As the owner of an answering service, one thing you will want to pay particular attention to is the contract between your new client and your answering service. This is important to help make expectations and obligations clear on both the customer’s and your side of things. The contract is an important business tool that protects both parties and requires each to do their part.
The contract should contain several sections each pertaining to a different part of the agreement. You will spell out all of the services you will provide the client. It is important to make this section abundantly clear so there is no misunderstanding and you do not find your staff providing extra services that are not being paid for or taking customer complaints over things they “thought” your service was supposed to do for them. Each item of service should be spelled out in great detail.
Think about the who, what, where, why and when of each item. Who are you taking calls for? What information will you give callers, Where can the client be reached? Why should calls be routed directly to the client? When should messages be delivered? These are some examples of questions to answer in each section. Remember, you are agreeing to be bound to the things you put in the contract.
Another section you will need to include would be what you are expecting from your client. This will outline his or her fee structure and schedule for making payments to your answering service. Any late fees, extra charges or penalties must be outlined in this section. Include what extra fee there may be for a bounced check and any other variables. This is the only proof you will have if there is a discrepancy over a bill, so make this very clear.
You should also include a section that explains you limitations on liabilities regarding missed, misdirected or improperly routed phone calls. It is important to carry insurance that covers “errors and omissions” and spell out that your liability is limited to what your insurance covers.
Obviously, your goal is to provide error free messages and phone calls, but errors due to both human and technology factors do occur and it is important to outline both what systems and procedures are in place to prevent errors and how those that do occur will be handled.
You have several options as to the length of the contract. From your perspective, it is good to have the client sign on for as long a term as possible to guarantee you steady income. From the clients’ perspective a short term contract allows them the flexibility to change their service provider if they are unhappy with your service. This may be an effective strategy to use when trying to attract new business.
Of course, you will want to run everything by your attorney before you sign your first contract and after that you should have a standard framework to work with when developing future contracts.