Automated Answering Service VS Virtual Receptionist: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Last updated January 4, 2021 written by Tetiana

If you can’t staff your phone lines all the time, you need to come up with a solution for all those incoming calls that could be missed. The two main choices for people who are looking to outsource customer service and support, or just avoid sending customers to voicemail, are discussed in this guide. 

You can opt for an automated answering service, making use of recordings that collect details from a customer. Alternatively, you can employ virtual receptionist services, which means someone who isn’t directly employed by your business, or physically located in the same office, but who still takes phone calls and deals with them in the same way that an on-site customer service representative might.

automated answering service

Do You Need a Call Answering Service?

Before establishing which of these options to go for, you should consider whether or not you need a service for your business. Your business phone system might be absolutely crucial to dealing with customers, or it might just be occasionally used for new inquiries.

A lot of people take the option of using a service to forward calls. If you are a tradesperson who is always on the go, you will probably rely on your cell phone a lot, so you can use a service that routes office calls directly to your cell phone. This is an okay system for some specific scenarios, but ultimately, the burden of answering calls is still yours. If you are in the middle of something important then callers might get ignored.

Either way, if you can’t ensure that someone is able to answer the phone all of the time, we recommend having some sort of call answering service in place. An article from industry expert Matt Rayner claims that his research found that each missed call for one company costs around £43, which is $50 per call missed. Naturally, this will vary depending on the industry you are in, but it helps to underline the point.

“On average, for this point in time across our customers, each missed call is the equivalent of a £43 loss.” – Matt Rayner

If you can’t answer your telephone, it is worth using a service that ensures those big contracts and lifetime customers don’t get put off. It’s easy to miss a call outside of business hours, or because you’re on the line with someone else, but who knows when it could be a potentially huge inquiry for your business. If the call isn’t answered, there’s a chance they’ll dial the number of your competitors minutes later. Even for small businesses, the fact that there are flexible payment plans allowing you to only pay for the time you use a virtual receptionist means that it doesn’t even have to be cost-prohibitive.

Automated Answering Services – Are They Right For You?

Most people would rather talk to a live receptionist than rely on automated messages. However, small business owners do have a decision to make on the matter. There are plenty of examples of companies you can call who will still send you through to an automated answering service. Is this right for your own business?

You might hear the system referred to as a “phone tree.” The automated phone system gets the “tree” name because each choice the user makes represents the branch of a tree. 

“Phone tree” is an automated telephone system that routes callers based on their choices and the numbers that they press on their handset.

Users can input data and make their choices using the keypad, or sometimes using their voice. Eventually, they should end up with the help they need. This might come in the form of an automated message, or it could allow users to leave their details ready for someone to call back when they are available.

Automated answering services can also act as a filter on your call flow. If the caller can get an answer to their query through the auto-attendant phone system, they don’t need to speak to a human. If they reach a “dead end” or need further assistance then the automated service can route callers to an employee. This means there is some human interaction needed, but not as much as if you were handling all of the call answering in person.

There are some clear benefits of having an automated answering service when compared to having no automated service at all. 

By putting an automated phone answering service in place, you can ensure that:

  • No customer has to deal with the information of their call being ignored
  • No customer gets sent to voicemail
  • You don’t have to risk a customer misunderstanding the process

The technology behind an automated answering system has also come a long way. It’s not flawless, but you can provide more choices and customization within the “tree.” Multiple menu options, and the ability to quickly find the information or department that someone is calling for, are among the ways the phone system can be optimized. There is no denying the fact that being stuck on the phone, pressing buttons and speaking to a “machine” can be frustrating, so making the process quick and easy is crucial.

More of the metrics to evaluate when creating an effective IVR or “interactive voice response” system include Call Containment, Average Handling Time, and First Call Resolution“First Call Resolution” is one of these vital metrics, which automated systems can struggle to deal with when compared to virtual receptionists.

“First Call Resolution (FCR) measures the percentage of calls that are resolved fully at the first time of asking. This is an essential metric, as no customer wants to make repeat calls to solve their problem” – Inform Comms

When compared to a virtual receptionist, the only significant benefit of an automated phone answering service is the fact that it can handle a higher volume of calls at a lower expense. Once the system has been put in place, the upkeep costs aren’t too high. This means that the automated service can be suitable for taking a lot of inbound callers. Remember, though, that there will still be a lot of work to do even if you are using an automated attendant. You will need to follow up on calls and it is hard to know just how satisfied customers are with the automated system.

