Inbound Contact Center & Answering Service Plans

Understanding Flat Rate, Pay As You Go, Per Call And Per Message Billing

Will you receive 100 calls this month or 1,000?
Is your busy season ahead or behind you?

These are questions business owners must ask themselves every month when subscribed to a prepaid call or message plan. Wrong calculations equal lost dollars.

Plans rarely, if ever, roll over and going over your plan’s allotment will result in expensive overage fees and additional costs. Like the old all inclusive Flat Rate plans of the past, call centers and answering services steering you toward these plans are betting that you will guess your usage incorrectly and they’ll win either way.

Common Pricing Models & Their Impact On Your Bottom Dollar

Answering service pricing is confusing because there is no standard way to bill for services. Below we briefly cover the most common pricing models.

Flat Rate

Flat Rate Billing requires businesses to pre-purchase a packaged bundle of calls or minutes each billing cycle. For instance, you might have the option to choose 150 minutes for $199, 275 minutes for $329 or 500 minutes for $549. To choose the right plan, businesses need to know how many minutes they will use each billing cycle and to get the best value they will have to consistently use exactly that number of minutes. Using additional minutes over the pre-purchased allotment means you’ll be hit with high overage fees and using less means you pay a higher per minute rate for the minutes you used.

Per Call & Per Message

With Per Call & Per Message Billing the answering service or call center charges a certain amount per call or per message. For example, the service will advertise a “Per Call” rate of $1.20. While this seems straightforward enough, all services have their own definition of what a “call” or “message” is and many may surprise you. For more information see the following section “Defining Calls, Message and Minutes.”

Pay As You Go

Pay-As-You-Go Billing means that the call center or answering service charges its clients only for what each client has actually used. Many services charge a low “base rate” or “access fee” and then only bill further when actual work is being performed on an account. This is AnswerFirst’s preferred method of billing. At AnswerFirst, Pay-As-You-Go means you do not have to forecast your changing and fluctuating usage to ensure you get the best rate each month. Every time an invoice for usage is generated, volume discounts are automatically applied. While this seems straightforward enough, all services have their own definition of what a “minute” is and many may surprise you. For more information see the following section “Defining Calls, Message and Minutes.”

Comparing Different Answering Services?

Comparison Checklist On A Computer Screen

Choosing the answering service that’s right for your business is a major decision. We’ve prepared a simple checklist you can use to compare services.  Use this free guide to learn what questions you need to ask while shopping.

  • rpmp Avatar

    Honestly, could not ask for more! They are the best answering service we have ever had and priced extremely fair!

  • tracy lobertini Avatar

    We are very pleased with the service we have received. The entire team at Answer First has been delightful. We are a small business and do not have a full time weekend staff. This solution allows us to provide service to our clients and callers without the expense of having to staff the office on weekends.

    tracy lobertini
  • All About You Avatar

    As an event management company who is always on the go, it is important to ensure the phone lines are covered. Answer First handles all of our calls so that we never miss a clients call. Thank you for the great service!

    All About You
  • Steven Kollander Avatar

    I had been with another answering service for twenty years prior to signing up with you. They don't even hold a candle to you. You are great.

    Steven Kollander
  • Jesse P. Grote Avatar

    I have been using them for about a month for my property management business and they have been great. The operators are courteous and professional. My business has been running smoother with them!

    Jesse P. Grote
  • Gabrielle Short Avatar

    Our client support specialist, Aimee, addresses our questions and concerns immediately. We've been impressed with the wonderful customer service offered by Answer First!

    Gabrielle Short
  • Matt Lentz Avatar

    AnswerFirst has been absolutely fantastic to work with! Professional, courteous, and very detail oriented. I'd highly recommend Aimee and her team!

    Matt Lentz
  • Teri Bennett Avatar

    We have been using AF for a few years now and we love working w/them. They customized our account to fit our special needs from day 1. They respond immediately to any issues and ALWAYS follow through to make sure we are happy w/our service. The staff is professional and we could not ask for better service.

    Teri Bennett
  • David Harris Avatar

    I have used this company for nearly a decade. They are honest, reliable, provide excellent service, and always strive to do even better. Highly recommend AnswerFirst!

