A telephone answering service is a great resource to answer your business phones while you and your staff take time to celebrate the holidays. Though holidays occur throughout the year, the biggest need to balance work and festivities occurs toward the end of December. This can include holiday parties, extra days off, times of low staffing, plant shutdowns, inventory days, and year-end vacations. Your answering service or call center must be a seamless extension of your business when you cannot answer your calls, but it is critical to ensure their readiness to handle your ringing phone when you can’t. Realistic Expectations: Your answering service or call center should not have a large negative service dip just because there’s a holiday. Receiving excuses and apologies from them due to their poor performance in handling holiday call traffic is proof you are with the wrong service provider. Proper Planning: Professional answering services measure their past and present call volume in order to accurately predict and manage future service needs. They use state-of-the-art tools to look at historic call traffic to build a plan for success on high traffic days such as before, during, and after holidays. Adequate Staffing: Then they schedule their agents accordingly so that they can serve you with excellence. True, your answering service’s staff wants to enjoy the holidays, too. But their first obligation is to serve you and your company. Celebrating the holidays needs to come second for them. If they can’t or won’t do that, it’s time to find a service provider who will. This doesn’t mean they won’t be busy, because they will, but they shouldn’t dismiss their normal performance levels, either. Service Levels: Does your answering service or call center have a service level agreement (SLA)? An SLA specifies certain standard performance metrics that they must strive for and maintain. Here are two common ones: The first one addresses how fast they answer calls. They often state this in terms of the percent of calls answered within a certain timeframe, such as answering 85 percent of all calls within thirty seconds. This is an average, so the instantaneous number will go up and down over time, but in considering the holiday season in total, your service provider better hit that mark. A second common performance indicator is the call abandonment rate, which is a measurement of the number of callers who hang up before their call is answered. A typical abandon rate is less than 5 percent of all calls. Both of these service levels should be maintained over the holidays. If your contract specifies these metrics and your service provider falls short, then it’s time to invoke penalties and find a new answering service. Need to Switch? If you find yourself matched with the wrong partner, now is the time to find an answering service that can become a seamless extension of your business brand and company culture. When you have the right partner – and not just a vendor – they can have a direct positive impact on your bottom line success, not to mention making it much easier to run your business. Happy holidays! Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center and telephone answering service industry – and who helps businesses and organizations find the perfect answering service or call center. Contact Janet at email@example.com or call 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.