Full-time vs. Virtual Receptionists — Which Is Right for You?


Nowadays, fewer and fewer businesses have a large staff working from a physical office. Many owners and managers are asking: Do we need an in-house receptionist, or does outsourcing to virtual receptionists make more sense?

Having worked with thousands of businesses, we know what you should look for. We’ll compare full-time and virtual receptionists on several fronts, so you can choose an ideal option or see if a mix of both is the best solution. This one decision will help you crystallize how your office will look in the future.

How Much Does Your Receptionist Cost?

For many businesses, the most important consideration right now is cost.

But the cost of a receptionist doesn't just come down to salary. You need to consider the time and energy it takes you to find, hire, onboard, and train a new employee.

There are other hiring factors to consider:

  • Less populous areas might feature a smaller pool of available staff
  • More populous areas might demand a higher wage
  • Once trained, there is no guarantee staff will stay with you
  • Full-time staff have significant costs in benefits, overtime, and bonuses

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an on-the-ground, full-time receptionist typically makes $14.96/hour (and perhaps more based on your location). For the average worker, non-salary benefits cost a business an average of 31% of a worker’s salary on top of their hourly wages. That means a receptionist costs an average of $21.23/hour, or $3,397/month.

A Smith.ai virtual receptionist costs as little as $285/month for businesses with lower call volume (30 relevant calls a month or less).

But let’s assume your phones are ringing off the hook, and you need a more comprehensive package. The “Pro” plan costs just $1,950/month for 300 calls and up to 10 transfer destinations. Plus, every plan includes:

But no one knows the numbers better than you: Why not see what your needs are?

1. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of using a full-time receptionist. (Don’t forget to include salary with benefits, time to train.)

2. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of using a virtual receptionist. (Don’t forget to include your monthly expected call volume and any software or services you may need to add.)

3. Compare and see what the best value is: Not just for your current needs, but for where you want your business to be. Let’s say, for example, you’re running a busy veterinary clinic, but you do not have the budget to hire another employee to answer calls after-hours. You may benefit more from investing in veterinary answering services or after hours answering services to help expand your business.

What Can Your Receptionists Do?

Price isn’t the only factor in choosing a receptionist solution. A receptionist is in your office assisting with a variety of tasks that a virtual receptionist might not, right?

Well, maybe. Let’s run through some of the core duties of a receptionist. 

A few years ago, a virtual receptionist may have just answered the phone. But Smith.ai virtual receptionists will field multiple incoming calls at the same time, qualify new leads, schedule appointments, take and process payments, place outbound calls on your behalf, and more. 

Even as your business grows, Smith.ai is able to handle all of the work without breaking a sweat — and will never need a vacation or sick day. 

No, a virtual receptionist can’t restock pens or change the copier toner, but is that something you truly need? And is that worth the extra cost of an in-house receptionist who only covers part of the day — especially in the era of remote work?

How Does Your Receptionist Add Value?

Receptionists are an investment — it’s not about cost, but about improving the office’s overall productivity. If a receptionist makes it easier for the rest of the office to do their work, they’re worth every penny.

And that’s true!

But let’s look at how. Productivity has two sides: Reducing wasted time and improving capacity.

Receptionists should reduce wasted time by:

  • Serving as a gatekeeper for you and for your staff, screening out spam and sales calls
  • Managing clerical tasks like appointment follow-up that otherwise take your time
  • Directing clients to the right point-of-contact 

Receptionists should improve productivity by: 

  • Answering questions and providing information for potential clients
  • Conducting intake on potential new clients
  • Extending hours to expand capacity to take in new and support existing clients

Unless you have a whole team, an in-house receptionist might not be covering every base all the time. We’re all human: Even the best solo receptionist can only work so much. They need breaks, time off, regular working hours, and you could use our temporary answering service to replace them while they are out. 

With a virtual receptionist, you get:

  • The professionalism of a receptionist team with less time required of you
  • Support 24/7 to maximize client response
  • The peace-of-mind that receptionists will be a resource, not a bottleneck

Plus, you get tech savvy and professional growth

Smith.ai receptionists don’t just answer phones — they answer live chats and texts and will even send follow-up texts to your clients after calls. They also automatically log all communications in your CRM or marketing platform and schedule appointments on the calendar you already use. The scope of what virtual receptionists do is growing even as the pace of that change far exceeds what any individual can keep up with.

Think about the last time you had to learn a new phone system, or technology, or platform. Imagine having to figure out what you needed to learn before you could learn it. Now imagine that instead of having to do it, a tech-enabled, AI-backed, accuracy-driven team was available to do it all for you.

That’s Smith.ai. And best of all? Not only are you freed from all those burdens, but you never need to worry that your Smith.ai team will leave and parlay those skills into a job somewhere else.

What is the Return on Investment?

Ultimately the best receptionists won’t just save you time or make you more productive: They will win new clients on their own. 

This comes from more than just being a friendly, helpful voice. The best receptionists will know your services from back to front, separate out people who aren’t potential clients — and recognize those who are potential huge clients. 

A good in-house receptionist will do this, but virtual receptionists win you new clients, too! As Attorney Kevin Buckley noted of Smith.ai virtual receptionists, “They first learned what our law firm specializes in, but perhaps more importantly, what we do *not* specialize in.” Once they did,  “People at Smith.ai who have answered calls were able to direct high-potential clients to the correct people within our firm.”

He’s not the only one who’s noticed the value virtual receptionists can add to client intake.

A Receptionist is a Critical Part of Your Business. Are You Using Them Correctly?

The receptionist is the first person your new leads and existing clients will speak to. Having a strong, friendly, capable voice representing you in that interaction has never been more critical than in the era of remote work. But finding, training, managing, and holding onto that person has never been harder, even as the cost of hiring and training in your time and money has skyrocketed.

With Smith.ai, these problems don’t exist: We build and maintain the team for you. You can have your cake and eat it too: Professional receptionists who will expand your capability, support your existing clients, and win you new ones. 

Get started risk-free today Smith.ai virtual receptionists in action. All services covered by our 14-day money-back guarantee!

Business Education
Written by Peter Wahlberg

Peter Wahlberg is the partner development manager at Smith.ai. He has over ten years experience in consultative sales, partner development, project management, and scaling teams and small businesses.

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