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Per Call or Per Minute? Understanding Answering Service Billing Structures

Choosing the right billing structure for an answering service is crucial for any business. The two most common models are per-minute and per-call billing, each with its own set of advantages and potential drawbacks. Understanding the nuances of these options can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your company’s needs and customer service goals.

Per-Minute Billing: Paying for Time

In per-minute billing, charges are based on the total time that agents spend handling calls. This includes the duration of the conversation and any time spent on associated tasks such as scheduling or order processing. This model is particularly beneficial for businesses that receive calls requiring detailed attention and longer interaction. It ensures you only pay for the time agents are actively working on your behalf, potentially making it more cost-effective for handling complex inquiries. However, this model can also lead to higher costs if calls are consistently longer than expected, and the variability can make budgeting more challenging.


  • Cost-Efficiency for Longer Calls: If your business typically receives calls that require more detailed attention and longer interaction, per-minute billing can be more cost-effective. You pay for the exact amount of time an agent spends on each call, which can align costs more closely with the value of the service provided.
  • Flexibility: This model works well when call durations are unpredictable, as you won’t pay more for shorter calls that balance out the longer ones.


  • Potential for Higher Costs: If not managed carefully, per-minute billing can lead to higher overall costs, especially if calls regularly take longer than anticipated.
  • Harder to Budget: Because the duration of calls can vary, monthly costs may fluctuate, making it harder to predict your expenses.

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Per-Call Billing: Paying for Interactions

Conversely, per-call billing involves a fixed fee for each call, regardless of how long the call lasts. This approach is simple and makes monthly expenses predictable, beneficial for companies that receive a high volume of short, transactional calls. The predictability helps in budget planning and financial forecasting. However, this model might not be economical for longer calls, as the fixed cost doesn’t account for the time spent on the call. Additionally, there’s a risk that agents might prioritize speed over quality to keep calls brief, which could compromise the level of service your customers receive.


  • Simplicity and Predictability: Per-call billing is straightforward and makes it easier to predict monthly costs since you pay a set amount for each call.
  • Cost-Effective for Short Calls: If your business receives a high volume of short, transactional calls, this model can be very cost-effective.


  • Less Cost-Effective for Longer Calls: If calls often run longer than the average length assumed in the per-call rate, you may end up paying more than you would with per-minute billing.
  • Encourages Quicker Calls: Since the service is charged per call, there might be an incentive for agents to handle calls more quickly, which could impact the quality of customer service.

Choosing the Right Model for Your Business

To determine which billing model is best for your business, start by analyzing your typical call patterns. Do your calls require extensive problem-solving and interaction, or are they generally quick and straightforward? Also, consider the customer experience you aim to provide. If your priority is detailed, personalized customer service, a per-minute plan might be preferable as it allows agents to spend the necessary time without rushing through calls.

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Understand Your Call Patterns

Analyze the nature of the calls your business typically receives. Are they quick questions, or do they require more detailed conversations? Understanding your typical call length and complexity is crucial in deciding which billing model suits you best.

Consider Customer Experience

Think about the type of experience you want to provide. If providing detailed, personalized responses is key to your business, a per-minute plan might be better. If speed and efficiency are more critical, per-call could be advantageous.

Evaluate Costs

Calculate potential costs under each model based on historical call data. Estimate how changes in call patterns could affect your costs in the future under each billing structure.

Ask for Customization

Don’t hesitate to negotiate with service providers. Some may offer a hybrid model or allow you to switch between billing types based on seasonal variations in your call volume or as your business evolves.

Understanding the Costs of Answering Services

When considering an answering service for your business, it’s crucial to delve deeper into the cost structure to ensure you get the most value for your investment. Beyond choosing between per-call and per-minute billing, there are several other factors that can influence the overall cost of an answering service. Here’s a closer look at what contributes to these costs and how you can plan your budget accordingly when hiring an answering.

Setup and Initial Fees

Many answering services charge an initial setup fee. This one-time charge covers the cost of creating your account, programming the system to your specifications, and training operators about your business and its protocols. Setup fees can vary significantly depending on the complexity of your requirements. Some providers may offer lower or even waived setup fees as part of a promotional deal or to attract new clients, so it’s worth shopping around.

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Monthly Fees and Minimums

Apart from the cost per call or per minute, answering services often have monthly fees or minimum usage requirements. This means you agree to pay for a certain number of calls or minutes each month, regardless of whether you use them all. Understanding these terms is essential as they can affect your monthly costs, especially during periods of low call volume. Always ask about what happens if you exceed the agreed-upon volume, as well as the costs for additional calls or minutes.

Additional Features and Services

Answering services can offer a range of additional features that may add to the cost but also bring significant value to your industry. These features can include:

  • Appointment scheduling: Integration with your calendaring systems to manage bookings.
  • Order taking: Processing customer orders directly, which may involve integration with your sales systems.
  • Bilingual services: Offering support in multiple languages to cater to a diverse customer base.
  • 24/7 availability: Ensuring your business can always respond to calls, even outside of regular business hours.

Each additional feature will likely add to the overall cost of the service, so consider which features are essential for enhancing your customer service and choose accordingly.

Scaling Costs

As your business grows, your needs from an answering service may change. Discuss with providers how scaling up (or down) would work and what the associated costs would be. Some services offer flexible scaling options that can adjust to your business needs without significant penalties or fees. This flexibility can be particularly valuable for seasonal businesses or during periods of rapid growth or contraction.

Transparency and Hidden Costs

One of the critical factors in understanding the costs associated with answering services is the level of transparency a provider offers. Ask potential services for detailed breakdowns of their pricing structures and be wary of those that are not forthcoming with this information. Hidden fees, such as charges for message delivery, script changes, or holiday rates, can quickly add up.

Evaluating Cost Against Value

Finally, when assessing the costs of an answering service, it’s important to weigh these costs against the value the service will bring to your business. An effective service can improve customer satisfaction, reduce internal workload, and even increase sales—all of which can offer a return on investment that far exceeds the monthly service fee.

The decision between per-call and per-minute billing should take into account your financial budget, customer service requirements, and the nature of the calls your business handles. By carefully evaluating your needs and the benefits each model offers, you can choose a billing structure that not only manages costs effectively but also enhances your ability to provide excellent service to your customers. Remember, the right answering service can be a valuable partner in achieving your business goals.

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