Answering Service Rates Don’t Need to be Confusing

Too many answering services generate invoices that are too confusing. These folks include surprise fees and unexplained charges. And too often, these charges are not at all what clients expect. Let’s look at some of the creative ways answering services have tried to hide their real rates from unsuspecting clients. This post exposes the truth so you can evaluate an answering service’s rates and save yourself from disappointment. Units of Work: The fairest way for answering services to bill is by the amount of time worked. They pay their staff for their time, so it makes sense to bill their services the same way. But not all answering services do. Some bill for units of work. What’s that mean? Whatever they want it to. Seriously. While this varies, a unit of work can occur when they answer your phone. Another unit of work can happen when they take a message. A third unit of work might be placing a call or delivering a message. Perhaps connecting a caller to you is also a unit of work. Get the picture? One phone call can generate several units of work in no time at all. A Month That’s Not a Month: Most companies bill by the month, twelve times a year. Some enterprising answering services, however, tweaked this to “28-day billing.” Most people make the false assumption that 28-day billing is monthly billing. It’s not. If they bill you every twenty-eight days, you’ll receive thirteen bills a year and occasionally fourteen. If you think that’s not fair, we agree. Surcharges and Extra Fees: Answering services have gotten quite creative in charging for additional services: phone number rentals, message storage, holiday surcharges, callouts, conferencing, simultaneous calls, research  and database lookup fees, customer service, third-shift differentials, long distance, custom recordings, voicemail, message delivery, and the list goes on. And these can add up fast. Not Really a Minute: Some services that say they bill by time, get creative. Though people assume they mean minutes, that’s not it at all. They mean “units of time.” A unit of time may be only 45 seconds or maybe even 30. Therefore, a one-minute phone call could be two units of time. If you think that’s unfair, you’re right. Creative Rounding: With computerized billing, there is no need for rounding, but some answering services still do. And they always round up. Sometimes they round up to the nearest minute. That means a call lasting sixty-one seconds is rounded up to two minutes. Billing Done Right: Ethical invoicing avoids all of these tricks. Answering service bills should be short and straightforward. The proper way to bill, which almost all industries follow, is to bill the base rate in advance and the usage charges (if any) in arrears. And for your first bill, there may be a one-time setup charge. That’s it. Nothing more. When you hire a telephone answering service to help handle your communication needs, you deserve quality service and no unpleasant surprises, which includes a fair bill that’s easy to understand and lists only the charges you agreed to—and no more. It’s that simple. But why do so many answering services fall short of these basic expectations when it comes to billing? Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center industry, which helps clients improve the effectiveness of their communications and grow their business. Contact Janet at or 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.