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Best Call Centers and Answering Services for Businesses for 2021

By
Adam Uzialko
,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Aug 30, 2021

If you're wondering how to choose the best call center service for your business, look no further. This guide includes our best picks for call center services and all the information you need to choose one that suits your needs.
Best for Inbound Services
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Price: Starts at $50 a month for 100 minutes
Best Overall
TeleDirect
Price: Starts at $1,100 for 1,000 minutes
Best for Outbound Services
Five Star Call Centers
Price: 80-90 cents per minute for shared agents, $26 per hour for dedicated agents
Best for Low-Volume Businesses
Signius Communications
Price: Approx. $40 monthly base rate for 50 minutes
Best Answering Service Overall
Specialty Answering Service
Price: Starts at $31 per month, plus $1.19 per minute
If you're wondering how to choose the best call center service for your business, look no further. This guide includes our best picks for call center services and all the information you need to choose one that suits your needs.
Updated 08/30/21

This page has been updated with information on a price increase by Specialty Answering Service.

The Best Call Center Services

Update: We've updated our best picks page to reflect new pricing for Go Answer. Scroll down to the GoAnswer card to learn more.

No matter what kind of business you run, managing the phone lines is a labor-intensive process that can become costly to manage in-house, especially for small businesses with limited resources. Call center services allow businesses to outsource their customer service in a professional and transparent way. To help you find the right call center service for your business, we analyzed more than 50 options, looking at everything from cost to features to help us decide which services we think are best.

Find the Right Call Center Service for Your Business

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Our Reviews

Go Answer: Best Inbound Call Center Service for Small Business

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Go Answer offers a wide range of services and multiple plans that are suitable for all call volumes. It is a transparent company that posts its pricing plans online, which isn't a given in the industry. There is no call volume or monthly invoice minimum, nor any long-term contracts. If your volume goes up or down from month to month, you can upgrade or downgrade your plan as needed for no extra charge. There are no cancellation fees if you choose to close out your account.

Go Answer is available 24/7/365 and claims its agents will answer every call within the first three rings. Inbound services include helpdesk services, order taking, a customer hotline and simple answering services. Custom plans are available for businesses with unique needs or fluctuating call volumes.

March 2021: Go Answer recently unveiled a mobile application called AlwaysOn. The mobile app works with both iOS and Android devices, displaying information about account activity in real time. Users can access reporting metrics about their call center or answering service activity, such as the total number of inbound calls, the average ring time before answer, and the average talk time. The app can also be used for customer relationship management (CRM), as it can track caller names, phone numbers, order numbers, and additional notes.

July 2020: Go Answer's pricing plans now start at $50 per month. When we updated this category in June, we noted that Go Answer's pricing started at $110 per month for a package of 100 minutes. Go Answer's updated pricing plans will be taken into account during our next full review update of the call center category.

Read Go Answer Review

TeleDirect: Best Call Center Service for Small Business

We selected TeleDirect as the best overall call center service for small businesses primarily because it boasts a complete selection of both inbound and outbound services, including some harder-to-find services like cold calling. TeleDirect's services are available 24/7/365, meaning your customers will always have someone to speak with, even on weekends and holidays. Depending on your particular needs, you can select shared agents, who conduct multiple campaigns, or dedicated agents, who focus solely on your business. TeleDirect supports both English and Spanish, as well as a number of other languages depending on your clientele.
Read TeleDirect Review

Five Star Call Centers: Best Outbound Call Center Service for Small Business

Five Star Call Centers offers a comprehensive outbound calling solution to target your ideal customer. With services such as upselling, cross-selling, market research, cold calling and direct follow-ups, Five Star is one of the most effective companies we reviewed for reaching your audience by phone. The company also helps you craft your campaigns, from script design to organization. Five Star requires a high minimum of $3,000 per month, because outbound campaigns require more expensive dedicated agents. However, it customizes its services to meet the needs of your unique campaign and doesn't demand a long-term contract. Five Star's customer service representatives were friendly, informative and patient when we called to discuss the company in detail.
Read Five Star Call Centers Review

Signius Communications: Best Call Center Service for Low-Volume Businesses

Many businesses simply don't get a lot of calls, but that doesn't mean call center services can't benefit them. Signius Communications makes it cost-effective for low-volume businesses to outsource their inbound call center services, such as customer support and order entry, without sacrificing quality. Signius does not offer outbound services or manage any other channel besides the phone lines, so it's fully focused on handling your incoming calls.
Read Signius Communications Review

Specialty Answering Service: Best Answering Service Overall

Specialty Answering Service is our best overall pick for answering services because it brings decades of experience across a wide range of verticals to the space. It offers all the core features of an answering service that we looked for in our review, as well as several useful features that could benefit companies of all sizes and needs. SAS offers various plans to choose from based on your expected call volume, from the pay-as-you-go economy plan up to the massive 10,000-minute plan.

