Is Live Answer Worth the Investment for Businesses?
As the owner of a business where 100% live answer is not possible or cost effective, I do receive my fair share of angry voicemails from people wanting to talk to a human right now. It’s kind of interesting actually. I received this one just recently.
Many would just delete it, as I usually do with rude voicemail tirades. We receive all manner of unbelievably incoherent, garbled and plain crazy voice messages from people.
But as a blunt-spoken no-BS type of person myself, I appreciated this voicemail. I played it proudly for my wife. And I played it for my assistant, “listen, … this is great!” And now I’m blogging about it.
The caller scolds me with the blunt, to the point assertion, “if no one is available you get no sales“.
Listen to it again yourself. It’s perfect! It’s the kind of communication I respect. Clear, concise, to the point. No fluff. I like people who communicate like this.
So, is he right? Am I losing sales?
Of course I am. I just don’t know how many, or if setting up a 24/7 live answer would capture enough lost sales to offset the cost of outsourcing to a live answer call center. To dig into the question a bit more, I’ll go into my call logs for my phone system and dig up some stats, then discuss the pros and cons of live answering services.
Let’s take a look at the past 30 days. Here’s what I have. Below is a call log from the past 30 days. We see 513 calls, 92 outbound and 421 inbound. This doesn’t represent the entirety of calls, because many outbounds/inbounds bypass our main line and are done to and from our cell phone numbers. These numbers below represent just what originates with a call to our business line, or outbound from the desk phones.
It’s the 421 inbound calls, or about 14 per day, that may represent the “lost sales” that my voicemail friend is concerned about.
Next, let’s look at what happened to those inbound calls. We (me, Sylvia, and Joe) answered almost half of them, or 46.56% of the calls. 176 were missed (hangups) and 49 left a voice message. That’s about 42% missed and about 12% that left a voicemail. Adding the ‘answered’ plus ‘voicemail’, we captured 245 callers, or about 58% of the inbound calls either live or by voicemail.
But these numbers are deceiving. There are a lot of “duplicates” in the stats. In fact, a single caller can, over the course of 5 minutes, generate several “missed” calls, a voicemail, and an “answered”.
These are those people who hunt their way through the voice menu, hanging up and calling back repeatedly, trying every menu selection until they can reach someone live.
I see this behavior while sitting at my desk on the phone talking with someone. Over the course of 5 minutes I watch the same caller ID number coming through repeatedly, again and again on my desk phone and my cell (my desk phone extension rings out to my cell simultaneously). I don’t put people on hold to answer inbound calls, because I think it’s rude (unless I have an emergency going on and see that it’s my plumber or A/C guy, etc)
So, the “missed” is inflated, but it’s hard to know by exactly how much. My general observation is that it’s a lot, maybe by half if we include the ones who eventually leave voice messages. There are a lot of impatient, neurotic people in the world.
So let’s call it 90 missed calls in 30 days.
Is it fair to assume there could be some lost sales there, out of that 90? Yes, I think that’s fair to assume. There could be buyers, sellers or renters calling around and looking for the first company to answer live. And I’m missing that call. So why not have a live answer?
I generally don’t like answering services. I have had a live answering service over the years, for the reasons we are exploring. I don’t currently because I’ve never liked the customer-facing experience myself. I can always tell when I’ve reached the “answering service” versus the real people.
You can hear the chatter of other operators in the back ground, the tic/tac tapping of the keyboard as the answering rep reads a scripted set of questions. My typical first question is “is this the answering service?“. When they say “yes”, I say “I’ll try back later” and hang up. I think a lot of people are like me. I don’t want to be questioned by a drone. I’d rather just leave a voicemail than speak with someone who knows nothing.
So, the real question for me, as a business owner, becomes “is it better to have a substandard live answer experience, or missed calls?”
The 3 missed calls per day would instead become “messages” instead of hangups. It would cost me about $400 per month to have 24/7 live answer, or about $4.44 per message taken by the answering service if we do the rough math.
If even just two messages turn into a sales listing or a buyer sale, it would pay for the $4,800/yr in answering service costs. And it’s reasonable to think there might be more than just 2 missed sales per year, so maybe the answering service would in fact pay for itself, plus some.
But would it provide a better customer experience for those trying to reach us by phone?
I’m not convinced it would. I care more about that than I do the lost sales. It’s hard to set up an answering system to function as anything other than an “either/or” setup.
In other words, we can leave it as-is and only the “missed” calls go to the answering service, but that’s an additional 2-4 rings on top of the already 2-4 rings the caller has waited. Many will hang up anyway at ring 5 or 6.
So why not send 100% of calls straight to the answering service 24/7?
Because I like answering directly, myself.
It impresses prospective clients when they call in and reach me or Sylvia or Joe live. Remember, the calls are ringing out to our cells same time as the desk phones ring, and we do actually answer almost half of the total volume. I think that’s pretty good actually. Then we can start talking and answering questions right away. They have the real person!
I don’t want a know-nothing functionary in between me and my prospective clients, making the first impression. I’d rather have it be one of us team members, or the voicemail – for better or worse.
I could be wrong about this, and I second guess myself about these things a lot, but as it stands today, I’d rather we answer as many live calls as possible, offer voicemail to those we miss, and let the hang-up callers bypass us if it’s that important to them to find a Realtor with a 100% answer setup.
But I do appreciate my grumpy caller leaving that voicemail to remind me that this question should be revisited from time to time.