How Much Does an Answering Service Cost?
Finally, straight-up advice on how to get the best price on your answering service and how to identify hidden fees that are common in virtually every inbound call center. There are several different pricing options for outsourcing calls to an answering service and the best solution depends on your specific business needs and call types, which are covered in detail here. Like any other business there really is no such thing as a one size fits all option for an answering service so you’ll need to compare prices from different vendors based on your specific requirements, and you’ll also need to know how to look for hidden prices, which we have identified and clearly defined below.
Types of Answering Service Plans and What They Cost
There are three common types of plans for answering service solutions to choose from with the two most common are the pay by the call or pay by the minute because they protect the inbound call center from high volume calls at ridiculously low costs as found in a flat rate answering service, which is generally for an office with call volumes of 100 a month or less.
1) Pay by the minute: This is probably the most common offer but it can be tricky if you’re not careful because while this plan is time-based billing you will find that some companies bill in exact time while others bill in increments of 15, 30 or 60-second increments. Make sure to ask how each supplier bills for their time and expect to pay anywhere between $0.79 – $1.25 per minute for this kind of package, but don’t let the cheapest rate seal the deal without considering some of the hidden prices and things that affect the cost of service discussed below. This program is very common for medical offices and attorneys.
2) Pay by the call: We have seen this type of service bill as little as $0.69 to as much as $1.50 a call for basic needs. These rates usually apply to businesses that require the remote receptionist to take limited information from the caller, such as name, number, message, and perhaps scheduling an appointment, giving directions, or providing information about your product or service as needed. This program is very common with service contractors, HVAC, and funeral homes.
3) Flat Rate Billing: A flat rate answering service is exactly what it says, you pay a guaranteed rate, and no matter how many calls the call center takes you continue to pay the same price. Expect to pay about $139 a month for this option, but don’t expect many bells and whistles like appointment setting services, order processing, or custom scripting. In most cases, there will be a front-end IVR greeting and the operator will limit the call to taking the caller’s name, number, and reason for the call. This type of plan is rare these days because companies have abused it looking for extreme call volumes (like from infomercials) which end up costing the call center big bucks and as such you are likely to find and major provider willing to offer this type of program anymore.
Common Hidden Prices By Answering Service Providers – Buying Advice
Every industry of every type has its own hidden fees that a large portion of the industry may or may not clearly disclose at the time of purchase and this will equip you to get an accurate picture of what you can expect to pay for virtual receptionist services.
Holiday Fees: Probably one of the most common hidden fees is the holiday service rate which can cost you as much as $12 per holiday. No doubt this is a small fee for someone that expects to receive 20 or more calls on a given holiday, but if you expect 0-3 calls this could get rather costly. We are not so quick to discredit this fee as the employees are usually paid at time and a half for working on a national holiday.
28-day billing: Some answering services bill every 28 days leaving you with one extra bill each year so be sure you do the math when looking at the anticipated yearly cost for support. This is a clever way of giving the appearance of lower pricing on monthly contracts that require a minimum fee to maintain service.
Patched Calls (aka transferred calls): Some call centers may offer lower prices on their per-minute prices but make sure to ask if there is a cost to transfer calls because some companies will also bill a flat rate for each call transferred and others will charge you by continuing to bill for their service until your office disconnects the call that was sent to you from their call center, which means you could be billed for a very lengthy call even though the operator was not involved.
Long Term Contracts: The bottom line is very few live answering services today require any contracts longer than a month to month so we recommend that you avoid them altogether. The one exception would be for a contract requiring extremely high call volumes (5,000+ a month) that are large enough to require additional hiring and training of staff to meet the demands of the client.
Things that can affect virtual receptionist pricing
There are a number of factors that you can fairly expect to drive the actual price of how much you will pay for a phone answering service, with the most obvious being the number of phone calls taken on your behalf and how long the average call will last. That’s because these are labor-intensive services and both require paying call center operators for their time spent with your callers.
Some businesses require appointment setting and/or interfacing with their own website which necessitates additional training that is not consistent with normal call center protocol and consequently you will most likely pay for this service as an additional fee on top of the normal rate. Generally, this is around $100 a month but it varies depending on scope.
Finally, if your business requires Spanish speaking operators to support your Hispanic customer base you’ll need to understand that most call centers do not have enough full-time Bilingual operators on staff so you might expect to pay anywhere from 3% -5% more for a fully operational Spanish speaking answering service that is dedicated to this specific solution.
As always the best way to get the best price is by comparing answering service plans side by side and letting the call center earn your business. Tell us your needs and we’ll match you up with companies that will compete for your business with their absolute best, most affordable answering service price points. It’s fast, it’s free, and it’s smart.
Author: Michael C
Michael has over 30 years of executive call center and answering service experience. He is a successful business owner and lead generation expert and shares tips to help other entrepreneurs build and grow their business through leads generation and lead capture solutions. His mission is to share carefully guarded marketing tips that will help small-medium business compete on a smaller budget.