Answering Services 101: Everything You Need to Know Before Outsourcing Your Calls

Maddy Martin

An answering service is an off-site service hired by a person or business to answer their phone calls in place of (or in addition to) an on-site receptionist. The service is staffed by remote agents who aim to answer client questions, route calls, schedule appointments, take messages, and provide customer service so that you and your staff can focus on running your business. Now that you know what an answering service is, it’s time to consider whether your business would benefit from one.

At Smith.ai, we know that building personal connections with customers is more important than ever, and we’ve helped businesses across a wide spectrum of industries improve their relationships with customers. Picking the right answering service for your business isn’t an easy task, so we’re laying out the basics below.

types of answering services, virtual receptionists, and call centers - smith.ai infographic

Types of answering services 

Several types of call answering services exist with clear pros and cons to consider carefully before signing up. 

Digital answering service

A digital answering service handles client communication through internet channels like emails, live chat, and/or social media. Live chat services have become increasingly popular, as more than half of customers prefer a chat interaction with a business over a phone call.

Automated answering service

An automated answering service, sometimes called an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, is fully automated. The caller hears an automated voice or a recorded greeting asking them to press or say a number that corresponds to their needs, and the call is routed accordingly.

These are easy to scale as your company’s call volume grows, but they often cause headaches for callers, who may find themselves trapped in an “I didn’t catch that” loop.

Virtual receptionist service

Virtual receptionists handle nearly everything an in-house receptionist does, but from an off-site location. They can:

  • Schedule appointments for you or your clients
  • Field incoming calls from your clients
  • Make callbacks and appointment reminders for your clients
  • Update your internal records
  • Process payments from your clients
  • Place outbound calls
  • Filter spam or sales calls
  • Answer client questions from email, live chat, or social media

In a way, a virtual receptionist does the job of an internet answering service while also working as your receptionist and doing outbound calls like a call center.

With a great virtual receptionist, callers won’t know they aren’t talking to someone in your office. They answer the phone professionally and with a friendly demeanor. As a result, they are often better at developing rapport with customers than other answering services, which breeds loyalty. 

Since 32% of customers will walk away from a company after a single negative interaction, the specialized brand training of a virtual receptionist is paramount.

Call centers

Call centers have real people answering your calls, and they specialize in sales, marketing, and customer support. 

They efficiently field high-volume call loads, but they often rely on scripts rather than in-depth training to learn your brand. \

Industries that benefit from answering services

Many people mistakenly believe that an answering service is too pricey or too complicated for a small business, but that’s not the case. There’s a call answering service out there perfect for streamlining your customer service and increasing your productivity, whether you’re a small to midsize business, enterprise, consulting firm, or agency.

Common industries that rely on answering services include:

How does an answering service work?

You’ll decide how you want the answering service to work for you. For example, are you looking for a 24-hour answering service or an after-hours answering service? How do you want them to answer calls? Establishing the ins and outs of your partnership can take time, but it is key to a successful partnership.

When you sign up for an answering service, the service may give you a dedicated number. If you already have a number that customers are familiar with, you can set up call forwarding to redirect your calls to the answering service. What happens from there depends on what types of answering service you hire.

If you opt for a virtual receptionist service as your answering service, they will answer with a greeting script personalized to your business. They’ll spend time talking with your client to determine the best way to handle the call, whether it’s answering their questions directly, scheduling an appointment, taking a message, or transferring the call to you.

top 5 benefits of an answering service- smith.ai infographic

Benefits of an answering service for your business

There are several benefits of hiring an answering service for your business. 

1. Save money

In the United States, a full-time receptionist earns about $14.96 an hour. When you factor in wages and benefits (about 30% of a worker’s salary), that total increases to $21.23 an hour. That’s about $3,397 a month or about $40,000 a year. An answering service typically costs significantly less than that, and that’s before accounting for the added value of 24/7/365 service, no sick days, no management headaches, and so on.

Hiring also takes time to interview, hire, onboard, and train a new receptionist.

Take the money you save by hiring an answering service and invest it to help you grow your business.

2. Gain reliable coverage

No matter how great the on-site receptionist you hire is, they need to take a break to eat. They’ll have days where they’re sick or their child has a field trip they want to chaperone. On those days, what will you do?

With an answering service, you’ll have numerous qualified, well trained people at your disposal, so there'll never be a moment when your calls aren’t answered.

3. Boost productivity

Research shows that every time you are interrupted, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus. Business owners on average lose 2 hours a day just to interruptions, with each one costing  valuable work time and distractions that can lead you to making mistakes.

By eliminating unnecessary phone calls, you can focus on the important aspects of running your business.

4. Improve lead capture

If you never miss a phone call, your business captures more leads, which leads to more conversions. Once you’ve captured those leads, an answering service can help you nurture those leads into qualified leads that your sales team can convert into paying clients, improving your marketing ROI.

5. Improve the customer experience

When a client calls you, they need something from you, and they need it quickly. Friendly, knowledgeable virtual receptionists understand what your clients need and are able to get them the help they need quickly, making your clients feel important and cared about, building customer loyalty, which in turn improves your sales.

If you think your business could benefit from an answering service, explore Smith.ai’s virtual receptionist services. Our agents are highly trained to tackle new and existing client phone calls in a way that feels just like “in-house,” leaving your clients convinced they’re talking to someone in your office. With our technology integrations and AI-assisted call handling workflows, we offer the advanced features of a premier call center only accessible at enterprise costs, but for a fraction of the expense, so you get all the features you need at a price suited for a small business. Schedule a call with us to learn how we can help with your unique business needs and goals.

Sources: SuperOffice | PwC | Bureau of Labor Statistics | Zippia 

Maddy Martin

Maddy Martin is Smith.ai's VP of Marketing. Over the last 15 years, Maddy has built her expertise and reputation in small-business communications, lead conversion, email marketing, partnerships, and SEO.

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