2 Consider this: a 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as cutting costs by 10%. That means that simply by keeping a small number of your customers from jumping ship, you can save money a lot of it. When trying to pinch pennies, businesses often take a too narrow view. They look at ways to cut costs from this month s expenses, rather than focusing on the value of retaining loyal, happy customers. One of the most common areas where businesses will try to save money is by replacing live operators or agents with an automated answering system. Unfortunately, this generally has a negative impact on the level of service and response time both of which can lead to unhappy customers. And unhappy customers often equal lost dollars for your business. What You ll Learn in This White Paper One of the major decisions a business faces when it comes to customer service is deciding how to handle incoming calls, especially during periods when the office is closed. This decision is often made based on budgetary considerations, but the effect on customer service and client relationships should also be a primary concern. This white paper will look at the various options available for answering calls, and the difference each can have on the level and quality of customer service that your customers may experience. At Answer Now, we understand the importance of the personal touch when it comes to customer service. Obviously, we are strong advocates when it comes to the value of using live telephone answering agents. But we know this is a business decision, so we want to explore and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the various options to help you make an informed decision.
3 Making a Good Impression The person who answers the telephone at your business serves as the front line representative for your business. In the case of a new (or potential) customer, this may be the first interaction this person has with your staff, so the experience they have with that first call will set the tone for the start of this relationship. You cannot underestimate the importance of making a good first impression. This is especially true in the business world. Customers today have many options and tend to have high expectations. In this competitive environment, you cannot afford to risk doing anything that might annoy or alienate your customers or contacts. If someone s initial experience upon reaching out to your business is anything less than exceptional, they may consider going somewhere else. This could mean potential losses for your business and a negative impact on your reputation. Establising a Professional Image No matter how big (or small) your business or staff may be, your customers still expect a top-notch experience and personal service. If a customer calls and gets no answer or encounters the answering service equivalent of a dead end they will assume your business lacks the resources or dedication to provide the level of customer service they expect. Even worse is when a customer gets an answering machine during typical business hours. This makes them think one of several things, none of which paints your business in a favorable light. They may assume you are a small-time operation without sufficient staff to handle customer needs. Or they will think that customer attention isn t a high priority for you. Granted, it may be true that you are a relatively small business perhaps even one that is operating on a tight budget. But you don t want to look like a small-time outfit running on a shoestring. An outsourced call center service lets you look like a big-time firm, no matter how small your actual office or staff may be.
4 Customer Satisfaction is Critical for Your Business The person who answers the telephone at your business serves as the front line representative for your business. In the case of a new (or potential) customer, this may be the first interaction this person has with your staff, so the experience they have with that first call will set the tone for the start of this relationship. You cannot underestimate the importance of making a good first impression. This is especially true in the business world. Customers today have many options and tend to have high expectations. In this competitive environment, you cannot afford to risk doing anything that might annoy or alienate your customers or contacts. If someone s initial experience upon reaching out to your business is anything less than exceptional, they may consider going somewhere else. This could mean potential losses for your business and a negative impact on your reputation. The longer a customer must wait for an answer or resolution, the more frustrated and unhappy they will become and the more likely it is that they will give up and simply go somewhere else. By having the ability to assist customers immediately and quickly provide them with the answers, information or help they need, you make a positive impression that can help strengthen the relationship you have with that customer. Here are two statistics from Bain & Company that illustrate the economic importance of customer service: 1. A 5% reduction in the customer defection rate can increase profits by anywhere from 5% to 95%. 2. It costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. This proves several things: There is clear significant financial benefit to providing good customer service. Investing in the tools and resources necessary to provide good customer service will more than pay off in the form of profits from those satisfied customers. It is much more cost efficient to take care of your existing customers as opposed to trying to replace them with new customers.
5 Obviously, economic factors are important considerations. But your reputation which includes maintaining good relationships with your customers and the community is even more essential to the survival and success of your business Your Call Answering Options When it comes to how to handle incoming calls and inquiries, you have a few options. You can employ a staff of operators and customer service agents. This will allow you to serve your customers and handle incoming calls, but it will involve considerable costs costs that may be impractical or even impossible for many businesses to fit into their budgets. Remember, when you have a receptionist or agent on the clock, it isn t just their hourly wage you have to consider. There is also the cost of that person s supervisor, fill-in replace during time off, office space and equipment and other related expenses that will add to the total expense involved. You might think of this as the high-touch, high-cost option. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the very basic tools for answering calls, the equivalent of an inexpensive answering machine hooked up to your phone line. While this is definitely an economical choice, it most likely is not the sort of attention and response that your callers are hoping to receive. It s low cost, but also makes customers feel like they are a low priority. And in today s environment where people expect immediate answers and quick service, if they don t get an answer right away, they will likely simply move on to the next business on their list until they can reach someone at that time. Then there is another option, which combines all of the advantages of the other two scenarios. This involves having live operators and agents to assist callers, but without incurring the prohibitive costs of a full-time team of on-staff agents. This is a way for you to provide superior, personalized customer service while reducing your costs and allowing you to adjust quickly to fluctuating needs or demands of your customers.
