What Is An Answering Service?

Peyton Duplechien • 06 Aug 2019 • 11 min read

Smiling woman sitting at desk on phone.

If you work in an industry where regular call answering is required, you’ve likely heard the term answering service thrown about, but you might not know exactly what it means or involves.

And while it is a simple concept when you break it down, without a proper explanation, a poor understanding of an answering service could potentially lead to business decisions that cause you to take on more work than necessary. Or even worse, wasting your time, money, and talent in already competitive business environments.

So, to make sure this doesn’t happen, we’ve created this in-depth guide to answering what an answering service is, what they do, and the benefits that come with using such a system, all so you can decide whether or not it’s the right investment for your business.


What is an answering service about?

Man talking on the phone

To break this down to as simple a level as possible, an answering service is a third-party organization that performs both inbound and outbound business communications for clients.

However, unlike an in-house call team, they execute these business communications remotely, outside the walls of the businesses which they serve, meaning they can facilitate business needs from anywhere in the world.


How does an answering service work?

Nowadays there are dozens of business answering services operating across the US and around the world, and many offer competitive services and packages to distinguish themselves from the competition and create a true value-add.

Such typical services could include any of the following options:

  • Virtual receptionists: three-quarters of consumers today say they prefer to speak with a real person regarding customer support, and virtual answering services can provide receptionists dedicated to your organization, trained to administer the full range of customer interfacing and support activities required.
  • Inbound and outbound call patching: call patching refers to connecting callers to a specific individual or resource via a liaison. In professional settings, call patching predominantly occurs through receptionists, who greet callers and then “patch” them through to intended call recipients so their needs are met.
  • Simple order processing: some virtual answering services can train receptionists to work as order specialists, taking product or service orders both online and over the phone for your business.
  • Office scheduling: answering services can assist in calendar and schedule coordination, including placing outbound calls to make or check appointments, bookings, out-of-office meetings, events, and much more.
  • Customer servicing: last but not least, professional answering services can complement or serve as your live customer support agents. Using proprietary scripts, receptionists can answer questions, provide instructions, or otherwise remedy problems your clients face, freeing you to focus on immediate business domains.

However, as live answering technology and flexibility get more and more advanced, certain companies, such as the team here at VoiceNation, can provide further additional core services, such as:

  • Bilingual or multilingual receptionists: some agencies staff receptionists who are fluent in two or more languages, boosting your service offerings and convenience for different customer demographics. You can read more about our bilingual answering services here.
  • 24/7/365 availability: around-the-clock service is particularly attractive for organizations looking to expand customer support outside regular business hours.
  • Mobile access: answering agencies may employ proprietary apps for online customers to use to check SMS messages, email, and voicemail alerts from their receptionist.
  • Hosted phone numbers: certain answering services can host your business’ current lines and numbers, meaning you don’t have to go through the hassle of acquiring new ones merely to use their service.

What do professional virtual receptionists do?

A cornerstone of looking at how answering services work, Virtual Receptionists perform the same inbound and outbound communications as a traditional, in-house receptionist, as well as office administration and support duties.

The only difference is that they complete these duties outside of your office. If you want to learn more about what virtual receptionists do, why not take a look at our guide to virtual receptionists?

What is not provided by an answering service?

While knowing what an answering service is important, so too is understanding what it cannot provide to your business. That way, you can be sure you don’t invest in an answering service for the wrong reasons:

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1. Automated voice recordings

Virtual answering services go far beyond setting up an automated directory. You know, those robot-monotoned prompts telling you to “press one” for services, “two” for prices, “three” for billings, and “four” for any other concern, etc…

Automated directories are contemporary and to the point. Yet they lack the personalized attention and quality care a real person can administer and will often lead to customer frustrations when prompts don’t include their reason for calling.


2. Inbound or outbound salespeople

Inbound sales specialists predominantly focus on relationship-building with high-value prospects and current customers. While outbound sales specialists generate leads and orders from traditional sales tactics such as cold calls and contact lists.

While a full-service virtual receptionist might facilitate some characteristics of inbound and outbound marketing, such as walking a caller through how to place an order, they are not salespeople. Don’t view or treat them as such.

3. Technical customer service

Virtual answering services sit on the front lines of your business phone assistance offerings. More than likely, callers will ask them troubleshooting questions related to your product or services. Then, they can redirect the call to a technical support specialist who can help them with their specific needs.

Some organizations ignore the second step, viewing the receptionist as a technical support agent. While virtual receptionists are more than capable of assisting with everyday customer questions and concerns, you shouldn’t expect them to handle detailed product servicing or treat them as an additional technical helpline.


