There are many different answering services that do essentially the same thing — answer your phones. It can be difficult to sort through the different answering service prices. This guide helps you navigate the different telephone answering service costs.
How Answering Services are Billed
To understand the cost of an answering service, let's first understand how telephone answering companies bill for their services. Most answering services bill the following fees:
Answering service setup fees
The first component of answering service pricing is an answering service setup fee that answering services charge you to setup their services to handle your calls. This setup fee covers the cost to create scripts and rules that satisfy your requirements and make sure your calls are handled the way you want them to be handled.
The answering service setup fee generally varies based on how complex your calling rules are. A simple small business that simply wants a human virtual receptionist to answer calls after hours and take messages may have a very low setup fee. A more complex business that has multiple phone numbers that have to be answered differently and multiple dispatch rules and procedures may have a setup fee in the thousands of dollars.
If you want to reduce the answering service setup fee, make sure to simplify your answering rules. But remember, this is a one-time fee. It is often worth the cost to set up a sophisticated answering service configuration at the start if it reduces your work down the road and increases your client satisfaction.
Per minute answering service fees
A second component of most answering service pricing schedules is a per minute rate that they charge for activities that are directly related to providing a client answering services. The per minute rate may apply to activities such as the time spent answering a phone call, the time spent dispatching messages related to the phone call, the time spent wrapping up the phone call (e.g., such as taking notes about the call for the client).
The per minute rate may also apply to activities such as time spent configuring new dispatch rules, updating schedules, and other activities requested by a client. Many telephone answering service software systems have specific “billable” activity flags or settings that make sure the answering service bills and tracks these activities.
As more and more businesses interact with customers via chat, email and other messaging platforms, most answering services also bill by the minute for these activities as well. Expect that these per minute fees will actually be rounded up to either the nearest minute or some fraction thereof. For example, if an answering service charges $1 per minute rounded to the nearest minute, you'll be charged $1 even if a call only lasted 30 seconds. An answering service that charges $1 per minute rounded to the nearest 15 seconds will only charge $0.50 for a 30 second call.
Per call or per interaction answering service fees
Some answering services price their services based on the interaction. For example, an answering service may charge by the call, or for each SMS message received, or for each email sent, etc. These types of charges are less frequent as they are less predictable. However, if your business has a predictable volume and duration of these activities, it may be a pricing approach you could seek out.
Flat fees per month of answering services
Some answering services are now offering flat rate pricing. For example, you may buy a package of $300 for a months worth of answering services. Typically, these packages have limits that essentially turn them into per call or per minute types of billing (e.g., the $300 monthly package may allow you to have 30 calls answered). Make sure to do the math on these packages as they typically are priced expecting that you either will significantly be under the monthly limit or that you will greatly exceed the monthly limit (at which point overages may apply).
Other answering service fees to be Aware of
Most answering services have other service fees that make up their answering service pricing. Make sure to explore whether other answering service fees may be applied. For example, the following are examples of some fees that may apply to you that may show up in the fine print of your agreement with an answering services provider:
- Holiday fees. Some providers have a different (higher, of course!) rate for coverage on certain holidays such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. Make sure to ask so there is no surprise.
- Extra telco fees. Some providers pass on certain special telephony fees to customers. For example: toll free number fees, international dialing fees, long distance fees, etc.
- Secure messaging fees. Secure messaging fees may particularly apply for medical answering services. If you use a secure pager system or an secure app for receiving dispatches, make sure you ask if there is an extra fee for these messages.
- Fees for a scheduling portal. Some providers charge an extra monthly fee for your access to a Web portal to update your on call schedules.
Comparison of answering services costs
We conducted a search to compare different answering service costs. We reviewed the terms and conditions of over thirty answering service companies and found sixteen virtual receptionist companies that publish their pricing. We chose to make a comparison of the answering services that have a monthly 500 minute answering service plan. The results of our comparison is shown in the answering service cost comparison table below.
Some of the main findings of the comparison include:
- The average price for a 500 minute answering service plan was $795.
- The average cost for additional minutes was $1.60.
- Some companies offer free trials of answering services