What is a telephone answering service?

What is the definition of a telephone answering service? (revised, slightly, on 04/25/2017 -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 three primary functions that a telephone answering service can provide, depending on the type of business or professional client:

  1. to relay urgent calls to on-call personnel
  2. to screen calls in order to protect company personnel from non-urgent and sometimes superfluous calls
  3. to provide an off-site “front office secretary” in order to replace an expensive on-site staff member, or to handle occasional 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, paging and voice mail services have achieved a generally consistent high level of quality because their products are software driven without the moment-to-moment variable of human input that is the heart of any telephone answering service.

So, telephone answering service quality varies greatly due to the human call-processing factor, even between two answering services that are located literally across the street from each other. The 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 staff with each individual paid in accordance with his or her own personal performance
  • technologically advanced equipment
  • precise and consistent operating procedures that include:
    • rigorous documentation
    • moment-to-moment process monitoring
    • intensive staff training and performance measurement, and
    • stand-alone customer service/quality assurance departments.
I asked a long-term Centratel client to define how a telephone answering service should perform:

“An operator (Telephone Service Representative or TSR) 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 a cheerful personality are mandatory”

Review the essay About the Industry as well as Answering Service FAQ, for more information.

-Sam Carpenter
President, Centratel