One question I get asked a lot when quoting people on the phone is “How many operators do you have answering?” This is a good question, and I can see why people ask it. I think most people want to know “Are my callers going to wait on hold a lot?” or “Can they handle my calls?”However, the answer to this is only relevant in context. It’s not just how many operators a small business answering service like us has working for us, but how many clients those operators are expected to serve and how busy those clients are. Let me give an example. Let’s say the answer from one service is “about 10 operators” (that’s about where we’re at), and when you ask another service the answer is “about 20 operators”. The second one is better, right? Actually, not necessarily.
If those 10 operators at the first service are serving about 150 clients (again, about where we are as of this writing) but those 20 operators at the second service are handling 400 clients, well you can probably see where this is going. The first service has one operator for every 15 clients, whereas the second one has one operator for every 20 clients. Now, there are economies of scale and other factors to consider as well, but I think you get the point. What we do is staff to meet certain service levels that we wish to maintain. We want to answer the vast majority of calls with a live person by the third ring. For the small minority of calls that wait on hold, we want that time to average 30 seconds or less.
If you compare those statistics with your experience with almost any customer service you’ve interacted with recently, I bet you’ll realize they are a pretty good benchmark. When those service levels suffer during a certain time of the day, we add people to the shift.
In short, it’s not the number of operators, but the quality of service that matters. We’re a fairly small service and we think that gives us an advantage. We will get to know you and your clients and therefore provide a level of personal service that no huge “mass production message factory” can match.