Understanding the Differences Between Call Answering Services: IVR, Live Agents, and Call Centers


Does your business receive multiple calls throughout the day? It can often be difficult to handle those calls if you’re busy running the company. Many independent professionals and business owners seek call answering services to manage client calls and appointment booking requests. Find out the differences between automated answering services, call centers, and live answering services. We’ll help you decide upon the answering service that best fits your business needs.

The Differences Between Call Answering Services

When it’s time to choose someone to manage your incoming customer calls, you have a few options:

Here’s what you can expect from type, so you can determine which one is best for your business and your clientele.

What is an Automated Answering Service?

Automated answering systems (also known as "auto-attendants" or "digital receptionists") utilize an interactive voice response (IVR) when answering customer calls. Many people are already familiar with these systems, as many businesses use them to reduce the cost of hiring a receptionist. However, this system makes your customer sit through the prompts to press a certain number to reach their desired department.

These automated systems also offer no human interaction or personalized support and can distance your customers from you and your brand. It's overall a low-cost but low-quality experience, and offers little customization for your business beyond what you name each extension (e.g., "Press 1 for Sales") and your voicemail greeting.

What businesses are best suited for automated answering services?

Large medical offices or hospitals, and chain businesses with standardized departments, but local staff, like hotels, grocery stores, and car dealerships. These are businesses that need a "phone tree," possibly some "automated" responses to common questions ("Press 1 for store hours"), and the ability to connect you with a live person at the actual business location.

For example, when you speak with the service department of a car dealership, you may see that same service department team member when you drop off your car for service.

What is a Call Center?

A call center is an office full of customer service representatives whose job is to respond to customer calls, and sometimes emails and chat messages, too. This method often means callers hear a formulaic, cookie-cutter script that the customer service reps are instructed to follow. Call centers can be dedicated to one business or serve multiple businesses; if they are dedicated to one business, they are still generally operating under contract by a third-party company who manages the day-to-day operations.

Call centers usually experience high call volume and agents are often trained only as much as is absolutely necessary, which can result in an impersonal, low-quality experience. Also, many call centers operate in foreign countries where labor costs are very low and English is not the first language, which can lead to misunderstanding and frustration between the caller and the representative.

What businesses are best suited for call centers?

Call centers are best for large companies with high call volume, like e-commerce retailers, banks, and telecommunications companies, which have standardized departments and where customized, location-specific messaging (or a physical local presence) is not required.

What is a Live Answering Service?

With a live answering service, a real person answers and handles every incoming call. Live answering service receptionists can answer questions and perform tasks (like appointment scheduling) on behalf of the business, or they may simply take messages and transfer calls. The exact services offered will vary. Live answering service agents may work together at an office or remotely from a home office. Some live answering services use scripts, some do not.

What businesses are best suited for live answering services?

Small businesses like spas, law firms, consulting firms, marketing agencies, real estate brokers, home improvement professionals, entrepreneurs, financial advisors, massage therapists, and many more service-and-appointment-driven companies that need help qualifying leads and booking appointments while they're occupied throughout the day. Any small business or independent professional who seeks to reduce distraction and get more hours from their day can benefit greatly from a live answering service. Property management answering services or a plumbers answering service are great examples for these live answering services, as these professions require a lot of time on-the-go, leaving for less time to talk on the phone and schedule appointments.

Smith.ai Virtual Receptionists - a Superior Live Answering Service

Since 2015, Smith.ai has delivered the industry's top-tier virtual receptionist service. We're the fastest growing and most affordable live answering service in the U.S., and the best option for small businesses and independent professionals who need help managing their communications and schedule.

Smith.ai's friendly receptionists are based in the U.S. and come from customer service and hospitality backgrounds. They work from home, which means a lower stress environment than a call center or busy office. A calm environment means happier receptionists, and that translates to a better experience for your callers.

Custom call handling instructions are arranged for every new Smith.ai client, so callers always get the sense you have an in-house receptionist who is deeply knowledgeable about your business. However, unlike an in-house receptionist, we have many receptionists available to take your calls, so callers are not put on hold or sent to voicemail during business hours.

Our virtual receptionists are highly experienced and have no need for scripts; they are critical thinkers who, equipped with information about your business and services, can smartly answer questions, book appointments, and qualify leads. We can even make outbound calls on your behalf, improving your response time and further cutting down the time you spend on the phone.

When Smith.ai represents your business, potential customers and existing clients have a great experience, resulting in leads that convert, and customers who stick around. 

Try Smith.ai for Free

Ready for Smith.ai to help your business? Sign up for a free consultation with our team or get started risk-free with our 14-day money-back guarantee. We'd love to answer your questions.

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Written by Angie Wilson

As a freelance content strategist, Angie Wilson has contributed a number of articles to Smith.ai.

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