call? Can you understand the customer representative clearly? Does the representative answer all your questions -- even the complex ones?
- What is my budget? -- Look at your own business needs to get an idea of how much an answering service will charge you. How many calls do you expect each day? How many operators do you expect to have on your account? How specialized is the knowledge the operators must know?
Answering Services Keep Customers Coming Back
The most important factor to consider when hiring an answering service is to get the best customer service you can for your budget.
In a study conducted by Walker, a business consulting firm, they determined that “by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.” A bad answering service will turn customers away, but a great experience will keep customers coming back.
It’s worth the time and money to narrow down the best answering service for your company.