    David Harris

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Defining Calls, Messages and Minutes

One of the largest challenges in evaluating answering service and call center pricing is understanding how each provider defines calls, messages and minutes. Here’s where it’s really important to read “the fine print” and understand what you’re actually being billed.

What is a minute?

While most of the world defines a minute as 60 seconds, most of the answering service industry doesn’t. Since call lengths are rarely equal to an exact number of minutes, answering services have several methods of accounting for partial minutes and most of them do not benefit the customer. Many services round up to the next minute, charge in 6 or 15 second increments, charge for ring and hold time, etc. Who wants to pay for an entire minute when a caller hangs up or a solicitor calls and takes 5-15 seconds of the operator’s time?

What is a call?

Is it an inbound call, an outbound call, an email, a chat, a text, a fax, a social media communication or the very common answer, all of the above? When considering a service that bills per call, it’s important to know what they consider “a call.”

What is a message?

Is it a complete message (caller’s name, who he or she is asking for, how do you reach them back, what it is regarding), or is it as little as “caller hung up” or “caller did not leave a message.” Most commonly, it’s any of the above.

Considerations When Choosing Your Rate Type

  • Demand A Win-Win Scenario

    Pre-purchasing (committing) to a particular amount of calls or minutes can create a less than ideal relationship since the answering service or contact center has removed its financial interest and incentive for answering your calls, chats and emails as quickly as is possible and may actually reduce the amount of time a Customer Service Rep is allowed to assist your caller, thereby damaging the customer service experience and your brand.
  • Demand That Your Caller’s Experience Is Never Sacrificed For Better ATTA Statistics

    Ensure that your service never places your callers on hold once they have been answered. Services commonly present artificially reduced “Average Time To Answer” statistics but behind these numbers are higher average hold times. At AnswerFirst we never place callers on hold to answer other calls. We focus on proper staffing (actually overstaffing) to ensure our performance statistics and your clients’ experiences are significantly better than expected.
  • Demand Volume Discounting Without Large Commitments

    While call and message plans rarely, if ever, auto adjust each month, AnswerFirst’s Pay-As-You-Go discounted rates do. Each billing cycle as your call, chat and email volume increases, your per-minute rate automatically decreases. No guessing and no pre-purchased rate plan changing. All the guess work has been removed.

Simplicity, Accuracy & Integrity – Why We Use Pay-As-You-Go Billing

Happy Customer With Thumbs Up

Pay-As-You-Go billing is the easiest and most efficient way to spend your dollars with an answering service or contact center – it creates a true win-win relationship.

At AnswerFirst you pay a low monthly fee to gain access to all of our platforms and services 24/7/365. This includes 2 unique forwarding numbers, full use to of our secure web portal and ensures Customer Service Professionals and supervisors are standing by 24/7. However, with pay-as-you-go, you only pay more when our Customer Service Professionals are working on your behalf and providing exceptional customer care to your customers on your behalf.

The low base rate is your only financial commitment; after that, you pay-as-you-go and only for the work that is performed.

Our per-minute rate is billed in true one second increments (no rounding to the next minute). Since we bill usage in arrears, there is no need to try and determine how many calls or minutes you’ll need to use each month and there is never any reason to worry about changing your rate plan or plan size. Our Pay-As-You-Go billing method also eliminates concerns about paying for unused calls or minutes and there can never be any unexpected “overage” fees.

“AnswerFirst provides 24/7 answering service with friendly, helpful assistance to my clients. I receive a phone message via my cell & email within 1 min of a client calling & all the information is correct (name/phone/subject matter). I wish I had been using AnswerFirst since I started my business 2 years ago. I actually save money and get accurate & efficient information for a fraction of the cost of having a full-time receptionist. The service is awesome!”

The Importance Of Call Center Metrics

Understanding billing methods and comparing different services are both important initial steps in choosing the right answering service or call center for your business, but one thing most businesses overlook is the importance of understanding call center metrics.

Want to learn more?

Download our free white paper, “Understanding Call Center Metrics – What To Look For In A Call Center Partner” for a simple walkthrough of contact center metrics and what you should look for when evaluating business communications partners.

Understanding Call Center Metrics Whitepaper

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