If your phone’s ringing off the hook all hours of the day and night, making it impossible to get anything else done in your office or shop, it may well be time to consider hiring an answering service.

These telephone professionals excel at handling many types of call volumes without interrupting your workflow, and actually help you become much more productive in the process. So when you’re ready to start interviewing answering services, you’ll want to come armed with some questions to help you better understand the company and how they work.

Here are just a few to consider:

Does your answering service handle overflow calls during my peak hours?

Telephone answering service companies are not all the same, some only offer overflow answering and others prefer to focus on after-hours calls. Always ask what types of calls your potential live answering service is equipped to handle before assuming they can meet your needs. Even if you don’t need overflow call answering right now, it’s nice to know that it’s available as your business grows.

Are you receptive to us providing specific instructions for after-hours calls?

Certain types of businesses get a lot of after-hours calls that aren’t exactly emergencies. Property managers, for example, may be plagued by common questions that they’d like to have someone else answer. Find out if your answering service can handle these common questions or inquiries. If they can weed out the common calls, you’ll have a lot more free time between true emergencies.

How does your answering service deal with emergency callers?

There are different types of emergencies, to be sure, but whatever constitutes an emergency in your line of work should be treated as such by your answering service. Make sure that you know what their typical response to emergency calls is and how they execute their plan. Do callers get automatically routed to you, or can you choose someone else to receive calls in your stead? Also ask how difficult it is to change the contact who gets those late night trouble calls in case you want to rotate the on call responsibilities with other people in your company.

Are you prepared for a disaster?

You’re probably not thinking about the next big twister, earthquake or wildfire right now, but when they strike it’s too late to go back and ask these important questions. Many answering services are prepared to handle your telephone disaster response, but you can’t assume the one you’re dealing with will do so automatically. Make sure they’re prepared to handle your calls were disaster to strike your business as well as stay in communication if their own facility is damaged.

What other services do you offer?

Answering services can serve a variety of functions, from handling customer service calls with detailed scripts to providing bilingual translation services and appointment scheduling. There’s a lot a virtual receptionist service can do for you, but it’s up to you to find out what each company offers so you can take full advantage!

Whether you were less than impressed with your last answering service or simply want to hire your first answering service, you should always be ready with a list of questions to ask. Understanding the company you’re hiring is the first step to choosing the perfect partnership for your business.