August 2021: Specialty Answering Service has changed its pricing since our last review. Prices now start at $34 per month, plus $1.29 per minute. Specialty Answering Service offers eight total plans, ranging from a pay as you go model to 10,000 minutes per month. The top tier plan costs $8,5999 per month, plus $0.89 per minute. Specialty answering service remains a relatively competitively priced offering with a wide range of plans suitable for businesses small and large.

Read Specialty Answering Service Review

Stericycle Communication: Best Answering Service for Medical Practices

Stericycle Communication Solutions offers answering services specific to the healthcare industry and medical practices. With years of experience in the space, Stericycle understands the needs of healthcare providers and their patients. The company offers HIPAA-compliant services to ensure the communication of sensitive patient information is fully secure in accordance with the law. In addition to the core answering services we looked for, Stericycle offers healthcare-specific services such as physician referral, on-call scheduling and appointment reminders for patients. Its pricing varies on a client-by-client basis, but we were quoted $711.90 per month. Stericycle requires clients to sign a yearlong contract.
Read Stericycle Communication Review

Contact Communications: Best Pay-As-You-Go Answering Service

Contact Communications is our best pick for a pay-as-you-go answering service because of its low base rates and affordable per-minute usage rates. The company is able to keep costs down while still offering all the core features we looked for in an answering service. Contact Communications is a great option for very small businesses, businesses on a budget or companies that only want to outsource a portion of their call volume. Its services include live answering, order taking, appointment scheduling, tech support and FAQs, enabling agents to act as a direct extension of your business without callers realizing they are dealing with an outsourced service. Contact Communications services start at $19.99 per month, although the price you will ultimately pay depends on the specific services you require and your anticipated monthly call volume.
Read Contact Communications Review

Call Center Service Costs

There are a few different pricing models call centers can employ. These are the most common:

  • Monthly subscription: A call center that charges a monthly subscription typically offers a package of minutes that cover all the inbound services the company offers.

  • Per-minute rate: A call center that charges a per-minute rate will base your monthly bill on the time agents spend connected to your callers. These rates are typically below $1 per minute.

  • Tiered pricing plans: Tiered pricing plans give clients access to more advanced call center features at the higher tiers. This is a less common billing method than monthly subscriptions and per-minute rates. 

Many call centers charge additional fees and maintain billing policies that could influence your final cost. For example, many call centers charge a one-time setup fee to activate your account. Others charge extra fees for certain holidays. Be sure to get a complete breakdown of additional fees a call center charges before signing up.

You should be aware of some common billing policies as well. One is known as "agent work time." This refers to the time an agent is filling out information related to your account when they are not actively connected with a caller. Some call centers bill for this time, which tends to inflate your bill.

Some call centers employ incremental billing, which means they round up the time of your calls. The industry's most common billing increment is six seconds, meaning a call that lasts one minute and one second would be rounded up to one minute and six seconds, appearing on your bill as 1.1 minutes. However, some call centers use excessive increments, rounding up as high as the nearest minute in some cases. It's important to understand incremental billing to avoid a significantly inflated bill. The best call center services bill second to second, only charging you for the time an agent was actually connected with a caller.

Costs can vary widely in the call center service industry. Nearshore and offshore call centers tend to be the least expensive, but there can sometimes be communication barriers between agents and customers. Many businesses opt to partner with domestic call centers, which are more expensive but tend to employ accent-neutral native English speakers. Costs also depend on the level of service your business requires and your anticipated call volume. [Read more about call center homeshoring.]

How Do Call Center Services Work?

As the name suggests, call center services specialize in the management of your phone lines. At their most basic, they capture information from incoming callers, take down messages and respond to frequently asked questions. For these services, agents typically rely on a branded script your company provides. They can also perform more advanced services, such as order management and payment processing. Many call center services also offer outbound services, which can support your marketing campaigns and generate new leads.

