Although it's sort of self-explanatory what an answering service is, how it works requires a closer inspection to see exactly what it can do for your business and if the benefits do outweigh the costs you pay out of pocket. You can think of an answering service as the gatekeeper of your business. Every day, a business gets dozens of calls from irate customers, inquiring leads, existing vendors, and potential business partners. If you, as an employer, make it your personal responsibility to answer each one of these calls, then nothing gets done in the office. An answering service is the first line of contact between you and a customer hence it's what makes the first impression on your customers. If it's a poorly handled call, then it's almost certain that you lose that customer. To help you understand answering services better, read on further as we discuss the different types available and the pros and cons for each one:

Live Phone

Arguably the highest rated answering service by consumers, both small and midsize businesses, is a live telephone service. They are offered in different formats, with some companies offering a staff of remote workers to answer your calls while others hire remote or virtual assistants/receptionists to handle them. Regardless of where the service provider gets the people who answers your calls, you can be certain that you get a professionally trained receptionist from where you can offload your incoming calls. An advantage to a live phone answering service is that you can make your customers feel valued and as if they actually reached your office. A potential disadvantage, however, is that you could end up getting charged a high premium for the round-the-clock answering service availability even if you don't get calls during off-peak hours.

Call Centers

Call centers work differently from the first option. While live phone answering services are popular amongst smaller sized firms and startups, call centers tend to cater more to businesses with larger scale operations and higher volumes of calls. An advantage is that you gain 24/7 answering service for your callers, plus technical support if needed. Yet again, the pitfall of hiring a call enter as your answering service provider is the high costs that come with round-the-clock support and a high number of receptionists or contact points that you can dispatch. A common strategy that some companies use is working with call centers to outsource only a part of their incoming calls and handle the rest in-house.

Automated Answering Machines

If you've attempted to contact your bank or a major company recently, like Amazon or Google, you've probably been greeted by an automated answering machine or a chatbot if you were contacting them via their website. Automated answering services are becoming increasingly popular, as businesses look for cheaper alternatives for their growing answering service needs. The fact is, not every phone call or site inquiry requires a manned desk. Some can be automated to give your customers choices on how to proceed. They can choose with their keypad or by answering with a "yes" or "no". The advantage to this kind of answering service is that you can finish answering a high volume of calls without needing a great deal of manpower thus minimizing costs. The drawback of automated answering messages, however, is that they cannot handle all kinds of customer situations and inquiries. Some customers need help with specific product or account issues, and an automated answering machine may not be able to field these types of calls.

Other Things to Know About Answering Services

  • The cost difference of live answering services over a full-time receptionist can sum up to a few thousand dollars per year. The costs of finding and training a receptionist is close to $5,000 while the average salary for a receptionist is $27,000. Since receptionists cannot remain behind their desk 24/, you'll need to hire an on-call receptionist or use an answering service to handle the calls during his/her absence. With an answering service, on the other hand, you pay a modest $20 per month, or more if you need to add an extension.

  • Answering services aren't just cost-effective; they're also a time-saver. By outsourcing your incoming calls to a live answering service provider or call center, you can focus on more pressing matters, such as your business' cash flow and marketing campaigns. Aside from answering services and virtual receptionists fielding and filtering your calls virtually, you can also employ a FAQ page on your website to answer general questions.

  • Customers report being put on hold for as much as 20 minutes when they try to contact businesses. This figure can gravely impact your customer retention rate and overall customer satisfaction rate. An automated answering service can help your customers find answers to their questions without needing to wait for even a minute. They can also choose to leave a message so you or an employee can call them back at the earliest opportunity.

  • Missing calls can be detrimental to your business, especially if the caller was a potential customer. What if he/she was eager to invest in your company or buy a large order from you? With 24/7 answering services or virtual receptionists on the line, you don't have to worry about missing a call. Even if the caller doesn't get through to a representative, he/she is at least afforded the chance to leave his/her contact details and/or urgent or time-sensitive information.