Answering Service FAQ

Update April 20, 2017

How is Centratel different?

The short answer is that our quality of service is unmatched. Our most recent customer reported error rate (January through March, 2017) was one reported error for every 13,988 message transactions processed. Following are four reasons why we are able to maintain this level of service quality:

First: Whichever answering service you choose, the fact is that your calls will be handled by a human being and the quality of service will be 100% dependent on that individual’s training, attitude and comportment. At Centratel, Telephone Service Representative (TSR) wages/benefits are substantially higher than competing answering services nationwide, thus insuring low turnover and top quality performance from long-term, career employees. Working conditions are superb: Centratel provides a peaceful, pleasant operations department in vivid contrast to many telephone answering services’ ”boiler room” atmosphere. At Centratel, our answering service operations department is literally in the center of our headquarter office space and is not relegated to a back room, hidden from visitors. See essay, “Why Centratel?”

Second: Centratel operates with a focused concentration on a limited number of special business categories. The classic telephone answering service caters to every business and professional category and the end result is lower quality answering service for all clients, as TSRs attempt to meet the needs of an endless array of business and professional client demands. At Centratel, the goal is to meet the exact needs of a limited range of clients. One of the specialties is medical telephone answering service in which there is simply no room for error. The special protocols necessary to handle medical answering service emergencies are standard protocols for our other vertical specialties.

Third: At Centratel, the 100% digital answering service computer/telephone answering systems necessary to provide the integrated answering services are the most sophisticated and user-friendly available. Several qualified IT engineers are on-call 24/7/365.

Fourth: Unusual for this industry, operation of the company is intensely strategically driven, based on written procedures for every facet of the operation (it is hard to believe but within this industry, almost no answering service businesses comprehensively document their procedures). This aspect of the business is documented in a book by company President Sam Carpenter.

The Highest Quality in the United States? Who says?

There are four measures that can be used to surmise an answering service’s quality.

  1. The ultimate measure of quality: The “Client Reported Error Rate.” Remember that 24/7/365 answering service call processing is performed by humans and humans make errors! The question is, how many errors are made? The Client Reported Error Rate is simple to calculate. Every three months, we take the total number of messages processed and divide this total by the number of client reported errors. The “total number of messages processed” is easy to find: At Centratel, like most answering services, our telemessaging equipment provides activity statistics for any given period of time. (Centratel Telephone Service Representatives, TSRs, process close to 200,000 messages each month.) “Client reported errors” are human inaccuracies in spelling, message relay or other message processing function that are reported by clients. For our statistic, each month, we tally client complaints. Like clockwork, our monthly reported errors range from 8 to 14 errors per month (very minor errors, mostly). Our most recent customer reported error rate (January through March, 2017) was one reported error for every 13,988 message transactions processed. For 99.99% of all answering services, this is a level of accuracy that is simply not obtainable.
  2. Average client longevity. We calculate this yearly. Examining our client base in March 2017, we found the average client had been with us 6 years and 6 months. This is significant when one considers that eighty percent of small businesses fail within any given five year period.
  3. Average TSR longevity. TSRs are the people who answer and process your incoming calls and for this reason they are the heart of your answering service. Elsewhere in the industry, TSR turnover is a very large problem and it’s the reason why the typical answering service suffers a reputation for less-than-optimal quality. At Centratel we take over 100 applications for each TSR we hire, we don’t hire part time people, and we drug test frequently. There are many more “hoops” that the Centratel TSR applicant must negotiate and the end-result is a staff of highly professional, career TSR’s. We have a tough time finding people who meet our requirements but once we find them, they stay a long time. Our current average longevity for tenured TSRs is over six years
  4. TSR compensation. At Centratel, TSR pay rate and benefits are significantly higher than the average answering service, with per-hour pay in the $16.00 to $20.00 per hour range. Employee benefits such as health insurance, PTO, bonuses etc. are in addition to these hourly rates. Many answering services pay minimum wage and offer no benefits.

What is the history of Centratel?

The outgrowth of a traditional local “mom and pop” telephone answering service created in the late 70’s, Centratel has developed into an advanced-technology, vertical market-specific answering service with clients throughout the United States and the world. Headquarters are in Bend, Oregon. The company has been under Sam Carpenter’s primary ownership since its incorporation in 1984. On December 1, 2016 Centratel celebrated its 32nd anniversary. Despite the general decline in the answering service industry, we have consistently experienced dramatic growth. See the essay, “About The Industry.”

What is the basis for Centratel development?

With a history of industry innovation and leadership, our Strategic Objective is based on:

  1. A foundation based in impeccable staff performance through written documentation and procedures, intense training and testing, and a generous pay-by-performance employee compensation and benefit package.
  2. Cutting-edge technical answering service innovation and state-of-the-art digital equipment.
  3. Constant system improvement based on TSR testing and training, and client feedback.

For comprehensive details on Centratel’s operation, read the book Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less written by Centratel founder and majority shareholder, Sam Carpenter. (If you inquire about service with us, we’ll send you a hard copy of the book at no cost or obligation).

What are my basic choices for Answering Service?