However, call center services don't stop at the phone lines. Many are rebranding as contact centers, taking a holistic approach to customer service. In addition to incoming and outgoing phone calls, contact centers handle email, social media and live web chat. Leveraging these channels for a unified customer service department has never been easier.

If you need a partner to ensure your customers receive the care they've come to expect from your company, a call center service might be right for you. This guide includes key information on what to look for in a call center service and how to choose the one that best suits your brand. It also features reviews of  our best picks – companies that stand out from the crowd.

Community Expert Insight

To better understand the call center services industry, we asked some of our readers which call center services they use for their businesses. Zach Passarella, marketing director at SMP Nutra, said his company uses VoiceNation.

"What we like about VoiceNation is that they are based in the U.S. and they allow for you to guide them on exactly how you want them to answer your calls," Passarella told Business News Daily. "They also have bilingual operators, [which] improves the ability to talk to everyone."

When Mursion decided to outsource its call center operations, it searched for a service that was suited for a startup company and based in the U.S. Robin Van Horn, Mursion's executive director of client services, said she and the company preferred a service based in Austin, Texas, so she could routinely be onsite for training and meetings. In the end, they settled on mindStart.

"From the first point of contact, mindStart was professional and helpful, and I never felt like I was being pressured," Van Horn said. "They took the time to really understand our needs (which were a bit nuts) and crafted a proposal on how to accomplish that within our budget."

Jacob Wedderburn-Day, co-founder and CEO of Stasher, said his company uses the small startup Supportify.

"They offer custom packages to new clients – so, for us, they handle call support and intercom messaging and anything that needs escalation to the operations team," he said.

Services Call Centers Provide

Call centers offer a wide range of services that can be separated into two main types: inbound and outbound call center services.

Inbound Call Center Services

Inbound call center services cover any incoming calls. These are some common inbound call center services you might encounter:

  • Message taking
  • Live answering
  • Call forwarding
  • Order management
  • Customer support
  • Complaint hotline
  • Employee call-out hotline
  • Tech support

 

Outbound Call Center Services

Outbound call center services are when agents call prospects, customers, suppliers or anyone else on behalf of your business. These are some common outbound services:

 

Shared Agents vs. Dedicated Agents

Depending on how sophisticated your call center service is, you can choose shared agents or dedicated agents to work on your account. Shared agents are significantly less expensive than dedicated agents and can perform simple services with the help of guidelines or a script. These services include taking messages, answering frequently asked questions and forwarding calls. Shared agents typically cost 70 to 90 cents per minute.

Dedicated agents are paid an hourly rate to work for your business only. They cost upward of $20 per hour, but they can fulfill much more advanced services, such as tech support and outbound marketing campaigns.

To blend cost-effectiveness with the personalization of dedicated agents, some call centers offer semi-dedicated agents. These agents cost a bit less than dedicated agents (usually $15 to $20 per hour) while still managing more advanced duties than shared agents. The difference is that they usually work with one or two other clients of the contact center in addition to your business, whereas dedicated agents are assigned solely to your account.

Call Center FAQs

Why does a business need a call center?

A business needs a call center whenever they are missing phone calls or if the work of answering calls is disrupting operations. Sometimes businesses only need overflow call support, for when the phone lines are especially busy. In other cases, businesses might want to outsource their entire customer service department. Call centers, often referred to as contact centers, can do this not only on the telephone but also via channels like email, social media, and live web chat.

When should I hire a call center?

You should hire a call center when your team is spending more time on the phone than conducting mission-critical tasks. You should also hire a call center if your customer service satisfaction rates are plummeting. Alternatively, you could hire an answering service from the very beginning, which is what many attorneys' offices and healthcare organizations do. Answering services offer smaller-scale services, such as a virtual receptionist, that are geared toward very small or industry-specific businesses.

What is the difference between domestic and offshore call centers?

Domestic call centers based in the U.S. are generally more expensive. However, they come with more resilient infrastructure, more effective software, and accent-neutral agents whom your customers are likely to understand clearly. Offshore (international) call centers usually cost less, but they tend to lack these desirable features.

There is also a hybrid option, referred to as "nearshore" call centers. These companies are not based in the U.S. but usually in the Caribbean, rather than India or the Philippines. These nearshore facilities often blend Western cultural understanding with the affordability of offshore services.

How much does a call center charge per call?

Call center costs range from $0.70 to $1 per minute. Call centers generally charge a per-minute rate for shared agents, or a per-hour rate for dedicated agents.  So, the cost of each call depends on the length of the call and the rate agreed upon between the client and call center.