4. A one-way service

The relationship between your organization and your chosen answering service is a two-way street. It involves detailed communications about your expectations and servicing needs, including:

  • Ideal calling hours
  • Your client or customer segments
  • Current employee call capacities
  • Access to schedules
  • Bilingual interfacing needs
  • Additional support services

Without ongoing communications, an answering service will not be able to perform the desired level of care and assistance from the onset, so you need to make sure you’re staying in touch with them, so your expectations are met.

What are the benefits of an answering service?

As you may have guessed, phone answering services exist to alleviate one of the most time-consuming and often stressful aspects of running a business: phone-based customer service.

However, in doing so, answering services also bring several other advantages to your organization, all of which we’ve outlined below:


1. Enhanced customer relationship management (CRM)

A good business knows that CRM strategies help to prioritize your interactions with customers. They scaffold how, when, where, and why to reach out to your client demographics, on top of tracking what platforms and marketing materials result in the most engagement traction.

Yet CRM also involves more of the general touchpoints a customer has with your organization — including those over the phone. That’s because anytime an individual interacts with your business, they’ll form an impression.

Virtual receptionists are key players in cultivating a positive communication experience that reflects well on the entire brand. Together, these positive impressions and experiences fuel the exact kind of relationship you’re attempting to forge with customers, both current and new.

2. Enhanced regulatory compliance

Specific industries, such as health care, finance, and law, must navigate substantial regulations and government oversight. Many of those regulations themselves pertain to safe and secure communications.

In other words, how can an organization go about communicating with its constituents, especially when those communications contain personally identifiable or sensitive information?

Virtual answering services provide a solution for compliant customer communications as receptionists receive regular training on compliant customer interactions and procedures both on the phone or online, including those related to HIPAA, disclosure statements, and more.

3. An increased degree of professionalism

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Having a warm, courteous, and informative receptionist answering your calls gives an instant boost to your business’s sense of professionalism. It can also influence what customers think of your size and scale — which is particularly attractive for entrepreneurs, freelancers, or virtual small businesses looking to provide customer-service amenities.


4. Greater productivity

With receptionists handling inbound and outbound call functions, you’re free to focus on the goals and activities that matter most. Not only that, but you will empower your employees to dive deeper into their roles as well.

Everyone becomes unburdened from the time-consuming stress of fielding unexpected calls, hunting down relevant help, facilitating connections, or liaising between individuals — some of which may not be in their area of expertise. Your virtual reception does all this, and more, for you.

5. Sharpened responses and rates

Emergencies don’t wait to strike within business hours. Certain professions must have outlets and resources available when instances occur, ready to assist clients or customers promptly and cost-effectively.

With the help of your professional answering service, you can rest assured you have someone “on” at all hours responding to customer situations. And considering the range of industries where 24/7 answering service  is necessary, this is not only beneficial — it’s vital.

6. Dedicated customer service

Consumers today have come to expect personalized offerings from brands. And when it comes to customer service, that expectation is no different.

The average consumer wants your company to treat them well, offer warm but instructional assistance and resolve their issues promptly, without feeling like just another person rushed through the customer service queue.

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Businesses that use a professional answering service rest assured they have dedicated customer service like this operating around the clock. It allows organizations to expand their phone support hours to accommodate customers in other time zones or schedules, plus maintain support if you’re on vacation, out of the office, or otherwise in a do-not-disturb mode.

Businesses that use a professional answering service can rest assured that they have a dedicated customer service like this operating around the clock, allowing organizations to expand their phone support hours to accommodate customers in other time zones or schedules, plus maintain support if you’re on vacation, out of the office, or indisposed.


7. Reduced overheads

Partnering with a business answering service delivers significant cost savings to your bottom lines.

Depending on your industry, the salary for a full-time receptionist ranges anywhere from $29,000 to $36,000 a year. But this sum doesn’t include employee benefits, vacation policies, paid sick leave, holiday, and performance bonuses, or other high-value job incentives in today’s marketplace.

Virtual answering services cost a fraction of those values. What’s more, answering services offer tiered service packages with a variety of customizable add-ons. You pick the provisions right for you, then leave out the rest, saving your business significant money.


8. A better-run office

Together, virtual receptionists and professional answering services elevate the operations of your workplace. They are time-savers and productivity-boosters, while simultaneously enhancing your customer-service offerings and appeal.

As a result of using a virtual answering service, offices become more organized, more accessible, and more intentional, able to work as the best version of themselves with minimal interruptions.

What makes live answering services reliable?

We get it. Even with the clear cost savings, competitive customer-service advantage, and office-wide performance boost, it can still be challenging to hand over such important, customer-focused operations to someone out of the office.

