Did you know that even in the age of text messages and emails, customers still prefer phone calls? Quality phone service has been an integral part of customer service ever since telephones were invented over a century ago.
For remote workers and small businesses, traditional office phone systems aren’t the best options. Juggling multiple business phones is a hassle, and frequent calls from clients or customers are also distracting interruptions during busy workdays.
That’s where an answering service comes in!
Table of Contents
- What Is an Answering Service?
- Answering Service Features and Types
- What Are the Pros and Cons?
- How Do Answering Services Work?
- Answering Services Cost
Even if you’ve never heard of an answering service, odds are that you’ve used one in the past. An answering service does everything a traditional receptionist would do, and more. It answers calls, takes messages, and sends callers to the department that can best help them.
They’re older than you think — answering services were first used in the mid-1900s by doctors making house calls. They’ve evolved from an operator at a switchboard into a secure software that manages your communication needs. All right from your smartphone!
While all answering services handle communication, no two are exactly the same. There are different features and types of call answering service offerings to suit your professional needs. Whether you want a live or a virtual receptionist with programmable scripts, there’s an option for you.
Live receptionists are trained customer service professionals that answer calls on your business line. They take down messages and direct callers to the proper department if they need help. These receptionists work remotely, so there’s no need to hire an in-office secretary to work the phones. While the word “virtual” might fool you, they are always real people, not automated.
Call centers are like live receptionist services but on a much larger scale. They are often used by big corporations with a high volume of calls each month. When a caller phones in, they are connected with an agent in the call center who uses a script to best assist the caller. Call center agents can also be given scripts to answer questions themselves, unlike receptionists. While this can be more costly, it can also save valuable employee time.
Auto-Attendant & Automated Virtual Receptionists
Auto-attendants are virtually programmed Help Menus that assist callers in finding the department that can best help them. They are like live receptionists but are entirely virtual. They work off of your personalized script to route clients and customers quickly and efficiently to the employee that can best help them. While they may not be as personal as the other options, auto-attendants can be very cost-effective especially if you’re in the market for a 24/7 phone service.
Every system has its pros and cons, and answering services are no different. While they can help you improve communication and customer service, they might not work for every single company’s needs. Even if one type of service is the wrong fit for your company, another might be exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Below, we review some of the most common pros and cons to help you decide what’s best for your business and employees.
Pro: Perfect for Remote Work
A call answering service is perfect for remote teams who don’t have a shared workspace. Employees from all across the country—or even the world—can read messages and assist customers and clients without having to go into an office.
The workforce is becoming more and more remote. An estimated 70% of workers are projected to work from home for at least part of their workweeks by 2025, so the flexibility that answering services give you will be even more important in the coming years.
Pro: Your Business Is Accessible Outside of Office Hours
It’s necessary to set business hours to give you and your employees balance—no one should work around the clock. But if a customer can only call your business after their own shift is over, sending them straight to voicemail can be a frustrating experience. Most business answering services offer 24/7 help, so regardless of when they call, your callers will always feel heard.
Pro: Stay Organized
Answering services can do more than streamline your customer service. They often have features that make communication with your employees far more efficient. They completely drop the need to juggle more than one business phone and remember multiple employee phone numbers. Not only that, some services also include options for conference calling and group communication.
Using a business answering service is much cheaper than hiring a full-time receptionist for your business. Answering services charge a monthly fee or according to the number of minutes you use, depending on which provider you choose. While these costs can add up over time, even the most expensive options will be cheaper than a full-time employee’s salary and benefits. You also wouldn’t get the added features that many answering service companies provide, like more than one phone line.
With an answering service, you’ll have fewer interruptions and more time to spend on the business you love. Since you don’t have to worry about screening calls, you and your team will have more time to complete your projects, and you’ll feel confident that all callers will be sent straight to the team member who can help them the most.
