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Answering Services vs. Call Center Services: Understanding the Differences

“Answering service” and “call center” are often bandied about, and one is oftentimes used for the other. However, you should know that there is actually a difference between an answering service and call center – and that the difference is pretty important. They may seem similar when given a brief description (they may sound like two telephone answering services), but that is mostly where the similarity ends. Here, we’ll be getting into the real differences between the two – and why it matters to you.

What is a call center?

Broadly speaking, a call center is a business which employs live agents to answer calls. Sometimes they take complaints, pass on messages, and solve clients’ problems. Call center services often have a high call volume and may operate day and/or night.

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What is an answering service?

Answering services, on the other hand, are more specialized, in that the agents working are more intimately familiar with a specific industry or even a specific company. An answering service for a bank will have agents who are trained to understand the complexities of banking (to the degree of the questions which may be asked).

Key differences between answering services and call center services

If the difference between answering services and call center services is still hazy, don’t worry: in this section, we’ll help make it crystal clear by going into the details, as some differences are crucial.

Tasks

You standard call center will:

  • Take product orders for purchase
  • Oftentimes simply receive information/orders (though may at times help with complaints)
  • Provide information to their own clients (a company) in bulk
  • Answer questions
  • Take bill payments

Meanwhile, a phone answering service will usually do the following:

  • Create a more personal relationship with a customer, focusing on their specific needs
  • Address particular customer issues
  • Answer questions like hours, or current sales
  • Direct customer to person in office if it’s during business hours

Essentially, a call center usually gets through as many calls as they can, whereas an answering service tries to take on the “voice” of the company it is representing (or may just be more informed about the company) to address customer issues.

Call duration

Another key point in the call center vs answering services comparison is call duration. Call center services have lots of callers coming in – but they are also often less trained in particular companies or industries. As a result, they may not be able to answer questions more quickly (they use scripts, which we’ll get to below). As a result, call duration is often on the longer side, sometimes upwards of 10-15 minutes.

On the other hand, answering service agents are trained in specific industries and are expected to be the voice of a company – meaning fast and effective service is key. As a result, calls to a telephone answering service are rather quick, with times lasting less than a minute or upwards of a minute and a half.

Scripting

The differences between a phone answering service and a call center, when it comes to scripting, are immense – because one uses them and one does not.

Call center services often use very detailed scripts in order to provide answers. Agents there are not specially trained, so they cannot give off the cuff answers. Depending on what a customer call is about or what a customer needs, the agent will go to a specific script which they can then use to provide sometimes generalized answers.

Answering service provides answers without a script. That’s because agents there are trained in the industry and oftentimes with the specific company; they know the details (such as hours) without needing a script to read off of.

Call routing

Do answering services or call centers both partake in call routing (sending the call to someone else)? Not usually.

A call center is designed to answer – via the aforementioned scripting – a customer’s question or take complaints. Imagine them like a separate “bubble” from a company; they’ll only pierce the bubble (send the caller elsewhere) if they have exhausted all of their resources (like scripts) and cannot provide an answer.

But a phone answering service does route calls, sometimes frequently, if need be; they’re essentially supposed to be an extension of the company itself and as a result can help get callers to where they need to be.

Data collection

Between answering services vs call centers, here we have our first similarity. Both have to collect basic data from you – who you are, why you are calling, your phone number (which they’ll likely have since you’re calling them).

However, call centers may collect a fair deal more than their answering service colleagues, because they may need to spend more time with the caller in order to get the correct scripts to properly address the reason for the call.

Topics addressed

Remember, it helps to think of phone answering services as extensions of the company. So when it comes to answering services vs call center services, both will address pretty much anything that the company might have to address, and their agents will be trained to do so. If you run a medical operation, your answering provider may address emergency after-hours calls.

But call center services operate differently. These do the things that you might not want to hire someone on your day-to-day staff to do (take specific complaints, for example), and will spend more time addressing specific/detailed complaints.

Automation

Because call centers take so many calls and have to sometimes spend a decent amount of time with each, they frequently use automation, like auto attendants, to make the process quicker: it can get callers to agents who may have specific scripts, for example, or it can direct callers to agents with less to do.

But answering agents do not use it as much, because they are frequently a catch-all, being trained extensively in what a company does and what its patients require. Automation can still factor in though – for example, after-hours a caller may be asked whether or not they want to leave a message or speak to an after-hours agent.

Hold time

When it comes to answering services vs. call center services, which option has the longer call response time? Well, hold time varies of course, and neither desires longer hold times. But with the massive volume of calls that call centers frequently have to deal with, they often have to put callers on hold while they address other callers or while they try to get a resolution to a caller’s query. But answering live services oftentimes do not put people on hold, and try to answer calls extremely quickly.