What are the two types of call centers?

Call centers may provide inbound services or outbound services. Inbound services include managing incoming calls, like order taking, appointment setting, customer service and tech support. Outbound services are generally used for lead generation, market research and sales. This can include services like conducting polls, cold calling leads and following up with previous customers. Some call centers provide both inbound and outbound services.

Call Center Service Trends to Expect in 2021

A recent market report suggests that the global call center industry could grow to nearly $500 billion in value by 2027, a 5% compound annual growth rate. These projections represent an upward revision in previous trends, attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic and the mass migration toward remote work and customer service. As more businesses operate with a distributed workforce and digital infrastructure, customer service will be increasingly outsourced – in other words, expect the call center industry to continue its growth in 2021.

Many customers simply don't like to place a customer service call, preferring text-based services. It's no surprise, then, that live web chat services are expected to grow by 87% over the next 12 to 18 months. Live chat has long been a nice option to add to your website, giving your customers another way to contact customer service agents. However, it is becoming a must-have, especially for potential customers interacting with your brand for the first time. More than 41% of all customers prefer live web chat, while 50% of mobile users look for the feature when visiting a website. Offering this channel is a way to stay competitive and boost customer satisfaction, especially when fielding initial questions from a potential buyer. Many call centers have integrated live chat into their services and can set up the channel, embed it on your website, and provide an agent to manage incoming customer requests.

Artificial intelligence continues to be a key driver of growth in the call center service industry, especially when it comes to interactive voice response. IVR is the automated phone tree that callers often encounter when contacting a customer service department. IVR with AI and machine learning enables better recognition of caller accents and intonation, and supports more efficient call direction to the appropriate agent and department.

AI isn't just becoming a mainstay for IVR; it is essential to mine data for insights into customer needs and satisfaction. Call center services are increasingly offering access to data-driven reports that support better decision-making around marketing, customer service delivery and even inventory management. Quality assurance in the modern business world relies on data, and machine learning is essential to make the troves of data that businesses capture every day useful.

June 2021: Market research from analysts at Grandview Research anticipates a 21.1% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in the global contact center industry, which was valued at $20.5 billion in 2020. At that rate of growth, Grandview Research estimates that the global contact center market will exceed $90.6 billion by 2028. This growth rate underscores how quickly businesses are adopting contact center solutions worldwide, including on channels like phone, email, text message, and live web chat.

April 2021: A recent market report released by Market.biz on the global call center market found that artificial intelligence (AI) used in call centers was worth roughly $930 million in 2020. That value is expected to more than triple in the next decade, reaching more than $3.1 billion in total value. The growth, the report suggests, will be driven by rapid implementation of AI solutions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. AI solutions are focused on a variety of improvements, including an enhanced customer experience, more responsive chatbots and a reduced need for agent call time.

June 2020: A market report released by Technavio anticipates the global call center outsourcing market will grow by $13.54 billion through 2023, representing a compound annual growth rate of 3% for the industry. The report also acknowledges that the market is significantly fragmented and includes a wide range of service providers. North America leads the way, capturing 38% of the industry growth. One the major drivers of growth, according to the report, is robotic process automation (RPA), which involves the use of chatbots and interactive voice response trees to automate certain call center functions, such as customer identification and call routing.

Our Methodology

We take the process of recommending vendors seriously, so we invested substantial time in researching various call center services and their features. We gave each company equal consideration.

Locating the Best Services

We started the process by coming up with a comprehensive list of vendors that offer call center services. To do this, we searched the web and consulted other lists and reviews of the most popular vendors. We ended up with a list of more than 50 call center and answering services to examine further.

Choosing the Best Services

From there, we visited the websites of each vendor to compare pricing and features. We looked at all the details, including inbound services, outbound services, invoice requirements, call minimums and additional features. We used this information to narrow down our field of candidates to about a dozen finalists.

Researching Each Service

Next, we contacted all the services we were considering, posing as a customer. We wanted to go beyond the marketing rhetoric and get a feel for how the companies handle actual customer interactions. We asked each customer service rep the same set of questions about features, options, and pricing, noting our reactions to the experience. Company representatives who were friendly and forthcoming got higher marks, while those who were less than helpful or too pushy scored lower.

Analyzing Each Service

For our best picks, the final decision came down to which companies offer the best balance of affordability, useful features and effective call center agents.

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at business.com and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.
Image Credit: bernardbodo / Getty Images
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