Eight Considerations: Answering Service & Contact Center Pricing

If you’ve ever compared the price of answering services, you’ve probably seen a variety of rate plans and fee schedules.  This list of common types of charges may help you make sense of the various price plans.

1. Operator Time Rate (per minute): You pay for the amount of time that operators are on the phone talking with your callers, or otherwise working on your behalf. In some way, all rate plans include operator usage as a determining factor in cost because operator wages are generally the single largest cost component of live service.

2. Flat Rate: You pay a fixed amount per cycle, regardless of how many calls or how much operator time is involved. Not all services offer flat-rate billing due to the amount of administrative overhead involved in re-negotiating rates based on operator usage trends.  This method of pricing encourages the answering service or contact center to get clients off the phone as quickly as possible.  Customer service quality often suffers as a result.

3. Per-call Rate: You pay per call, regardless of how much operator time is involved. “Behind the scenes”, the true cost of operator time is a major influence in determining the per-call rate for a particular client.  Per-call rates can create an incentive to rush your callers off the phone as quickly as possible.

4. Unit Billing: Price is based on the number of inbound or outbound calls, messages taken, e-mails sent, calls patched, or other discrete units of service. See note above about how this rate is influenced largely by operator time.

5. Patch Time Rate (per minute):  Patching is a live call transfer.  An operator places a caller on hold, calls out to a client team member, and connectes the calls together for a conversation.  This rate is usually lower than the live operator rate, since the patched call involves use of telephone resources but does not incur operator costs once connected.

6. Ancillary charges: Optional features can involve extra charges. Examples include use of tools for appointment scheduling, tracking on-call schedules, and pass-through charges for long distance or inbound toll-free service.

7. Monthly vs. Four-Week Billing: Invoicing is usually done either by calendar month or by four-week period. There are 13 four-week periods in one year. Four-week invoicing generally yields more consistent invoice amounts since the same number of days are in each period, whereas months vary in length.

8. Setup fees: Gathering all the information and setting up a complex account can be quite an undertaking, and a smooth implementation depends on it being done right. Most services charge a fee for this process, based on account complexity, so that they can afford to focus their senior staff on this crucial one-time step.

It’s important to realize that operator time is a primary component in any live operator service plan, regardless of how it is presented on an invoice. Quality service depends on hiring, training, and retaining qualified employees who must be compensated accordingly. Often, you get what you pay for in terms of quality.

We’re happy to answer any questions you may have.  Have you heard of any other types of answering service or contact center pricing?

Photo credit:  Flickr Creative Commons, user Squeaky Marmot.