Crazy Answering Service Pricing Schemes

If you’ve booked an airline ticket recently, you’ve probably encountered the same thing I have.  You find a flight you want, let’s say it shows a price of $200.  But then you find out there’s a fee for a checked bag, you have to pay for your (rather mediocre) meal, then there’s a fee for this and a surcharge for that.  The end price ends up being over $300.Well, there’s a reason the airlines do it this way.  They know people tend to choose the lowest price option they can find, so they present a low price to you and then hope you won’t notice how it all adds up (or how many people they’ve packed on the plane, but that’s another topic!).

In the answering service business, there are similar trends and pressures. Answering services often quote people what sounds like a nice low price, but they later find out things are not quite what they expected. One of my favorites is the “28-day billing cycle”.  Basically, this is just re-defining a “month” to suit their needs.  After all, most people will think “28 days is pretty much the same as a month”, right?  Well, it allows the service to bill an entire extra “month” each year!  If they have a substantial base rate, that is fairly significant.  We don’t do this, of course.  We just bill on a regular calendar month.

Here’s another one.  For many years, most successful answering services have billed their clients, at least partly, based on how much operator time they use.  This is fair, as it is the most accurate measure we have of how much work is involved serving that client.  This has traditionally been how much time the operator is on the phone with a caller.  Here’s the new twist — many services have simply re-defined what operator time means (this isn’t a rate increase; please don’t look behind the curtain).

Now, operator time means any time the operator spends “working on your account” (not just time on the phone). For instance, an operator is on a call for you taking a message for 30 seconds, and then realizes she’s made a mistake after the caller hangs up and goes back and spends 30 seconds to fix it.  Under the old way of measuring operator time, you’d be billed for 30 seconds.  Under the new system adopted by many of our competitors, you’d be billed for an entire minute.  See what they did there?  We don’t do this, of course. What is considered operator time is important, but HOW it is calculated also matters?  It is important to realize that most calls through an answering service are fairly short.  The average is about 30 seconds.

Many services, though round calls up to the nearest half-minute or full minute!  That has a really dramatic impact.  If someone calls, says they have a wrong number, and hangs up, you just got billed a full minute!  We bill in 1/10th of a minute increments, we round DOWN to the nearest increment (never up), and we don’t charge anything for calls that last less than 1/10 of a minute (6 seconds, for those of you from Rio Linda).

I could go on quite a bit, but I don’t want to bore my audience (all three of you).  Suffice it to say that we bill in about the simplest, most transparent way possible. This is one of the reasons we don’t publish our rates on our site.  You just can’t compare apples to oranges — you have to understand the differences between different rate structures to make a valid comparison. On a related note, there is something very cool about our two-week free trial that I don’t think any other service does.  At the end of your free trial, I will e-mail you a report with a log of all the calls we processed for you, and a total of how much operator time you used.

I’ll use this to provide you an estimate of your monthly bill, based on your usage in the first two weeks.  That way, you’ll not only know how good we are at the end of the free trial, you’ll also have a very accurate picture of how much it will cost you.

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