The pay as you go telephone answering service model is a bit different from the standard contractual answering service. If you couldn't infer from the name, the service is paid for on a lump sum debit system with reducing units (calls or minutes), much like a pre-paid mobile phone or phone card. Pay as you go does not have one singular definition in the answering service industry. There are many different variations of the model which we will discuss throughout this article. If you are considering a service provider for your business that operates on a PAYG basis, you should still read on a bit before you make that call (no pun intended).
When you are looking for the right service for your particular situation, whether one that uses pay as you go or one that adheres to the more traditional billing model, make sure they are the right fit for your company. If the prepaid model is within your price range, but they don't offer the right mix of services, it's always better to go the route of the service which gives you everything you want, even if you are paying slightly more. Remember, the answering service that provides the appropriate mix of services is better than the service that may appear to be less expensive. Before we delve into the different pricing models, let us first clarify what an answering service and does.
Different Types of Telephone Answering Services
A telephone answering service is a group of operators working in an offsite location (a call center) answering your telephone calls and representing your business. Telephone answering services are not uniform, however. Some may offer telemarketing and more "advanced" services, whereas other services may only provide a basic level of support, such as message taking and dispatch. Call centers can be large organizations with hundreds of operators, or small three-person operations that manage calls for around 20-30 companies.
A telephone answering service is not necessarily provided by a traditional call center, though the nomenclature is referenced interchangeably. Telephone answering services are typically provided by the smaller organizations referenced earlier, where most of the support is comprised of message taking and dispatch. An answering service that markets itself using the term "call center" will usually offer an advanced array of services like live chat, appointment setting, outbound calling, and other services, which can require more training and experience.
Another facet of answering services is the level of familiarity you will develop with the operators. When working with a smaller service, you are dealing with the same staff members each day. With a larger call center that employs hundreds of operators, you may never know who is answering your phones day-to-day. While this may be unacceptable for some businesses who would like to know who is answering their phones, it is not a defining factor in the quality of the service provided.
The Pay As You Go Model
A pay as you go answering service is a relatively new concept, but it has become popular with businesses that do not have the available resources to contract with a traditional answering service. The pay as you go service is built around the same core functions of an answering service or call center that invoices traditionally. Regardless of which billing model it is based on, it can provide that same type of support.
There are operators available at all hours to answer your calls, follow your instructions, and relay messages. Some charge per call, and some charge by the minute. Others will charge extra for texts or messages. Whatever unit billing model they pursue, the crux of this service is to pursue pre-pay for activation and telephone answering. In this way, you only pay for as much time as you plan to use. After your allotment runs out, the line goes dead and your incoming calls no longer route to the operator terminals.
Issues with the Pay As You Go Model
With the pay as you go model, there are usually activation fees bundled in with each allotment. Companies will often charge you to add "units" onto your account if the allotment has run dry. For example, you may get hit with a $2.50 processing fee to add minutes onto your account. Along the same lines, if an account "runs dry" and remains dormant for over a 30 day period, you may be subject to a re-activation fee because the line may have been removed from the internal system.
Activation fees are common with any answering service billing system, and the PAYG model is no different. When accounts are activated, operators require training and account information needs to be programmed into the call center software. Some services who are contractual will "eat" this charge because they have the customer obligated for an X month duration. For the PAYG model, there is no guarantee on the longevity of the customer therefore the activation fee will be an upfront cost. This cost is also not static.
The activation fee will always be a function of the complexity of the account with a minimum sum required. Again, if the accountholder lapses for a pre-determined period of time (i.e. their allotment runs out and remains dormant), their information may need to be archived or purged from the system entirely. If this happens, the activation fee will need to be paid each time the account lapses.
Pay as you go services may also have monthly minimums and durations on "rollover". You may not be able to pay the activation fee plus your allotment and hold onto your minutes for an indefinite period.
The pay as you go model is great for companies that need a short-term answering service, such as seasonal businesses, or those who only need a service when on vacation. For any business that needs service on a recurring monthly basis, the PAYG model is not recommended. Those customers should be pursuing either a monthly recurring service or a service that is offered with a long-term contract. In general, longer contract durations will mean cheaper rates.