Most everyone has an image of what a telephone answering service does and how they do it. This image may be correct, or it may be incorrect. Though this may come from personal experience, more likely it comes from media, jokes, and old information that keeps getting recycled. Also, consider that a telephone answering service continues to evolve to meet the growing needs of its clientele to better address customer-facing communications.
Let’s establish a foundation of understanding by considering the key things answering services can do for its clients. These clients can come from any industry, including healthcare, commercial, and professional services. It covers for-profit, nonprofit, and governmental.
Regardless of the client or their need, here are five things an answering service can do for you.
Everyone knows that answering services take messages. This is the foundation of the work they do and one of the first things people think of when they think of an answering service.
At one time messages were handwritten on a piece of paper, called message slips. Sometimes one person couldn’t read another person’s handwriting. Other times message slips were misfiled or occasionally lost. Today, advanced answering services, such as Redding Answering Service, have moved beyond paper to serve their clients better. They type messages into a computer database, stored in a file server. There’s no more hard-to-read messages or misplaced communication.
And once a message is in digital form, that makes it easy to save it, copy it, or transfer it. Send these digital messages anywhere as text, email, or fax.
However, some calls are more complex than a message. It might be in order, an appointment, or a detailed verbal report. The computer systems that leading answering services use can let staff take an order, schedule an appointment, or document detailed information.
If you think of an answering service as only being able to process messages, you’re missing some of the amazing, powerful things they can accomplish. If you have a need, just ask. You’ll likely be surprised at the answer.
Sometimes callers want to leave a message or complete other sophisticated transactions, but other times they have questions. Answering service personnel are great at responding to questions. Just provide them with the information for your commonly asked phone questions, and they’ll do the rest.
Even better, provide them with secure remote access into your appointment-setting, order-taking, or customer service software and they can look up answers to caller’s questions. They won’t need to take a message, and you won’t have to call someone back. It’s first call resolution.
Answering services can also function as your receptionist, but in this case, they won’t be in your office. They’ll work from their office. They’re a virtual receptionist. In addition to taking messages, orders, or appointments, they can also screen calls and route them to the appropriate person or department. This means that with a telephone answering service serving as your virtual receptionist, you no longer need to fill this position in house. This is a huge money-saving opportunity that today’s answering services can provide.
Sometimes emergency calls come in that can’t wait for the next business day. What does your answering service do in these situations? Following your protocol as to what constitutes an emergency, they then reach your on-call staff according to your instructions and their preferences. Emergency averted.
Melissa Cartwright was having a great morning, at least until Dr. Jenkins stomped into her office. “Voicemail is down—again.” Then he swore. “It was down all weekend, and we lost a patient because of it. Get it fixed, or get a different job.” Then he left. She was afraid to ask what he meant by, “lost a patient.” But even if he simply meant losing their business, it was bad enough.
Trembling, Melissa understood the doctor’s frustration, even though she didn’t appreciate receiving the brunt of it. The voicemail system had been a disaster since it was installed. The salesperson had made grandiose claims that it would enhance patient-facing communication, increase efficiency, and improve patient satisfaction.
He was wrong. Wrong in all three areas.
Yes, it was better than the junkie old answering machines it had replaced, but the voicemail system had only served to frustrate communication, cause inefficiency, and increase patient dissatisfaction.
Melissa let out her breath, slow and steady, trying to calm her racing heart. Then she made two phone calls.
The first call was to their voicemail vendor. Though she usually took a pleasant tone with them, today she didn’t. “Fix it today, or talk with our attorney tomorrow.”
The voicemail system had been her idea, her recommendation, and her responsibility. She had received accolades for the promise it provided, but that was prior to installation. Now she received only criticism for every time it let them down.
Now that the voicemail vendor understood the critical nature of the situation, she pursued a parallel solution. This became her new priority.
Melissa had already been in contact with Redding Answering Service. For the last couple of weeks, she had sought a creative, non-technology-based alternative for the voicemail system. Yes, they would continue to use voicemail for internal communication and provider-to-provider messaging, but the all-critical interaction with patients could no longer be trusted to the unforgiving technological solution of voicemail. Even when the voicemail system was working, it wasn’t working well enough to meet patient expectations.
To keep their patients happy and served well, they needed to offer the personal touch of a real person. But this went beyond the focused attention patients received when they called during office hours.
This had to extend to patients who called outside of office hours. The evening, weekend, and holiday calls were the most critical. This was when frustrated patients were most likely to bail and seek another healthcare provider. And that usually meant Dr. Jenkins’s clinic would lose their business for good.
For a small fraction of hiring another full-time equivalent (FTE), Redding Answering Service could handle all the clinic’s after-hours calls. This included evenings, weekends, and holidays. They could even do 24/7 coverage, if needed.
A real person would answer every call and address the caller’s need. This might mean taking a message or providing them with information. It might mean setting or changing an appointment, something the voicemail system would never be able to do. It could be recommending a trip to the ER or urgent care for critical healthcare situations, or it might mean contacting the on-call professional to assess and respond to the situation.
Most importantly, this meant that patients would talk to a person who could understand and empathize with their situation. This was the personal touch that their clinic was missing with the cold, impersonal voicemail system.
Melissa made the decision to move forward and begin using the answering service as soon as possible as a high-touch, personable replacement for the voicemail system.
At their next staff meeting, Dr. Jenkins commended Melissa on her choice of selecting Redding Answering Service. The staff applauded her initiative. Patients were happy and enjoyed being able to talk to a person who cared about them when they called. They could leave a message or ask a question. They could schedule an appointment, or they could reach the on-call person for urgent concerns.
The answering service was a complete success. Melissa would keep her job.
With a decades-long record of offering telephone answering service to the northwest region and across the United States, Redding Answering Service is committed to providing advanced, first-rate telephone answering service to your company. Let us help you maximize your communication effectiveness—at a cost-effective price—to drive bottom-line results. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer who covers the answering service industry.