You have several equipment options when starting your answering service business. If it is to be a small operation (10 clients or less) you may want to start off by just having individual phone lines installed for each client. You would simply mark each phone with the clients ID and answer calls accordingly. The client would order call-forwarding and have calls forwarded to you either all the time or on an as needed basis. Your other choices would be direct inward dialing (DID) or integrated services digital network (ISDN).
DID works in a very similar fashion to the individual phone line option. When a new customer joins your service, they order call forwarding from their phone company and you then assign them one of your DID phone numbers. When they want to have you answer their phone calls, they simply forward their calls to the DID number you have assigned them. When a call is forwarded, the phone company transfers the call plus the last three or four digits of the DID number as an identifier to your service. Your equipment recognizes the number and brings up the answering protocol and pertinent information for the client on your software.
You should not allow your customers to use your DID number as their phone number. If this client doesn’t fulfill his or her obligations, you will continue to receive calls for them on that number even after you have assigned it to another client.
Another choice is ISDN. You must have equipment that is capable of utilizing ISDN and your local phone company must be able to offer ISDN at your location. Some phone companies have a mileage restriction from their physical location to yours, so it is a good idea to be located as close to the phone company as possible.
On some answering service equipment, the digital ISDN feeds the software with caller information, like the caller’s phone number and the client’s phone so the operator has a display of the answering protocol to know how to properly answer the call. Unlike DID where each client gets their own number, all of the clients call forward their phone numbers to the same ISDN number.
These accounts do not need to call forward. Either the answering service or the client can answer the line. There is an actual connection of an accounts line to your ISDN equipment. This can be an advantage when a client’s office is particularly busy, rather than forwarding calls to you, they simply go on about business while you answer excess phone calls. You need less lines because ISDN lines all handle multiple calls at one time, while DID’s can only handle one at a time.
As with everything there is a cost for the added convenience and capabilities, but depending on the size and scope of your answering service business, it may well be worth it.
Hopefully, this gives you a basic understanding of how the answering service equipment works and you can now make an educated decision as to which type will work best for your answering service. The equipment and software you use will have an impact on your business so it is good to have as much information as possible.