How Much Is an Answering Service?

The question of “How much is an answering service?” is a good one to ask. Knowing the answer will provide two key benefits. The first is being able to pick the plan that best matches your needs. The other is to know how much each invoice will be so you can budget for it.

Though there are variations in the details, most all telephone answering services have three elements in their rate structure. Understanding these three components is the first step to determining how much is an answering service.

The three parts of an answering service rate structure are the recurring fee, the amount of time or work included in that fee, and the charge for additional work, if any. It’s that simple.

Here’s an overview.

Recurring Base Rate 

Most every answering service rate plan has a recurring base rate. They need this to cover their ongoing infrastructure costs and to schedule staff to be able to answer your phone whenever your customers call. 

Therefore, the base rates from their clients collectively pool together to provide a sound foundation from which they can serve you and address the needs of your callers. It provides for answering service stability, and without it the services future viability is in jeopardy.

The recurring base rate, therefore, is the first element in determining how much is an answering service. The next element is the amount of work included in the base rate.

Amount of Work Included

The second component of the answering service rate plan is the amount of work included in the base rate. Usually this is in the number of minutes allotted, but it could be in the number of units of work. In extreme cases, an answering service’s base rate may include no work.

Most agree that measuring work by the amount of time is the fairest for both the client and the answering service. It’s quantifiable, measurable, and justifiable.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that billing by units of work is something to avoid but be aware that units of work can quickly escalate costs. For example, answering a phone call may be one unit of work. Taking a message may be a second unit. Texting you with a message may be a third unit. Yet this whole transaction may only take forty-five seconds of time, but for the aggressive answering service it amounts to three units of work, inflating your invoice accordingly.

The second element of how much is an answering service is the amount of work included. Time is the recommended measurement, which is the fairest to both parties. The final component is the cost for additional work. 

Cost of Additional Work

The final key consideration for telephone answering service rates is the cost for additional work. As we already covered, most answering services track work by time, which is the fairest and best solution.

The most common time unit is the number of minutes. Expect a typical phone call to last about forty-five seconds. If you have more exacting requirements and expect your answering service to obtain more information, the call will be longer. But a name, number and simple message will be shorter.

The cost of additional work is the final major element that goes into determining how much is an answering service.

Contractual Commitments and Exit Clauses

When you’re running a medical practice as a business, one of the key considerations should be the flexibility in your service agreements, including your answering service. Some answering services require a long-term contract, while others offer a month-to-month service. Knowing the length of commitment and the terms for exiting the contract is essential. You don’t want to be stuck with a service that doesn’t meet your needs simply because you’re locked into a long-term contract.

Data Analytics and Performance Metrics

Another aspect to consider in the context of your medical practice business is data analytics. Some advanced medical answering services offer performance metrics such as the average response time, call abandonment rates, or caller satisfaction levels. These analytics can be invaluable for assessing the quality of the service you’re receiving and for making informed business decisions. After all, customer service is a significant part of patient satisfaction and ultimately, the success of your practice.

Hidden Costs and Overages

Be on the lookout for any hidden costs that could show up on your invoice. While the rate structures are usually straightforward, there could be additional costs for features like bilingual service, holiday answering, or complex medical paging systems. An initial setup fee might also apply. Understanding these can help you budget effectively and avoid surprises.

Regularly Review Your Service Needs

Medical practices often evolve, offering new services or expanding to include more physicians. Consequently, the volume and nature of the calls your practice receives could change. Regularly reviewing your answering service needs and comparing it to your current plan can save your practice money and ensure your patients are still receiving the level of service they expect. Consider doing this review semi-annually or annually as part of your broader business strategy.

Picking a Rate Plan That’s Right for You

Armed with a working understanding of how telephone answering service rates work, the next challenge is determining the right plan for you. Most every answering service offers a tier of options, allowing clients to pick the one that best fits their needs.

Start by estimating the number of calls you expect to receive in one weekday. Adjust for the number of calls you expect on Saturday and Sunday. Add these numbers to determine your number of calls per week. Then multiply by four to determine the number of calls per twenty-eight-they billing cycle. Last multiply the total number of calls by the average length of a call. If you’re not sure, go with forty-five seconds. Or to give yourself a cushion, round up to one minute.

This is the amount of time you expect to use during one billing cycle. Pick the plan that is closest to it without requiring additional minutes. This is an ideal place to start. But if you pick the wrong plan, don’t worry. If your estimate is off, you can always change to a better plan.


Q: Can I switch plans in the middle of a billing cycle?

A: Policies vary between different answering services. While some may allow you to switch plans within a billing cycle, others may require you to wait until the next cycle begins. Check the terms of your contract for specific details.

Q: Are there any costs for adding or removing features like bilingual service or medical paging?

A: Some answering services may charge a one-time setup fee for adding new features, while others may include this in the monthly rate. Always clarify such details upfront to avoid unexpected charges.

Q: How are holiday calls billed?

A: Holiday calls may be billed differently depending on the answering service. Some services may charge a premium rate for holiday answering, while others might include it in the base rate. Make sure to inquire about this when choosing a plan.

Contact us today to learn more about our call answering service options. And yes, feel free to ask us, “How much is an answering service?” We’ll happily answer any additional questions you may have.