The Difference Between a 3 Call and a 1 Call Answering Service Environment


If you use an answering service or are thinking of using one, it’s important to know the difference between a 3 call and a 1 call environment. One of them is much better for your business.

Image of three women on the phone with the same answering service

Is your telephone answering service a “3-call” or “1-call” environment? In a 3-call center, operators handle up to three calls at a time. That means 2 calls are on hold while one is processed. In a 1-call center, operators do not place callers on hold. However, if there is an influx of calls, they are “held” in the system and callers listen to a recorded message until an operator becomes available.

The advantage of a 3-call center is that operators tend to answer the phones very quickly. Callers can have a 95% or better chance of speaking to a live person in three rings or less. This is a good thing because most callers want to immediately connect with a live operator. Once connected, the operator may place them on a brief hold to answer another line. Now it becomes the operators responsibility to minimize hold time as much as possible.

The advantage of a 1-call center is that an operator never places your call on hold. But if call volumes are high and the call center is staffed well enough, you might be placed in a holding queue listening to a pre-recorded message. If you wait in that queue too long, you are likely to hang up and call another company for service. So it becomes the responsibility of the call center to minimize queue hold time as much as possible.

So which is better?

Assuming that staffing levels are correct in both environments (appropriate to the call volumes that each are handling) you will be served more efficiently in a 1-call environment.

But why?

The answer is this: 1-call environments save a tremendous amount of time by not asking a caller for permission to hold, then apologizing for that hold upon reengaging the call and then explaining to the caller why they were on hold in the first place. Let’s walk through a micro-example of what I am talking about:

AGENT: “Hello, thanks for calling ABC Speedy HVAC. How can I help you?”
CALLER: “Hi, I need to place a service call.”
AGENT: “May I place you on a brief hold please?”
CALLER: “Well, I guess so. How long will I be on hold for?”
AGENT: “Only a moment, sir.”
CALLER: “Well, I suppose that will be ok.”
AGENT: “Thank you, sir. I’ll be with you in a moment.”
(…Hold time approximately 2 minutes because each of the other two calls being processed by this operator will each require about 1 minute of live operator help…)
AGENT: “Thank you for holding, sir. How can I help you?”
CALLER: “Boy, this is irritating. I have a real urgent situation here. I called your company for a quick response. Why was I on hold for two minutes?”
AGENT: “I apologize sir. We are handling quite a few calls currently and I had a call on my other lines.”
CALLER: Why should I have to sit around and wait? That isn’t my problem, is it? Are you ‘Speedy HVAC’ or not?? Not too speedy when I have to wait for 2 minutes. I have a leaky hot water heater that needs attention immediately.”
AGENT: “Sir, I truly apologize for that inconvenience. I would be happy to help you now and have your message relayed…”

Starting to see the picture? All of the dialog in the bolded sections above are wasted time. This particular interaction is a common one in a 3-call environment. The Agent above spent 40 seconds asking the caller to hold and then explaining and apologizing for the hold. That is 40 seconds that you will be billed for!!! In an answering service environment, every second counts. This is 40 seconds that you, the customer of the answering service, pay to have your operators spend time explaining why your calls are being placed on hold. This is 40 seconds that could have been spent processing a live call. So from an efficiency standpoint, the 1-call environment eliminates all of this dialog and spends more time on live calls.

However, the 1-call environment answering service must maintain adequate staffing levels or this same caller will be placed on hold before ever speaking with an operator. And if this caller is on an automated hold for 2 minutes never speaking with a live person, they are very likely to abandon the call and hire another service company.

So be sure that your 1-call answering service provider maintains (and can prove) low queue holds. Answering service companies that can provide this level of service give you the best efficiency, deliver great customer service to your callers, properly brand your business phones, and keep your bill at a minimum.