June 2021 - Netlines

What Is a Virtual Receptionist and Who Should Use One?

It’s no secret that technology is changing how we operate and communicate in business. One advancement to benefit companies of any size is the virtual receptionist, but with so many options, how do you know where to start!? In this post we’re breaking down the pros and cons of using a traditional in-house receptionist, a virtual receptionist, and/or an auto-attendant to make your decision easier.

 

What is a Virtual Receptionist?

A virtual receptionist is either a real human receptionist who is working remotely or a software application that automatically answers your phone. The traditional receptionist is slowly being replaced by virtual receptionists, auto-attendants, artificial intelligence help desks, and even holographic virtual receptionists. Each has its pros and cons. In this article, we help you decide what is the best option for your company.

Different Types of Virtual Receptionist

Auto Attendant

An auto-attendant or automated receptionist is an automated private branch exchange (PBX) switchboard. The caller presses the number that corresponds to the menu option they require. (“Press one for Sales, two for Transportation, three for Admin, etc.…). Modern VoIP technology has enabled a huge variety of different options including easy to set up auto attendants. These auto attendants can divert calls to the right person, play automated messages and record voicemails. Some companies, like NetLines, offer an auto attendant service as part of the standard cloud phone system package.

Holographic Display

Surprisingly, holographic displays are not so new! Back in 2013, the London Borough of Brent installed a holographic receptionist called “Shanice” in the town hall. Shanice greets people, answers basic questions, and directs people to the correct department. In the world of video calling, a holographic receptionist can also have an online video avatar for video callers to talk to.

AI Help Desk Service

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are leading the way in automated help and service desks. The AI uses voice recognition software to match the caller’s request to data stored in a knowledge base. This data might be the instruction to divert the call to a different department, to issue directions, or carry out first-line response actions. The AI help desk is particularly useful in IT-driven environments.

Traditional Virtual Assistant Services

There are several companies now that offer virtual assistant services. Your virtual assistant is a real person who is based in the company’s call center or remote working from home. They field your calls and can do everything a normal receptionist or assistant can do. This includes taking messages, answering common questions, scheduling meetings, and providing basic technical support. Most companies offer a whole host of services often extending beyond the role of a traditional in-house receptionist.

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What Does a Traditional Virtual Receptionist Do?

Phone Call Answering

The primary function of a virtual receptionist (VR) is to answer the phone. Just as the in-house company receptionist answers the calls with a friendly welcome, so can your virtual receptionist. You can script the initial greetings so the VR is always consistent.

Share Basic Information with Callers

After greeting the caller, the VR can share any important information with the caller. It might be brief details of a new promotion or about holiday opening hours. It could also be a change in business operations in response to emergency conditions such as severe weather or current COVID-19 restrictions.

Take & Relay Messages

Sometimes it is practical to have your VR take messages instead of transferring the calls. You can list the callers and caller type that you want to be transferred. The other callers can leave a message and you can call them back at a time that suits you. Your VR can take the message and forward them to your smartphone by email or by an app.  

Schedule Appointments

Your VR can have access to your online calendar. This enables them to make an appointment for you to meet your caller or call them back. Your VR can also see when you are available or busy, on holiday, or at a function. This enables callers to call back at a time you are more likely to be available. 

Screen Calls

Those annoying unsolicited calls such as automated cold sales calls, advertising, or telemarketing scams can all be fielded by your VR. This frees you up to get on with the important stuff like closing the next big deal. Some companies claim over 60% of the inbound calls they receive are spam or scam calls. Having your VR field these calls can save your company significant time and money.

Transfer & Route Calls

Like a much friendlier human auto attendant, a VR can transfer callers to other people in your company. If the caller is unsure which department or extension they need, the VR can help them decide and then route the call for them. This extra help to the caller can boost the feel-good factor of the company.

Help Callers with Questions About Your Business

A VR can instantly answer a few of the most common questions asked by callers. You can provide the VR with a script of answers to the common questions. This is a win-win for both you and the caller because the caller gets the answers they wanted, and you did not have to spend time and more money answering the questions.