Pro: Keep Things Professional
Professionalism is especially important for smaller businesses. With an answering service, you’ll sound as trustworthy and professional as a huge corporation. Having a separate business line and a personalized help menu ensures that you are giving your callers the best first impression. With an answering service, even a company with two employees will sound as polished as a company with two hundred.
Call answering services offer a range of customizable options and scripts. But virtual receptionists or auto-attendants can seem less personal than an in-office receptionist. Auto-attendants and automated virtual receptionists are definitely less costly than live options. But since they aren’t human, there’s a risk that they’ll sound cold and robotic.
However, even if you use a live receptionist, they won’t be an employee of your company with a connection to the brand or product. If you already have a receptionist on staff, replacing them with an answering service might not be the best decision.
Con: Not an Expert in Your Product
Answering services don’t work within your company. Any receptionist or attendant you use—whether virtual or live—is an expert in customer service, not in your market or your product. This isn’t a problem for companies who have a customer service representative on staff. But if you’re looking for a receptionist who can answer technical questions or who has extensive knowledge of the field, an answering service might not be the best fit for your business.
Con: Change Could Be Tough
For established companies, making the switch can be tough for both your staff and callers. Being greeted by a receptionist or auto-attendant can be confusing for regular customers who are used to the old way of doing business. This can be an even harder transition if they’re used to talking directly with you or an employee.
If your business has been managing communication in-office for years, it’s worth taking the time to weigh the pros and cons of making the switch. Be sure to make the best decision when it comes to which answering service you choose and what you include in the scripts. Don’t sacrifice customer satisfaction for convenience or cost!
Now that you’re familiar with the types of answering services and their pros and cons, you may be wondering how these systems even work.
Answering services use call forwarding, which connects your phone number to another. So every time a client or customer calls your business line, it’s forwarded straight to the answering service who handles the call for you. All phones are built with the capability to forward calls, so it’s completely secure and requires no outside software or access!
While researching answering services, you might come across terms such as virtual PBX and VoIP. Don’t worry—while these sound like complicated technologies, their meanings are very simple. Both terms describe internet-based phone systems that eliminate the need for clunky hardware installed in a physical office space. This system operates over the internet, allowing cloud-based access from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection.
A virtual PBX stands for virtual Private Branch Exchange, a secure phone connection over the internet. PBX systems are common in businesses because you can have multiple numbers on a single line, making communicating with employees a breeze. Virtual PBX is available through a cloud-based system, eliminating the need for a physical piece of hardware!
VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. Traditional telephones send your voice over telephone lines or between cell towers, but VoIP changes your voice into data that can travel across the internet. This means that you don’t need an analog phone or a separate cellular plan to make calls.
Virtual PBX systems and VoIP often go hand in hand, and both are commonly used in cloud-based answering services like NetLines. Because all it needs is an internet connection, NetLines is controlled within an app, making it easily accessible no matter where you are.
Due to the variety of different features and types of answering services, the cost also varies greatly. A live receptionist service available around the clock would take up a bigger chunk of your budget than a simple auto-attendant.
Not only are there differences in the actual cost of the service, but there are also several payment structures that these services use. For example, NetLines charges a monthly subscription fee like streaming services do. Other companies might charge you based on how many minutes you use per month like a phone company, so if your business receives a high volume of calls per month, you can buy the exact amount of minutes you need.
The cost varies depending on the size of your business or what features you need. Businesses that rely on appointments, like consultants or doctors, might have to pay more for scheduling options. The price of an answering service can range from $9 a month for a simple line to upwards of $1,000 for a high-volume call center.
Picking the perfect call service for your company might seem like a daunting task because of the number of options available. But this variety ensures that a professional answering service is an option for even the smallest businesses.
Upgrade Your Business Communication
Call answering systems are an essential tool for managing your business. They’ll continue rising in importance since workers are turning to remote work faster than ever before. Answering services are cost-effective and professional, and sure to impress your customers and clients.
Are you ready to take the leap and upgrade your communication? If you’re in the market for an answering service, NetLines is an app-based and affordable system that makes managing your company’s communication simpler than ever before.