Over 95% of our customers use “traditional live” answering service in which our TSR’s directly answer all incoming calls. The advantage of this type of service is that the caller will be immediately talking to a human being:  the call is instantly “captured” by a real person. This is critical for companies that are selling a product or service. The other 5% of Centratel customers use “Gold Service” in which the call is answered initially by an automated, voice mail greeting. The greeting provides basic information (e.g.  office hours or directions to the client’s office) and the caller is then given a chance to leave a message in his or her own voice. The caller also has the option of reaching a Centratel TSR for emergency on-call dispatching. The advantages of Gold Service: It is approximately 20-30% less expensive than “traditional live” answering service and it quickly and efficiently offers basic information to the caller. It is the usual choice for medical and veterinary offices. Whichever service you choose, your account will be customized exactly to fill your needs. Centratel telephone answering service is active 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, including holidays.

What do you know about my business?

There is a good chance that we are quite knowledgeable about your business, as our company specializes only in certain business categories. For the business categories in which we specialize, we are answering service experts.

What determines a high quality of answering service for my callers?

A highly dedicated, long-term staff is the simple, key element in providing superb quality telephone answering service. Each Telephone Service Representative is a career professional. They have to be: Much of their time is spent as emergency call support personnel, handling an enormous array of situations including medical emergencies. Other times they act as a dispatching service. Sometimes it’s for overflow answering service. Many of our accounts use us as “front office” personnel, substituting for the client’s on-premise staff or acting as after hours receptionists. At Centratel, pay rates/benefits are higher than 98% of competing telephone answering services in the United States. As a result, staff turnover is low and dedication is high. The caller is treated in a courteous, professional manner and leaves the line confident that the message will be delivered. Names and numbers are correct, messages are complete. The caliber of service is “front office.” This is quality so high that, unless we inform them otherwise, callers assume we are not an answering service at all, but that our TSR is actually part of the account’s actual office staff.

Are Centratel Telephone Service Representatives qualified?

To insure quality answering service, a stable staff is essential. For this industry, Centratel Telephone Service Representatives receive among  the highest rates of compensation in the United States. The average length of service for staff members is over six years which is a unique statistic for an industry plagued by employee turnover. Training and monitoring of the Telephone Service Representative is constant with the goal of near zero-defect performance. Our most recent customer reported error rate (January through March, 2017) was one reported error for every 13,988 message transactions processed.

Does Centratel use the tools and processes that it sells to its clients?

Yes! Internally, we face the same business challenges as our clients, and we use the same tools and protocols to operate our own internal communications. Many of the products we offer were born out of internal necessity, right here at Centratel. We don’t just sell our answering service products; we use them and steadfastly believe in them.

Totally Digital Answering Service? What does that mean?

Our technology is more advanced than the huge majority of answering services in the US and Canada. This means solid reliability, superior voice quality, numerous options for clients and a more flexible, user-friendly operating system for our Telephone Service Representatives. Our philosophy is this: In order to provide superior answering service to our clients, the people who handle your calls must come first; therefore, it follows that we must provide them with the best answering service tools available.

I am many miles from Centratel – what about answering service reliability?

The switched telephone network in the United States and Canada is incredibly reliable. And, long-distance rates, absorbed by Centratel, are at historic lows. Since the year 2000 it has been common for a business or professional office in one state to use a telephone answering service located in a distant state. Telephone conversations and data travel at light speed; There are no delays: The distance between the client and the answering service simply does not matter. The highest quality telephone answering service available anywhere is here, at your doorstep.

Is there a long-term commitment for Answering Service?

Service is on a month-to-month basis. We don’t ask for long-term contracts. This is a philosophical issue. If your telephone answering service is a good value for you, you will choose to continue each month. If it doesn’t work for you, then you are free to cease using it. We have numerous clients who have worked with this month-to-month arrangement for over thirty years.

How will my business calls reach the Answering Service?

Through various telephone company call forwarding switching features. By dialing a special code on your keypad, calls can be call-forwarded to Centratel. When you are ready to take your own calls again, the system can be de-programmed by dialing another simple code. Other options include routing your calls to the telephone answering service only after a given number of rings, or if your lines are busy. Also, for some businesses, direct toll-free service which altogether bypasses the client’s offices is a popular option.

Who is in charge of the Answering Service?

Angie Hodges is our Operations Manager.  Angie will be ready to talk to you about any operational questions or concerns you may have. Our regular office hours are Monday through Friday, 7:00am to 4:00pm PST. You may call Angie at our main office telephone number (1-800-639-1818) or email her at angieh@centratel.com.

How do I pick up my routine messages?

Message delivery options include voice mail, fax, alpha-numeric page, text-to-cell phone, email and on-line message access. Various combination’s are possible.

What makes Centratel urgent message delivery “near zero-defect reliable?”

Medical telephone answering service sets the standard for quality in all ten of our business specialties. If there is an emergency situation our Telephone Service Representatives (TSRs) will choose your “E relay” in which they follow a series of 1-2-3 steps to reach you directly. The “E relay” is custom designed for your account. For instance, the first step might be send your on-call person a text message on his or her cell phone. If there is no response within 15 minutes, the second step may be to try that individual’s cell number, a third step might be to send a page to another member of your staff. The fourth step may be to call that person’s home number, etc. In any case, the relay sequence is up to you and can be adjusted instantly per your authorization. With E relays, our TSRs tenaciously follow the established answering service relay protocol until the goal of delivering the message has been accomplished. Protocols are set up so that no message goes undelivered. If there should ever be a problem delivering a message, we work with the client to instantly change the message relay format to one that works more effectively.

Who do I call if I have a question regarding my answering service?

Operational questions are handled by Operations Supervisors, one of whom is always on duty and/or available. You will also be contacted regularly by your Customer Service Representative in order to keep your answering service account information up to date and to insure that you are getting the most from your Centratel telephone answering service.