The word “answering service” often brings images of a smoke-filled room with a line of the old cord boards in it. Sitting in front of the cord boards are operators who are very rude and don’t want to be bothered with answering the questions of the caller or indeed, being there at all!
Times have changed. There are no more cord boards, everything is computerized, and people are not rude. To this day though, most answering services try to get away from that word (Answering Service) and call themselves a “Call Center.” What people don’t know, is there’s a difference between a call center and an answering service.
A call center is a designed to handle one client’s calls, for example a bank has a call center or a retailor has a call center for customer services issues. Employees working in a call center learn how to service one client and, in reality, they work for one entity, answering the same call all day.
Often, when hiring new employees we ask, “Do you have any answering service experience?” Their answers are always, “I worked in a call center for …..” I respond to them that this is not answering service experience, it is call center experience. They have experience on the phone, that’s it. Many will ask, “What’s the difference?”
What is the difference? An answering service is an entity that is the call center for many different businesses. The prospective employee has answered for one company, with the same set of rules and expectations on each phone call.
At an answering service, (especially good ones) there are many skills needed:
1) The employee needs to be able to wear many hats on the phone. Their first call of the day could be as simple as taking a message for a plumber and texting that out to him. The next call could be on a dentist’s line where the caller is having a dental emergency. There is much more to the process of reaching the dentist where there is a dental emergency than it was in texting the plumber with a routine message. The next call could be a person running late for their appointment and the medical office needs to be aware of this information. This is an example of my first three calls just today.
2) Another important trait of a good answering service employee is flexibility. A good answering service is open 24/7. We schedule a certain number of employees for each shift (depending on call flow). If an employee calls in sick that employee does need to be replaced. The ability to cover a shift from a sick coworker is very important and flexibility is a valued asset in an employee.
3) Accuracy is extremely important. Accuracy in both the detail of the messages, and the knowledge and understanding of how to handle a specific client’s call. The misspelling of a person’s name, getting a wrong number on a message or just a sloppy message hurts your credibility with your client. Your clients could feel the quality of our service is poor.
Being an answering service operator can be a thankless job. I often tell my operators are that we are only as good as our last call that we’ve taken. An operator may answer 200 calls perfectly and during your 201st call, you get a wrong number. Getting the wrong information could get you written up.
The key to quality operators is good training and retraining. We are constantly working with operators to strengthen their skills to be the best employees they can be. Happy employers make happy employees and, in our case specifically, happy employees at an answering service makes your company shine even brighter than before.