What is a telephone answering service?
By Sam Carpenter, founder and President . Updated slightly January 4, 2021
What is the definition of a telephone answering service? (revised slightly, on 01/02/2021-sc)
The fundamental definition: “A telecommunications service provider that is employed by a business to process incoming telephone calls. A message is taken and then delivered per the customer’s instructions. Real human beings process these calls.”
Often combined, there are four primary functions that a telephone answering service provides clients, depending on the type of business or profession:
- to relay urgent calls to on-call personnel
- to screen calls after-hours in order to protect on-call personnel from non-urgent calls
- to provide an off-site “front office secretary” in order to replace an expensive on-site staff member,
- to handle periodic excess traffic
In defining “telephone answering service,” it is important to make the distinction between those answering services that provide consistent quality and those that do not.
Within the telecommunications industry, providers of cellular, social media and telephone company services have achieved a consistent high level of quality because their products are entirely software-driven without the moment-to-moment variable of human input. If there is a glitch in a particular offering, software is tweaked/enhanced to provide a permanent fix for that problem, and that particular glitch won’t happen again.
But for the telephone answering service, quality can vary due to the human call-processing factor, and for the 800 or so answering services located in the United States, service quality is usually not good. It’s always been that way. The answering service industry has a notoriously bad reputation for quality of service.
The rare telephone answering service that provides a superior level of quality is able to do so because of management’s focus on:
- a long-term, career-oriented TSR (telephone service representative) staff with each individual paid in accordance with his or her own personal performance
- a TSR training program that is thorough and constantly tweaked ever-closer to perfection.
- the most technologically advanced equipment
- precise and consistent operating procedures that include:
- rigorous documentation
- moment-to-moment process monitoring and measurement
- intensive stand-alone customer service/quality assurance departments.
I asked a long-term Centratel client to define how an answering service should perform:
“An operator should never sound like a telephone answering service employee, but as a member of my staff. The person taking my calls must be a team player who actually cares about my customer’s needs and who reflects that caring with a cheerful, professional approach. He or she must have a solid understanding of what is required so they can confidently and quickly route my caller to the proper person within my business. Errors in relaying information, spelling and grammar must not happen. Professional comportment and an upbeat, in-command personality are mandatory”