Virtual Receptionist Services – A Personal Touch

You may be getting an automated method of having your phones answered with a virtual receptionist service, but it isn’t an automated receptionist. This sort of service allows your customers and callers to access a real person who can adapt to the situation.

Virtual receptionists are usually located in a call center or remote location either in the U.S. or in another part of the world. While big companies might have their own call centers, for a small business owner, this is probably not an option. By making use of Nexa’s 100% U.S.-based virtual receptionist services, you can ensure you have 24/7 coverage and someone can always answer the phone to potential customers or to deal with customer service issues.

How is this live answering service better than an automated call system? What are the advantages of a human on the other end of the phone? Let’s take a look at some of them below:

  1. First and foremost, the personal touch of a kind and polite human can make all the difference. Ultimately, with an automated answering system, no matter how friendly and polite the automated messages are, you simply can’t replace that personal touch, being able to call a customer by name and asking them how their day has been, for instance. Have you ever called a phone number and been disheartened as you discover a recording on the other end? Effectively, the call is being answered by a robot, and it can be frustrating for people.
  2. Another advantage of a virtual receptionist is that it is usually far faster to get to the information the customer is looking for. They can directly ask for help on a specific customer service matter. By using a reliable live receptionist service, you can ensure there are trained staff taking the call. You can prepare scripts and be confident that the query will be properly answered. With an automated answering service, it’s easy to end up with a dead-end, or not give your customers the answers they hoped for. A lot of big companies implement automated services, including chatbots on websites, but if you’ve used them before you will know that they aren’t the most reliable, even with modern AI technology.
  3. A virtual assistant is also far better equipped to deal with emergencies. If your business sector is remotely medical, there is a chance that you will have to deal with people who need urgent assistance. With Nexa’s Medical service you can make sure that you have staff properly trained to evaluate whether the emergency needs instant attention, contact on-call staff, or even give the details of other medical establishments who can help after hours. Our medical virtual assistants even go through a NexaMedical certification program with 85+ hours of training in medical call answering.

How Virtual Assistants Make Your Life Simpler

Most of these benefits are about making life easier for the customer and providing a more satisfactory service. However, a virtual receptionist can also make life easier for you and your employees.

Having a human receptionist on the other end of the phone means that they can perform tasks that aren’t an option with an automated system. These include:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Providing feedback
  • Inputting data
  • Working directly within your CMS

Most companies agree that it’s much better to return to already-scheduled calls and appointments than to have to listen through voicemails before getting back to people.

Statistics on how much a missed call can cost your business vary. Without an in-depth study of your specific industry, it is hard to know the dollar value of each call you miss. However, there is no denying the fact that you might be losing life-long customers. With this in mind, it makes sense to invest in a system to ensure your business phone number is never neglected.

Summary – Automated Answering Service VS Virtual Receptionist

Both of these options have their place. For large companies who don’t have the budget for human interaction on every call, an automated service is better than nothing. However, in the majority of cases, customers are far more satisfied if they get to talk to a real person. Not only does this improve their perception of your business, but it can also provide a more specific and thorough customer service experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do companies use automated phone systems?

There are a variety of different reasons why companies may wish to make use of automated phone systems. For companies dealing with a large volume of calls, staff may not be able to keep up. On top of this, automated systems can free up your existing employees to work on other business-critical tasks. Companies may also use automated phone systems in particularly busy periods. This is especially useful for seasonal businesses.

What does a virtual receptionist do?

A virtual receptionist’s role is to answer calls and deal with customer inquiries, but the job can be flexible. It is usually down to a company to work out the specific duties, which can include qualifying leads, scheduling calls and integrating with a CRM system to keep a record of calls. Some of Nexa’s services provide specifically trained staff who can deal with medical issues, or who have undergone industry-specific training to provide a professional response to all queries.

What's the point of an answering service?

The point of an answering service is usually either to free up your staff to work on other things, or to give your business round-the-clock service, meaning that whenever customers call you, they don’t get diverted to voicemail, and can get their request dealt with. The ultimate result of this is that you don’t lose customers or cause customer service issues due to your phone lines being busy or hard to reach. Did you know that most people consider being on hold for a long time the most frustrating aspect of calling a business?