Cost

Answering services or call centers have to be paid for by the companies employing them, but the costs can vary widely between what you are requiring of the service (for example, do you want 24/7 service or do you only want to cover specific days).

Call centers are generally cheaper, because their service is more generalized and requires less expertise. Answering services tend to be a bit pricier, because they are more trained to be attuned to specific company needs.

How can MightyCall help?

Both phone answering services and call centers have benefits – and MightyCall can help you regardless of which you opt to choose to work with your business. How? Here’s how:

  • Call routing, but smarter: MightyCall’s smart routing system allows you to get customers connected as fast as possible, without needless waiting.
  • Virtual receptionist: The old days of a robotic auto attendant are over. Make your virtual receptionist yours – record your own voice and change the content easily, whenever you need to.
  • Quicker voicemail: With automatic voicemail transcripts, your agents can quickly read through voicemail instead of having to listen to what are sometimes tediously long messages.
  • Call notes: Have a customer who needs help multiple times, or is a longer-term project? You can leave notes on each call to ensure that no agents are kept out of the loop.
  • Call waiting: This feature allows you to juggle multiple calls more easily; while you can put one on hold, you can also choose to forward it to someone who is available to talk, decreasing hold times.
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Which businesses are call centers or answering services suitable for and why?

Answering services and call center services can prove advantageous for enterprises. But which is best for you?

Businesses best for call center services

  • Loan services: Agents can help answer a variety of questions on repayment plans, extensions, and qualifications
  • Insurance agencies: Does someone need to file a claim but does not know how? Do they want to appeal a decision? Agents can help answer questions about these subjects.
  • Banks: Agents can help answer questions relating to credit card debt, service terms, and other banking-related questions.
  • Large retailers: Agents can help process returns or online orders.
  • Delivery services: Agents can help find packages or answer other questions.

Businesses best for telephone answering services

  • Smaller healthcare networks: Do you operate a series of smaller private clinics which want to put a more personal face forward to customers?
  • Hotels: With hotels, the emphasis is on a friendly face representing the company – and when it comes to call center services vs answering services, the latter generally takes the cake there.
  • Local chain restaurants: A local chain restaurant will be large enough that they could use extra help – but small enough to require a personal touch.
  • Law firms: Law firms can be smaller, but have people who may need quick answers or direction and can require a personal face.

Is there anything in common between answering services and call center services?

When it comes to picking between a call center or answering service, it’s important to remember that there are some similarities:

  • Both deal in customer satisfaction: While they may go about it differently, both desire to leave customers ultimately happy at the end of the day
  • Both (kind of) use a script: While call center services and answering services do not often use literal scripts, they still have general information they can give (if someone asks for new store hours, they will not say it a different way each time)
  • Both can work nights: Both provide companies a way to answer their customer’s questions even when they may be closed

To outsource or keep in house – that is the question!

When should you decide to actuall outsource a call center or answering service, and when should you keep those services in-house instead?

For the former, you should probably use call center outsourcing if you have grown so big that you simply cannot answer all incoming calls which take up your employees’ time, or you have grown big enough that having a personal touch is not really one of your concerns. Some businesses prefer BPO call centers, which strictly handle business processing claims (like onboarding and payroll).

For the phone answering service, you could start outsourcing it if you have recently grown bigger but were known for a personal touch (like being a doctor’s office which just expanded to a second office) and still wish to keep that feeling up with your customers/the general public.

However, some businesses will opt to keep phone communications with clients in-house for various reasons. They may simply not trust external companies with important customer data. They may not be large enough to warrant those services. Or they may want full and total control over their contact with customers.

Which one is right for you?

So how do you decide between call centers versus answering services? Which one is right for your business? It’s best to keep these in mind:

  • How many clients you have: Businesses with huge amounts of clients may have to trend more toward call centers, if they need a lot of questions answered at once.
  • How many services do you provide: Whether you cover a lot of different topics – like a bank might – or you stay in one particular lane can influence your decision.
  • Whether or not you value a personal touch: Depending on which type of service you pick, one will seem like they are an employee of yours. The other will simply answer questions.
  • What type of phone calls you receive: Your decision may be impacted depending on whether your business is constantly flooded with complex calls which take a long time to answer, or if they are rather straightforward and answerable within a minute.
  • What your customers expect: You may or may not want to provide a personal touch – but what do your customers want? For some types of businesses, customers want to get off the phone as fast as possible. For others, they may want personal attention.

Right service for your business is a key

When it comes to call center services and answering services, both can provide great boons to your business and can help you address customer queries. But one or the other may be better for you. If you follow along with the guidelines we set here and understand the distinctions between a phone answering service and a call center, you’ll be sure to pick the best one for your business.

Anthony
Anthony Constantini
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