What is an answering service?

Many businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and sole traders, use an answering service to ensure they offer the best possible customer service. The service comes with many benefits:  enables better customer-client contact which enhances professionalism, lowers costs and increases the time available to spend on the core business.  Combined with a virtual office, any company can present itself as an established business, even when brand new. Here’s all you need to know about answering services.

What is an answering service?

In its simplest form, an answering service is a company or individual that takes calls on your behalf. They might forward calls to you or take messages so you can deal with them later. The service can even handle emails, text messages and other forms of communication.

When you hire an answering service, it is like having a receptionist, secretary or PA, but they are based away from your place of work.   An answering service can help if you don’t receive many phone enquiries and hiring a dedicated member of staff to answer them might not make good business sense but, conversely,  if your company receives a lot of incoming calls an answering service can free you to attend to other aspects of the business.  An answering service is usually working for you as well as other companies, so they come at a fraction of the cost of employing a full-time employee. They could be providing assistance to busy teams during peak hours or be a dedicated answering service which can still be cheaper than hiring staff.  

What are the benefits of an answering service?

The main benefits of an answering service are that they:

  1. are cheaper than employing a receptionist
  2. can take calls when you’re in meetings or away from the office
  3. give your company a professional edge
  4. can operate 24/7
  5. never miss a call
  6. free you up to do other work.

When a client or prospective customer calls your number, they will have no idea they are talking to an answering service. That’s because the person answering the phone will know which company they are working on behalf of and will answer with a greeting that’s personalised to your business. Depending on your instructions, they can then pass on the details so you can call back or forward the call to you.

What is a live answering service?

Some answering services use automated receptionists to relay recorded messages to callers, perhaps asking them to record a message or taking them through a menu and directing them to the right person or department.  A live answering service uses a human contact so that full interaction is possible.

Although automated services are cheaper than a live service, callers tend to appreciate talking to another person rather than listening to a message. A live service can also be used in conjunction with an automated service. This blend is useful where businesses get a lot of calls or where there are a number of specific departments that need to be contacted.

How does an answering service work?

The answering service takes calls to your number and handles them according to your instructions. This could mean forwarding messages to the right person, taking a message or contacting you directly and asking how you want the call to be handled. It’s like having a receptionist without the employment costs.

You don’t have to have hard and fast rules about how your calls are handled. For example, you might only want calls to be handled by the service if you’re currently unavailable. You won’t be hassled when you’re in a meeting and you’ll get no calls when you’re having family time. Otherwise, calls can come directly to you. It all depends on what you want from the service.

How do I start an answering service?

If you want to start an answering service, you’ll need separate phone lines for clients and/or telephony software to identify which client is calling so you can answer appropriately.

You can start an answering service as an individual, or you can get together with a group of partners or employees so you can take calls from multiple clients simultaneously.  Your call takers will need training up so that they know enough about your clients’ businesses to take calls and answer queries effectively. A great thing about running an answering service is that you don’t always need an office to run it from. With the correct software, you can have all your call-takers working from home.

Whatever business you’re in an answering service will increase your flexibility and professionalism. They often come as part of a virtual office, so you can run your business from anywhere and customers will never know that they are talking to a third-party receptionist when they call. No wonder they’re such a popular option for businesses of all sizes.

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