Live answering and virtual receptionist services are ideal solutions for any business looking to outsource customer service. We’ve been in the customer service business for quite a while now, and we offer these two solutions. In our line of work, we see a lot of confusion surrounding live answering and virtual receptionist services, with entrepreneurs wondering which of the two best suits their companies.

That’s why we’ve decided to set the record straight. This article explains all the similarities and differences between virtual receptionist services and telephone answering services. More importantly, we’ll tell you when it’s best to use either service.

What is a live answering service?

As the name suggests, a live answering service answers incoming business calls on your behalf. An answering service will have a team of dedicated phone operators taking calls in your company’s name and responding to callers (usually customers) according to a branded script or set of instructions. A script is just a template containing basic company information on answering customer queries, the messages to put across, and how to direct conversations. The phone operators also relay any information gathered from callers back to the business and forward complex support issues or callers to the relevant departments or persons.

An answering service can be a single remote worker, a small in-house team, or a large call center. However, most businesses prefer to outsource calls to call centers since it’s more affordable, convenient, and practical than hiring extra employees or unproven freelancers to work the phones.

Also, the answering service can be based locally or overseas. But outsourcing locally has way more perks than routing calls offshore. A locally based answering service will share the same language, culture, and time zone with your business, making callers feel more at home. This way, customers won’t even realize that their calls go through a third party.

What is a virtual receptionist service?

A virtual receptionist service is a remote or outsourced receptionist that basically does everything an in-office receptionist does. Most people think of virtual receptionists as AI-powered chatbots or online virtual assistants like those popular on websites and apps nowadays. Yes, these are virtual receptionists, to some extent, but their scopes are narrowly limited to just a few capabilities. In this context, we mean “live” virtual receptionists, not machines. Granted, chatbots and virtual assistants have come a long way in mimicking human behavior, and it’s pretty impressive what they can do. But software tools are yet to replace human receptionists in a hands-on business environment.

What does a virtual receptionist do exactly, and why would you need one? A virtual receptionist’s duties, just like those of an in-office receptionist, will depend on the employer’s needs. Virtual receptionists mainly handle secretarial tasks, such as:

  • Screening, answering, and transferring calls
  • Directing and advising customers
  • Taking sales orders
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Arranging meetings
  • Organizing the office calendar
  • Sending reminders
  • Making travel arrangements
  • Replying to messages via email, social media posts, and live chat
  • Taking and relaying messages
  • Preparing and distributing internal documents such as memos
  • Capturing lead information
  • Assisting with administrative tasks

Virtual receptionist vs. answering service: differences and similarities

Virtual receptionist and live answering services are quite similar in some respects. In fact, some of their functions overlap. For instance, a virtual receptionist can answer and direct customer calls just like an answering service. Also, both services are distributed using the same professional outsourcing model. These similarities are no coincidence; virtual receptionists are actually derived from answering services.

You can think of a virtual receptionist as a one-person answering service that does more than answer calls. A virtual receptionist is much more versatile than a call service, and that’s the key difference between the two. With an answering service, you get the whole call management suite, from call screening and answering to dispatching and recording. A virtual receptionist may not provide such sophisticated call management services, but they make up for it by being more connected to the business.

Also, when working with a virtual receptionist company, you usually get one receptionist at a time. But with an answering service, you get a team of call operators working for you. For this reason, answering services cost more.

Virtual receptionist or answering service, which should you choose?

Deciding which of these solutions is ideal for your business depends on the customer service or business operations gap you’re trying to fill. Let’s look at the ideal scenarios for using an answering service, a virtual receptionist, or a combination of both:

When to consider a live answering service

A telephone answering service serves only one purpose—answering calls. This is often tied to various call management roles such as call queuing, call analytics, call dispatching, and message taking. An answering service provider comes in handy if you have a large volume of incoming calls but inadequate equipment or employees to handle them. It’s way cheaper and more convenient to outsource an already established call center than build your own from scratch. Moreover, professional call agents are highly trained in the proper etiquette and skills to handle all kinds of callers.

How would you tell your business needs an answering service? Here are the telltale signs that you could use professional help managing calls:

  • Your business is growing fast
  • You’re missing calls every day
  • You are answering business calls in your spare time
  • Phones are ringing off the hook, and lines are always backed up
  • You’ve resorted to giving out your personal phone number to customers
  • The customer base is multilingual
  • Employees are spending too much time on the phone with clients
  • You’re really stretching the business hours
  • Calls, emails, and messages are coming in all the time, even at night and on weekends
  • Customers are complaining about the call quality
  • The phone bill is through the roof

Voice call is a crucial customer touchpoint. And according to BrightLocal, most customers (60 percent) prefer to contact businesses via the phone. So, if your business is growing, venturing into new markets, or launching new offerings, the call volume will inevitably swell. An answering service enables your business to handle a growing call volume, ensuring you never miss a call (day or night). And the best part is: you don’t have to buy expensive hardware or hire new workers.

When to consider a live virtual receptionist service

A virtual receptionist solution is a bit different from an answering service. It suits a business that needs an administrative front desk figure but hiring a typical receptionist just won’t do. In this case, the front desk doesn’t have to be a physical desk; it could be a website, an app, or a voice on the other end of a phone line.

Virtual receptionists suit small businesses and start-ups that need someone to handle calls and random secretarial tasks. The scale and cost of an answering service may be impractical for such businesses. Plus, they may not have a large enough call volume to necessitate call center outsourcing anyway.

Having a virtual receptionist also comes in handy for businesses operating predominantly online. The virtual receptionist becomes a vital bridge between the business and its online clientele.

However, virtual receptionists are not limited only to small businesses, start-ups, and online enterprises. A virtual receptionist can also help keep things more organized, especially if you have a habit of skipping appointments, missing deadlines, and forgetting to return calls. Besides, the mundane tasks of scheduling meetings, setting reminders, and serving customers can get in the way of more meaningful work. Also, you can hire a virtual professional receptionist to work hand in hand with an in-office counterpart to share the workload.

Combining virtual receptionist and answering services

Instead of choosing between the two, you can actually combine them to get the best of both worlds. If your company is overflowing with callers and still needs front desk support, there’s no reason you can’t outsource your call and receptionist services simultaneously. And since they are both very cost-efficient, juggling the two outsourcing solutions would still make sound economic sense.

Here are the pros and cons of receptionist and call outsourcing:

image source: Writer’s own work 

Make your choice with AnswerAide

In conclusion, a virtual receptionist service and an answering service are not so different after all. They both enhance the customer experience, cut labor costs, and improve business efficiency. However, each solution is suited to a particular business scenario. An answering service is ideal for handling large call volumes. On the other hand, a virtual receptionist can manage several calls on any given day along with some secretarial responsibilities. The choice is yours, of course, depending on your business needs. But you may not have to choose at all if you can use both solutions.

Reap all the benefits of call and receptionist outsourcing with AnswerAide. We understand the importance of quality customer service and streamlined business operations, and it shows in our professional 24/7 live telephone answering and virtual receptionist services. We hand-pick each call agent and receptionist from a vast pool of qualified individuals to guarantee quality, diligence, and discretion. Get in touch to learn more about our services and how to partner with us.