6 The Value of Providing Live Customer Service Customer service is a top priority for most businesses (or at least, it should be). However, it can also be a major expense. The cost of the necessary staffing, equipment and technology involved can add up quickly and become a significant investment. As a result, businesses will often try to save money in this area whenever possible. Frequently, these cost-cutting measures will involve using automated answering services as opposed to live operators and customer service agents. This can be a big mistake when it comes to providing a satisfactory experience for your customers. Providing good customer service is important. In fact, it is probably the highest priority a business can have. You want every customer (and prospective customer) who interacts with your business to have a positive experience and feel satisfied with the level of service they received. Just the mere mention of an automated answering system can be enough to annoy many people. In one research study, 47 percent of respondents said they were annoyed by not getting a real person when they call a business. They envision getting trapped in an endless loop of pushing buttons and enduring long delays and then they leave a message without much hope that someone will actually return their call. And that s assuming they don t get disconnected (or just give up in frustration) somewhere along the way. Even if you are fortunate enough to have an automated system that works fairly smoothly, most of your customers would still rather deal with an actual person. A global survey showed that 7 in 10 adults would rather interact with helpful, friendly customer service (live people) than deal with even an efficient automated system. On the other hand, when they reach a live person, they feel like customer service is a high priority for your business. In addition, they can receive immediate answers or assistance, instead of having to wait for someone to get back to them. This greatly enhances their opinion or your business and the type of customer service it provides. Providing top-notch customer service and a personal touch helps ensure positive sentiment about your business. But this isn t just about emotions. This also has important financial implications. As most savvy business people know, customer loyalty directly impacts the bottom line. As mentioned previously, your business can also see long-term financial benefits from providing good customer service, as a result of the rewards you will see from retaining valuable customers.
7 This type of attention and care is something that customers are willing to absorb the cost for. According to the Echo 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer, two thirds of consumers say they are willing to spend more with a company they believe provides excellent customer service. How Customers Feel About Voic and Automated Systems It probably isn t much of a surprise to learn that people dislike dealing with automated answering systems. But it might be shocking to realize exactly how much people hate encountering these systems. Research shows that 7 in 10 global adults would rather interact with helpful, friendly customer service (meaning live people) than have an efficient, automated sales experience. While you may have some online or automated service options available that can sufficiently handle basic questions or issues, customers generally want to connect with a live person when they need help with more in-depth or complicated matters. According to the Echo 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer, for a complex inquiry, two out of five (38%) consumers prefer speaking with a real person on the phone, followed by a face to face conversation (24%), and using a company website or (15%). For even more difficult or complicated inquiries, almost half of consumers (46%) prefer speaking with a real person on the phone, 30% prefer a face to face interaction, and 9% prefer a company website or . Motivations for Using Automated Systems Most businesses that use an automated answering system or just a bare bones option like a basic answering system choose this option in order to save money. At least, they think they will be saving money. In reality, this may actually cause an organization to lose money. This is a case where trying to save a few pennies can result in losing many dollars. As noted above, you will realize much bigger profit by retaining your current customers, as opposed to trying to constantly replace customers who abandon you due to frustration with lack of service or inadequate responses to their questions.
8 Businesses may also use automated systems because they don t have enough staffing available to cover the phone lines after hours. This can be a challenge, especially for smaller businesses with limited staff and a small payroll budget. (In some cases, it can be a smart strategy to use an answering service or virtual receptionist as a backup only when needed, such as when you have periods of high call volume and need help handling the overflow.) Why You Need Skilled, Professional Agents Ideally, you should have someone available to answer your phone lines around the clock or at least during peak call volume times. This ensures a customer will reach a live person, and not get trapped in an automated system or be forced to leave a message. While using live operators to handle your calls is a good start, that s only half the battle. Just having someone answer the phone isn t enough you need to make sure you have the right people, those who know how to treat customers well and resolve their concerns quickly. In the Echo survey, a third of consumers (33%) cite a rude or unresponsive customer service representative as the most likely customer service issue to influence them to switch brands or companies. Over one in four (26%) cite being shuffled from representative to representative with no resolution of their issue. According to Accenture s 2012 Global Consumer Pulse Research, 70% of consumers say they are likely to switch brands if they deal with agents who are unable to answer their questions. The Importance of Caring for the Customers You Have As noted previously, it is to your financial advantage to take good care of the customers you already have. That s because it s very expensive to acquire new ones and is also a lot of work. You invest a lot of time, effort and resources to earn your customers. Once you have them, you want to do everything in your power to keep them and to keep them happy. Don t risk letting all you have invested go to waste simply because you carelessly overlooked an opportunity to provide good customer service.
9 It s Easy to Get a Bad Reputation Your business is only as good as its reputation. Unfortunately, these days it is easier than ever to earn a bad reputation in a very short time. As a result of social media, word-of-mouth has taken an entirely new significance and meaning. People who are unsatisfied with an experience they have had with your business can now tell many people about it in a very short period of time. In the past, an unhappy customer would likely tell a handful of people. These days, they can immediately share the story with everyone in their contact list and all of their social media networks and those people in turn can share it with their networks. Consider this: the average number of people someone will tell about a bad customer experience is 53, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer. And when you multiply that by the number of contacts each of those people may have in the social media networks (who may see or share a post complaining about a particular company), you can see how far-reaching even just one complaint can become. The Ideal Customer Service and Call Answering Solution By now, you probably realize the importance of providing good customer service and having live agents available to answer incoming calls. However, you also must work within the realities of your budget and staff availability. The solution: enlisting the help of a service such as AnswerNow, which specializes in providing answering service and customer service solutions. You get the best of both worlds: a way to service your customers while reducing your overhead and keeping expenses manageable. There is no worry about paying for staff you may not need during slow periods or scrambling to maintain enough coverage during busy times. In addition, our agents are professional, experienced specialists who will treat your customers with the care, courtesy and attention they expect and deserve.
10 About AnswerNow Founded nearly four decades ago, AnswerNow! provides call center solutions to hundreds of businesses across a multitude of industries. The U.S.-based company offers answering services, bilingual inbound and outbound call management, customer service and support, marketing and sales contact management, outbound B2B appointment scheduling, 24/7 service, appointment scheduling, overflow and disaster recovery. For more information, visit the company s website at