Automated Answering Service vs. Virtual Receptionists

Whether it’s the holiday season, peak hours, or you're short on staff, an automated answering service steps in as a reliable and efficient solution. But in today's customer-centric landscape, is efficiency enough?

While automated systems streamline call flow, they lack the personal touch customers crave. As businesses strive for exceptional service, it's important to compare automated services with virtual receptionists, the human alternative that offers personalized customer experiences.

In this post, we’ll walk you through what an automated answering service is, how it works, and why you should consider pairing an automated system with a trained team of virtual receptionists. 

What is an automated answering service? 

An automated answering service is a type of answering service that uses a pre-recorded self-service line or AI to answer phone calls without a human agent. Some popular examples of automated answering services include interactive voice response (IVR) systems or chatbots on websites.

While an automated answering service can easily answer your phone calls or live chats, it can also handle a variety of other functions, including:

  • Call routing: Route calls based on menu selections made by the caller or through conversational AI.
  • Information retrieval: Present pre-recorded messages or dynamically retrieve information from databases based on caller inquiries.
  • Appointment scheduling: Offer available time slots, confirm appointments, and send reminders to callers.
  • Payment processing: Securely handle payment information and guide callers through payment processes, including entering credit card details or authorizing payments.
  • Interactive customer support: Troubleshoot problems, provide step-by-step instructions, or escalate complex issues to live agents when necessary.

How does an automated answering service work?

An automated answering service typically greets callers with a pre-recorded message and then guides them through a series of menu options using voice commands or touch-tone keypad selections. 

Here’s a breakdown of how these systems work:

  1. Call answering: The system picks up incoming calls automatically.
  2. Pre-recorded message: It plays a pre-recorded greeting to the caller.
  3. Interactive prompt: The system then prompts the caller with questions or menu options to determine the purpose of the call.
  4. Menu navigation: The caller responds by selecting options using their keypad or voice commands.
  5. Information retrieval: Based on the caller's input, the system retrieves relevant information from databases or provides predefined responses.
  6. Call routing: The system routes the call to the appropriate destination. If necessary, it can escalate the call to a live agent for further assistance.
  7. Task completion: It assists the caller in completing tasks such as appointment scheduling, bill payment, or getting specific information.
  8. Call conclusion: The call ends once the caller's needs are addressed, usually with a closing message or option to return to the main menu.

By implementing an automated answering system, you'll gain some great advantages like:

  • More efficiency: Automated greetings and call routing free up your staff to tackle more complex customer interactions.
  • Enhanced customer experience: Self-service options and faster call routing reduce wait times and improve customer satisfaction.
Graphic that shows how an automated answering service works

Automated answering service vs. virtual receptionists 

There’s no doubt that an automated answering service is helpful for businesses, especially during periods of high call volume. However, these systems have downsides, like lacking the personable approach only a live agent can give.

That’s where virtual receptionists come in. Unlike automated answering services, virtual receptionists are real people who seamlessly integrate into your business — they’re like an extension of your existing team.

While taking messages and callbacks are often the primary responsibilities of a virtual receptionist,'s virtual receptionists can perform a variety of other services for your company, including but not limited to:

  • 24/7 phone answering: Live agents answer your calls around the clock, ensuring you never miss a potential customer.
  • Appointment booking: Agents can book appointments directly into your calendar for new leads and existing clients.
  • Lead screening and intake: Agents can screen and pre-qualify leads based on your criteria.
  • Payment processing: Agents can monitor and track down missed payments on your behalf.
  • Phone transfers: Whether you're unavailable or receive a high volume of calls, agents will answer, gather information, and transfer calls based on your instructions.
  • Overflow and after-hours answering: Agents are available nights, weekends, and whenever you reach capacity.
  • Outreach campaigns: Agents can make outreach calls on your behalf to create more sales opportunities.
  • Spam call filtering: AI technology automatically blocks robocalls and spam calls, protecting your time.
  • Live chat and SMS answering: Agents and AI work together to answer live chats and SMS messages, ensuring you connect with customers on their preferred platform.
Graphic comparing the difference between an automated answering service and a virtual receptionist.

Benefits of virtual receptionists

While automated answering services excel in handling basic tasks efficiently, virtual receptionists offer a more personalized, adaptable, and human-centric approach to customer communication. Here are some benefits you can expect with a team of virtual receptionists.

Improve customer service 

Imagine needing a quick answer from a business, but instead of speaking to a human right away, you're stuck listening to an automated system. Then you have to wait impatiently for instructions on how to connect with the right person.

With a human agent answering your calls, however, you gain a significant advantage in call handling. Unlike automated systems, virtual receptionists offer a human touch, understanding nuances of customer inquiries and providing tailored responses.

They’re trained to be knowledgeable about your business so you can rely on them to handle complex inquiries, resolve issues promptly, and provide valuable assistance, ultimately improving customer experience.

Qualify more leads 

With virtual receptionists providing better customer service, you’re bound to make a lasting impression on your customers. This can lead to positive word of mouth and referrals, not only improving your business’ reputation but also attracting more qualified leads.

Virtual receptionists can even take it up a notch by capturing and qualifying leads for you on the first call or chat. By gathering context and adhering to your qualification criteria, they efficiently filter and vet clients upfront, saving you valuable time and resources.

Boost sales

Virtual receptionists offer around-the-clock support, minimizing potentially missed calls and business opportunities. This helps businesses capitalize on every opportunity to engage with prospects and convert them into customers.

By quickly answering inquiries, scheduling appointments, and providing information to potential customers, virtual receptionists help nurture leads and move them through the sales funnel. 

Enhance business reputation 

Your business reputation plays an important role in attracting new customers. If potential leads encounter an inefficient automated system that sends them in circles when trying to reach your business, that won't do your reputation any favors. 

Virtual receptionists can provide quick and friendly assistance to callers, leaving a positive impression that reflects well on your business. Consistently delivering high-quality service builds a positive reputation for your business, which can result in more customer satisfaction and retention.

Increase customer lifetime value

An exceptional product may attract customers initially, but exceptional support can transform them from one-time buyers into loyal, lifelong customers.

With virtual receptionists delivering positive and consistent customer experiences, they pave the way for repeat purchases. By quickly tending to caller needs and offering personalized assistance, these receptionists forge lasting relationships, nurturing customer loyalty. 

As trust and brand affinity flourish, customers are more inclined to stay with your business, boosting your customer lifetime value. 

Balance automation and human intelligence with

While automated answering services can be helpful, they often lack the human touch that builds trust and keeps customers coming back. At, we bridge that gap.

Our skilled virtual receptionists combine exceptional service with advanced AI technology. This means you get live agents on deck to offer a personal touch, empowered by features like intelligent call routing and pre-screening based on your preferences. This ensures a positive experience for every caller, whether you require 24/7 phone answering or web chat support.

To learn more about how can help improve your business, book a free consultation. 

24/7 Call Answering
Written by Maddy Martin

Maddy Martin is's SVP of Growth. 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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