Effective communication between client and company is central to any business. The way communication is handled in your company has a large impact on your success, but each company is different, so your communication needs will vary based on your scale, the volume of calls you receive (or miss) during the day or after hours, and the nature of your business.
Regardless of your company’s specific needs, handling communication poorly could cost you thousands in missed opportunities or lost customers. Making sure you choose the right method to manage your incoming call volume is key to the growth and profitability of your business. The two main routes you can go are live phone answering services and automated answering services.
Live Phone Answering vs. Phone Answering: The Key Differences
These two methods differ on one central point: the role that humans and technology have in handling the needs of callers. Both will have certain human and mechanical elements, but which of those the caller will encounter will differ based on the system used.
The basic differences are as follows:
- Live phone answering services: Live phone answering services utilize live professionals to answer calls that you might otherwise miss. This could be a part of either overflow call routing or after-hours phone answering services, but the main point is you have a live person to help callers rather than an automated voicemail system. Responsibilities of the live professionals typically include taking messages to forward to you and to help callers in any way they can during calls.
- Automated phone answering services: Automated services use machines to take messages, and are often the go-to method for businesses looking to handle calls outside of their normal business hours or beyond their capacity to handle. These services generally require a lower upfront cost, but may involve losing out on potential clientele.
Choosing between the two will ultimately depend on what features you need in your business and whether your call volume requires human personnel to operate effectively.
Features and Benefits of Live Phone Answering Services
Live phone answering services come in a variety of forms that help your business keep up with call volume. These forms include:
- After hours answering services: These utilize a dedicated phone professional to handle calls your business receives after hours. The calls are simply rerouted to a live professional, who can take a message or even forward the call to you if it’s an emergency.
- Call overflow: Like after-hours answering services, call overflow reroutes excess calls you receive during the workday to an outside call center or virtual receptionist, who then either take a message or forward the call to the proper department in your business.
- 24/7 phone answering services: Outside operators handle any volume of incoming calls day and night throughout the week. This can either supplement in-office receptionists or replace dedicated phone personnel entirely, ultimately saving you on HR and equipment costs.
These services may utilize a virtual receptionist, which is basically a professional receptionist who works outside your office and handles phone calls. This service typically costs less than hiring an in-house receptionist in that you don’t have wages, benefits, and managerial expenses. Also, they can handle more than one call at once since they are part of a dedicated team.
One of the main benefits of live phone answering services is the fact that when people call your business, they will speak to a live person. This is often more important than it might seem on the surface. If someone calls you on the phone rather than using text, email, or other tech-driven forms of communication, they likely want to speak to a real live human being, and if they don’t get that, they will probably experience frustration.
In these cases, an automated answering service simply won’t do since the caller is very likely to look elsewhere in an effort to have their needs met.
By having a live person for callers to talk to 24/7, you ensure that you retain their patronage for your company rather than leaving them frustrated, unsatisfied, and searching elsewhere to get what they need. The end result is to increase business for you and maximize revenue.
Live answering services are also more cost-effective than maintaining the level of in-house personnel that you would need to get the same benefits. With an in-house team, you would not only need to cover the costs of hiring, training, and paying those workers, you would also need to cover the costs of equipment, including phones, computers, and phone lines.
A live phone answering service absorbs those costs, leaving you with a highly competitive and stable rate to pay instead.
Features and Benefits of Automated Phone Answering Services
An automated phone answering service goes beyond a simple voicemail. Not only does it have the capability of taking messages, but during business hours, it can route calls to specific personnel in your office. It is a way to handle incoming calls without relying on a receptionist, which can therefore help you save on personnel costs.
Also, since the company providing the services doesn’t need to support a dedicated phone team, their costs may be lower, making this a cost-effective solution for small to medium sized businesses with a moderate sized call volume.
After hours, an automated service can be configured to either send an emergency call to a separate personal or business phone, or it can simply record the message and send it to you as an email or other format, allowing for some retention of after-hour calls.
Possible Drawbacks of Going Automated
While an automated phone answering system can help unify your office’s communications systems and save on personnel costs, it does present the problem of offering an automated “receptionist” to callers.
As stated above, if someone is foregoing text, email, or other methods of communication, they likely want to speak to a real person, and an answering machine is the last thing they want to deal with. In the case of an actual emergency or urgent need, automated phone answering systems could also drive some potential customers away.
Pricing: Live Phone Answering vs. Phone Answering
If implemented well, either system can end up saving you money and would result in a return on your investment as you reduce personnel and equipment costs and increase call-to-customer conversion. There are still differences in pricing that are important to take into account, and those come primarily as a result of the costs of the company providing those services.
Live phone answering services have to maintain skilled personnel and high quality equipment. Since their primary business focus is on answering phone calls, forwarding messages, or rerouting incoming calls, they can do this far more efficiently than a company in another industry could, but it does still take money to keep that all running.
When you pay for live services, those expenses will factor into the cost, especially if you need to handle a large call volume. Even so, the cost to you does end up being less than maintaining those personnel yourself.
Automated services, on the other hand, don’t have the same personnel costs as a fully dedicated live service would. All you pay for is the technology, including its design and maintenance.
Since the company providing automated services is fully dedicated to this industry, they can focus all their resources on it, making them far more efficient and passing on the savings to you. While they may be lacking in terms of the “human touch” that live services provide, they offer some phone answering assistance to companies with a smaller budget.
Determining Which to Use
Ultimately, determining which services to use depends on the nature and scale of your business. If you have a large number of missed calls every day, and if a large portion of those are calls that would otherwise result in new or retained clientele if you had answered them, then live phone answering services would probably benefit you.
On the other hand, if your call volume only just exceeds your in-house capabilities, or if most of the calls you miss wouldn’t result in lost opportunities, an automated phone answering service would likely be all you need.
When determining whether you need live phone answering services, ask yourself the following questions:
- How many of the calls we receive result in increases or decreases in revenue?
- How often do we have “junk” calls? (phone answering services can weed those out)
- How many callers will leave messages on our voicemail, on average?
- How much time do people in the company spend sifting through voice messages or answering calls?
- Would that time spent with messages and calls be better spent on more industry-specific tasks?
As you answer these questions, you’ll get a fair idea of which services you’ll need. Again, if the calls you miss result in many lost opportunities to help potential clients, live phone answering services are likely the way to go.
To learn more about what phone answering service options are available for your business, contact Keener Communications at 804-200-5696.