The Pros and Cons of a Traditional Virtual Receptionist

Pros

We can see from the list of potential services that there are several advantages of using a real human virtual receptionist. Some of these include:

24/7 Call Answering

Virtual receptionists are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Someone is always able to answer customer calls. Your virtual assistant provider rotates their staff to ensure your phone line is always covered. Your caller experience is not affected by staff sickness, holiday, or local infrastructure problems. Even if your business is not open, the VR will be the friendly voice at the end of the line to help the caller or take a message.

Cost Savings

You do not have to pay sick pay, holiday pay, or pension, which can make a significant reduction in your employment overhead costs. Most providers have a “pay as you go” option where you only pay for the minutes the VR is used.

Human Not Machine

People like speaking to other people more than they like speaking to a machine. The artificial intelligence behind chatbots and software-based receptionist systems is improving, but people still prefer to talk to another human being. Your virtual receptionist is a real human and has natural responses including empathy, humor and understanding that AI currently fails to replicate.

Timesaving

No more time wasted answering spam calls, repetitive calls about your opening hours and store location, or calls regarding the latest promotion. The VR saves you and your staff time by filtering out all but the essential calls to your team. Because your team is not tied up with spam, they are available when a genuine inquiry comes through from the VR desk.

Professional Company Image

You can script your welcome message and answers to common questions. This gives you the chance to write a professional sounding response that is used by all the VR staff. Every time someone calls, they are greeted in the same professional manner. This consistency helps to build your customers’ trust.

Cons

As with any business problem, it is uncommon to find a “one size fits all” solution. For every advantage, there is a disadvantage. Here are some of the disadvantages:

Expensive

As call volumes increase, so do the virtual assistant costs. This is particularly true if you are on a pay per minute or pay as you go contract. For companies with a high call volume, it may be cheaper to have an in-house reception team. An in-house receptionist may also be easier to budget for as costs remain constant despite changes in call volume.

Unsuitable for Complex or Unusual Industries

Your virtual receptionist is likely to be several people who all work in a call center or from home. Your actual receptionist is likely to be any one of the number of staff in the VR call center. You cannot train all these people in the same in-depth way you can your in-house staff. In-house reception staff will know your company more intimately. This knowledge is more important in technical or specialist industries.

Detached from Day-To-Day Operations

Your remote working virtual receptionist cannot have the same connectivity as an in-house receptionist. They do not know the minute-by-minute operations of a company in the same way that a receptionist sitting behind their desk in your office does. Your VR does not know if you have “just stepped out for lunch” or that the Technical Director is off sick this morning.

Who Should Use a Virtual Receptionist?

A virtual receptionist is not suitable for all businesses. Here we assess the suitability of virtual receptionists for some different business profiles.

Low Call Volumes

A pay per minute virtual receptionist is ideal for these situations. Any technical calls can be routed to the technical department. The virtual receptionist can handle routine inquiries by following a script. Costs are variable but remain low and easy to budget for.

Medium Call Volumes – Not Technical or Sales

This call profile is also suited to a virtual receptionist. The VR can filter the calls and answer routine questions. Technical calls can be routed to a technical team. Costs can be variable, so care should be taken to monitor the use and adjust the budget as needed.

Medium Call Volumes – Technical or Sales

Anything concerning technical issues or potential sales should be dealt with by fully trained and experienced in-house staff. Sales calls need to be handled by sales professionals to ensure maximum potential is achieved. Technical calls need the knowledge of experts who can guide callers through complex processes.

In this situation, an auto-attendant could be the preferred solution. The auto-attendant can greet callers, filter out spam, route callers to the correct department, and forward messages. The costs would remain constant despite variation in call volumes.

High Call Volumes

Virtual receptionist costs can become prohibitive as call volumes increase. High call volumes are better served by a special in-house reception team. Initial call filtering can be done by an automated receptionist/auto-attendant to help reduce spam and provide a consistent professional greeting. The auto-attendant can then route calls to the appropriate team member or specialist. Costs can be controlled by in-house monitoring.

The Future of Virtual Receptionists

The virtual receptionist is here to stay. There will always be a need for a human voice at the end of a business line. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue to improve and offer more options at reduced costs. The new innovative VoIP / virtual auto attendant features will become increasingly versatile and adopted by more businesses. The days of the receptionist sitting by the front door of your business answering your phone may be dwindling, but not just yet!

So, there we have it! A whole heap of information about the pros and cons virtual receptionists. What is the best option for you?

Categories: Productivity

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