Luckily, the live-answering industry uses measures to ensure receptionists execute inbound and outbound services objectively up to your standards. Such as all of the following:

1. Vetting and onboarding

Business answering services conduct thorough training programs for their receptionists and answering specialists to ensure they deliver the best service possible. After all, it’s in their best interests to do so.

Maintaining the most efficient and highly skilled agents in the field ensures their customer satisfaction ratings and positive brand reputation only increases. Therefore, you should look for professional answering services with clear employee training and engagement programs in place.

Companies that maintain an institutionalized onboarding schedule are also a plus, both in terms of new client onboarding and for new internal employees. And mutual training programs ensure both these parties are not only meeting client expectations but that the employees of answering services understand and exceed them.

2. Custom answering scripts

Many receptionists use custom answering scripts to meet the exact tone and messaging nuances of your brand. However, scriptwriting needs to be a collaborative process.

You need to have detailed input in the phrases across the complete range of your virtual receptionists’ daily activities, from how they greet callers to how they walk through taking orders down to fundamental customer-service support answers.

That’s why good answering services will let you review and edit these scripts anytime as your products and services evolve, so you can present them properly to your customers. The result is the best of both worlds: natural-sounding customer service delivered in a way you can trust to best represent your brand.

3. Continual performance management

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Last but not least, virtual answering services perform routine call audits to ensure the quality and consistency of your receptionist’s conduct. Audits take place randomly, but ethically, with both your customers and the receptionists themselves aware that a call may get recorded for quality assurance and performance management purposes.

You can even review caller recordings yourself. These give you instant reassurance as to the nature of your receptionist’s interactions, as well as lend insights into the most common reasons your customers call.

What’s more, the majority of business answering services operate internal performance management reviews. Reviews are based on a set of objective performance scorecards.

Receptionists get rated annually or semi-annually according to the scorecard’s metrics, many of which are part of their initial employee training and onboarding. Combined with call recordings, this creates a dynamic performance management duo, lending peace of mind your calls are in the right hands.


How much does an answering service cost?

How much an answering service costs will depend entirely on the business you choose to work with and your call needs. Some companies will operate on a minute-by-minute basis, charging you based on how long a receptionist is on the phone, while some may even charge you based on every action your receptionist takes per call.

However, there are other companies, like VoiceNation, who provide a set package based on your needs. You can tailor this to match your business requirements, which will adjust a set price that you pay on a monthly basis.

We highly recommend looking at the different prices on offer between answering service competitors to make sure you’re getting the best price deal.

What industries make use of answering services?

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A wide variety of industries use professional answering services and virtual receptionists, each experiencing different service benefits. Below are just some of the most common:

  • Consulting: consultancy firms may specialize in dozens upon dozens of topics, varied in their areas of expertise. However, their need for a consistent client touchpoint does not. Small to medium-sized agencies, in particular, benefit from using a virtual receptionist to boost the professional presentation of their office.
  • Event planning: event planners wear many hats, often juggling numerous clients’ timelines, desires and event deliverables simultaneously. Virtual receptionists help keep their calendars in check. Their live-answering services also assure event planners can remain focused on executing the day’s highest priorities without getting interrupted by frequent phone calls.
  • Finance: virtual receptionists for banks, insurance agencies, and financial institutions are often the first people a customer will interact with. And a good interaction sets the tone for the remainder of the customer’s experience.
  • Health care: few institutions rely on answering services quite like health care. Virtual receptionists can book and confirm appointments, arrange vendor meetings, forward patients to relevant parties, and escalate medical emergency notices to get the immediate attention they deserve — all in a HIPAA-compliant fashion.
  • Law: from solo practitioners to national firms, legal firms rely on virtual answering services to support clients during some of the most trying experiences of their lives. Receptionists field incoming calls and messages, provide call forwarding services, manage administrative schedules, and more, so you can focus on the client or case in front of you.
  • Real estate: real estate agents spend a significant amount of their time in the field, reviewing and showing properties, communicating with buyers and sellers, and coordinating the near-endless stream of files and communications between financing institutions, inspectors, and more. Professional answering services for real estate take the sole responsibility of planning and organizing these activities off your already busy shoulders.


Trial a live answering service with VoiceNation

So, now you know what an answering service is, what they do, and how they can help your business. But you might not be sure as to whether or not you want to invest in one just yet. And that’s where VoiceNation can help.

As one of today’s leading live answering and virtual receptionist agencies in the industry, we know what we’re doing when it comes to a high-quality service, which is why we offer a 7-day free trial for those interested in seeing what our team is capable of.

Get in touch today to learn more about it, as well as our other services. And don’t forget to browse our other informative articles and guides, such as our piece on live chat vs voice support.