We are delighted to welcome Vladi Nikolov as our guest blogger. Vladi works for Pocket Receptionist which is part of Liquid 11. They are a Lowestoft based dynamic group offering cost effective innovative solutions to SMEs to very practical issues. This particular blog gives tips on choosing a good telephone call handling service for SMEs. Vladi is a professional copywriter. He graduated with a degree in Media and Politics from the University of East Anglia in 2016. He has a wide range of interests including sports, literature, rock music and history. vladi@liquid11.co.uk

Telephone call handling services have grown in popularity over the years for a couple of reasons. Firstly, business is no longer done exclusively from the office. Business people spend more time away from the office than ever before and they need to have their phone lines covered, lest they miss important calls. Secondly, outsourcing the receptionist function is an effective measure to reduce staff costs. Instead of having to pay for one or more in-house receptionists, a business can now resort to a phone answering service and get a virtual assistant who will do the same job off-site and not be directly employed.

There are hundreds of UK companies offering telephone call handling services and it might be valuable for prospective customers to get an idea of the factors that make an answering services provider worthwhile.

#1        Range of services and features

The live call answering market is a competitive one, so it no longer works if a provider has settled for a simple message taking service. You should require more from the companies you are considering. You will want to have a broad-skilled virtual assistant who can offer flexibility and tangible practical support to your daily business activities. For example, it might be good to choose a provider that makes sure their operators are capable of taking orders and payments on your behalf, or maybe managing your calendar.

#2        Clear pricing model

Some might see price as the determining factor when choosing a service or a product. I decided to leave the pricing at #2 just because I feel that a truly high-quality product is always worth the money. It shouldn’t be about choosing the cheapest but the most usable product. Still, comparing pricing, especially different pricing models, should be a key part of your research.

I would recommend choosing a service that charges monthly, and not per call / minute (pay-as-you-go). The monthly payment structure shows clearly how much you will spend every month and is therefore good for your budget planning. If you know how many calls you are expected to receive, you should be able to determine which bundle of calls or minutes would be ideal for you. 

#3        Contract length

You may not want to make long-term commitments to a telephone answering company. It is possible that you just need a service of this kind to take your calls only while you are on holiday or during busy periods. You have to choose the provider that gives you full control of how you want to use the service. What you should be looking for, is a service that lends you a hand whenever you need it, at short notice, and with no expectations of a long-term relationship.

I have already hinted in the flexibility tip at #1 that you should be put in full control of how you are using the service. This involves not agreeing to sign long-term contracts, unless you are absolutely sure in the credibility of the provider and your long-term needs. Let’s not forget that it is predominantly small business owners, sole traders or start-ups that look to engage a telephone answering service and this type of businesses usually operate within a constricted budget and an uncertain contract length.

Furthermore, the everyday life of a small business could be very dynamic and its needs can undergo significant transformations in a relatively short period of time. As a result of this observation, we can conclude that telephone answering services providers should not be pushing their customers to the wall with long contracts and / or cancellation notice periods.

#4        Accent-neutral receptionists

We know that every region in the UK has its specific accent. We also know that telephone answering companies are scattered almost everywhere across the country. It is likely that there are call centre agents speaking with some kind of an accent, be it barely detectable or much thicker. Without any disrespect to these receptionists, an accent-neutral operator sounds more professional and their voice is often easier to listen to. It is possible that a client has callers from all over the country and they might not be used to hearing rather unfamiliar accents.

Therefore, before you sign up with a particular phone answering service provider, ask them if you can conduct a phone call with one or two of your future receptionists, so you can check for yourself how they speak. The next point is…

#5        Trial periods

It is always more reassuring to try a service for free before making the purchase. This allows you to explore all the intricacies of the product and get a live experience which might (or might not) differ from the expectations given at the outset eg by their website. You will be able to follow how your calls are being dealt with, and assess the real value of a service.

A company offering free trials tells you something else. They are so confident in the quality of their product that they are ready to let you use it for free for a given period of time. A free trial should be treated as a signal sent by the providers that they can be trusted and want to establish a productive working relationship with you.

#6        Mobile app

The availability of a usable mobile app is a must for almost every type of service and the live call answering sector is not an exception. The smartphone has grown as an almost natural extension of the hand, and it should be incorporated fully into one’s business practices.

If you can benefit from an app developed by your answering service provider, you will be able to alter your profile settings on the spot, nice and easily. Receiving your call notifications via the app is a further bonus. It is a free means of relaying call information to you, and increases your chances of being notified of any incoming calls on a timely basis.

Furthermore, the presence of a mobile app is another feature telling you that the provider is ambitious to deliver a high-quality service. Why would they bother devising the app, otherwise?

#7        Conclusion

The tips above are aimed to give the most significant factors determining the quality of a telephone answering service. My best advice though would be to do your in-depth research in accordance with your own business’ needs before you come to a decision. Choosing the best call answering service for you is a process that deserves to be carried out carefully. Business’ phone image leaves a lasting impression with customers. Get it right and it will be a significant enhancement to your business.

Vladi Nikolov

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