Toward the end of last year, Clutch, a B2B ratings and reviews firm, surveyed 300 US-based companies that used answering services. The items on their list of top ten answering service essentials is not surprising, however, their order of importance is, with some running counter to commonly held answering service industry assumptions. Respondents rated the importance of answering service characteristics on a scale of 1 to 5. The results revealed call quality was ranked number one, at 4.61; pricing in the middle at 4.28; and offering a free trial dead last at 3.62. The top ten answering service essentials, listed in order of importance and along with my commentary, are: 1) Call Quality: Coming in as the most important answering service essential is call quality at 4.61, out of 5. This isn’t surprising given the public’s intolerance of errors and expectation of excellence. In today’s market, an answering service must place an emphasis on quality if it hopes to attract and keep clients. 2) Responsiveness: Coming in a close second is responsiveness at 4.55. Responsiveness comes in two forms. One is the answering service’s responsiveness to clients’ questions and concerns. The second is the answering service’s responsiveness to their clients’ callers. This includes answering calls quickly and handling transactions fast. Most answering services focus on responsiveness to their clients’ callers, but too many don’t prioritize their responsiveness to their clients’ customer service issues. 3) Hours of Operation: Coming in third, at 4.40, is hours of operation. Since virtually all answering services today operate 24/7, it’s surprising that this is even a consideration and not viewed as a given. However, while serving callers is a 24/7 effort, what about being available to address client concerns? How many answering services provide 24/7 customer support to go along with their 24/7 service? 4) Innovative Technology: In fourth place is technology at 4.29. Long gone are the days when an answering service could succeed on the strength of their staff alone, without technology to back them up. Today technological innovation is expected. 5) Pricing: Right behind technology, but landing midpoint on the list at 4.28, is price. This is surprising and should give pause to those answering services who think they must compete on price. 6) Industry Knowledge: Understanding the clients’ industry comes in sixth place at 4.19. While providing basic answering service of taking a name, number, and message, requires no industry familiarity, advanced service offerings do hinge on industry comprehension. This implies a need for answering services to specialize. 7) Setup Speed: Less important than industry knowledge is setup speed, at 4.11. This may be because answering service clients don’t feel this is as important. However, an alternate explanation may be that astute answering service clients know that to set up an account properly requires time and to do so fast could lead to unsatisfactory results. As a result, they are willing to wait. 8) Reporting and Call Analytics: Close behind setup speed is reports and analytics, coming in at 4.09. Though there is value here, it clearly trails other more critical offerings. The key for answering services is to be able to automate their reporting or to provide a portal for clients to pull their own analytic reports. 9) Multilingual Capabilities: In ninth place—and a significant distance behind number eight—is multilingual answering services, at 3.81. Most clients only need English coverage, while for some a second or even a third language is essential. 10) Free Trial: Trailing multilingual, again by a wide margin, is offering a free trial, which came in at 3.62, well behind all others on the list. While many answering services view a free trial as necessary, the survey shows it’s not that important to clients. How does your answering service match up to this list? Do your priorities align? What do you need to change? 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, which helps clients grow their revenue. Contact Janet at email@example.com or 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.