We are so excited to welcome Stephanie Copeland Weber to the Ruby®  team as our new Senior Vice President of Operations! Stephanie joins us from Silicon Valley-based GuideSpark, where she played an instrumental role in the growth and success of the company.

In her new role, Stephanie will oversee our efforts to deliver programs and an enhanced infrastructure for growth, deepen our employee engagement efforts, and foster positive customer experiences that enable customer success. We’re thrilled to have her!

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Portland Business Journal, People on the Move

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Automated phone service vs live person

Before the technology boom, there was only one way to get your office phone answered—someone had to physically pick it up. These days you have plenty of options.

With phone trees, automated phone systems, and auto-attendants, you don’t even need a real person at your phone anymore. Or do you?

In the age of technology, human interaction is more valuable than ever. But that doesn’t mean technology doesn’t help. If you don’t want, or can’t afford, an in-house receptionist, you have two basic choices:

  1. An automated phone system
  2. A tech-enabled virtual receptionist

What works best? Technology or human? We’ve found that it’s often the marriage of technology and the human element that makes the biggest impact.

Automated phone answering system.

An automated answering service or interactive voice response system is a phone system that interacts with callers without a real human on the line. The entire phone call, or phone tree portion of the phone call, is done through interactions with a preset machine.

These systems vary, depending on what you’re looking for, but they have some general processes in common:

  1. Answer incoming call
  2. Play pre-recorded message
  3. Ask callers for their intent 
  4. Transfer caller or provide pre-recorded information.

Automated phone system strengths:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Customizable

Automated phone system weaknesses:

  • Lack of human interaction negatively impacts customer service
  • Inefficiency in automated systems can frustrate or confuse callers
  • Without regular oversight, there is a risk of undiscovered malfunctions

The bottom line: While automation may sound like a great idea, an automated phone system runs the risk of alienating you from your customers or a potential new customer, by putting a mechanical wall between them and you. It can save you money, but it also runs the risk of costing you priceless customers and time.

Tech-enabled virtual receptionist service.

A virtual receptionist service is a real, live receptionist answering the phone for your business and a key part of your business’ team and tech toolkit—but instead of working out of your office, they work out of their own. At Ruby, they’re located in Portland, Oregon.

Different virtual receptionist services offer different suites of features. Ruby Receptionists offers a full-suite of phone services including:

  • live call answering
  • Spanish-speaking receptionists
  • message taking and voicemail boxes
  • call transferring
  • intakes
  • sophisticated call-handling
  • feature-rich mobile app
  • outbound calling

While callers are taken care of by a real person, Ruby’s proprietary technology is providing the receptionist (and you!) the tools needed to provide the caller with the best possible experience. The greatest advantage of Ruby’s technology? Callers don’t even know that the receptionist doesn’t work in your office!

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The biggest difference between an automated service and a virtual receptionist service is the way technology is used. With an automated service, you’re basically getting a robot. A virtual receptionist service, on the other hand, is technology-enabled, but still a real person. You get all the benefits of sophisticated technology, and your customers get to talk to a real, live human. A friendly voice on the other end of the line makes a great impression that will help you win business.

Virtual receptionist strengths:

  • Sophisticated virtual receptionist services allow for a high-level of customization
  • Receptionists provide callers with fantastic first-impressions

Virtual receptionist weaknesses:

  • More expensive than an automation system
  • Limited to the information you provide the receptionists

Discover everything there is to know about a virtual receptionist service!

What is right for you?

Business size, preferences, call volume, industry—all of these factors play an important role in choosing the right service for your unique business needs. If customer service is important to you, we always recommend providing callers with access to a real person instead of a robot (for more, check out our guide to the ROI of personal connections). It tells your customers that they’re important to you. It’s a small thing your business can do to make a great impression that turns callers into loyal customers.

Want to learn more about a virtual receptionist service? Learn more in our free ebook, What is a virtual receptionist?

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Katharine Nester, Ruby®‘s Chief Product and Technology Officer, and Steve Severance, Ruby’s VP of Engineering, shared the Ruby blueprint for delivering exceptional service at the Twilio SIGNAL conference! Together they discussed how Ruby delivers delight through real, human connections.

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The Ford Foundation recently wrote an article about the way bots are changing the face of donor engagement for nonprofits. One bot brings an organization to the surface of the Twitter-sphere by posting photos of obscure pieces of art. Another bot, created by Lokai and Charity: Water lets people “Walk With Yeshi” on a two-and-a-half hour tour that showed what one young girl went through each day to find clean water. These moments of meaningful interaction are only made possible through the combination of human interaction and technology.

Understanding this combination gives you the power to stretch your business’ capabilities.

Technology Affects Relationships

People are often caught in the push and pull of technological connectedness and the perceived deterioration of face-to-face interaction—a result of the widespread use of smartphones. And yet, people of all ages are addicted to their phones. The truth is, the pull of technology doesn’t always have the negative impact that people assume it does.

Think of it this way:

  • Technology allows for the electricity that now powers our daily lives, personally and professionally.
  • Technology created the telephone, the conference call, and video sharing software like Skype—empowering you to connect with family across the country or your top client across the globe.
  • Technology brought us the internet, which is the ultimate opportunity for human connection. It brings people together professionally, through social media (which can create real connections, believe it or not), and even empowers us to sustain relationships from huge physical distances.

In many cases, technology enhances relationships. It doesn’t replace them. When used strategically, your business can use tools like chat on your website, your phone line, and video tutorials to enhance relationships with customers. It’s still human. You just don’t have to be in the same physical location.

Look at Technology Through a New Screen

Technology empowers meaningful conversations. Unless you have a bricks-and-mortar shop with a steady and strong following of local customers, you’re using technology to communicate with your target audience. I’m willing to bet that even your favorite locally-owned coffee shop is using at least some form of technology to grow their business.

The trick is to be strategic. Every company connects with their customers differently, in different places. And every individual has different ways they like to interact with the businesses they support.

Maybe you love email. Or maybe you’d rather Facebook message a company when you have a quick question. For others, chat on a business’ website may be the right choice.

To effectively empower human interactions through technology, it’s important that you understand your customers. You want to talk to them in the same place they’re looking to talk to you.

Make Technology Work for You

At some level, everyone uses technology to make connections. It’s become such an ingrained part of our culture that no matter how much you love or hate it, businesses can’t really run without it. As long as you’re thoughtful about how you use it, technology can revolutionize the way your business interacts with customers.

  • Marketing and Customer Service: Use technology to add value to your customers’ lives. Start a blog and share content from influencers within your company. Start pulling in email marketing campaigns and newsletters that share real, valuable insights and news. Connect with individuals on social media by responding to their interactions and even reaching out to them. It may be virtual communication, but it can still be personal, meaningful, and real.
  • Project Management: Strengthen communications within your team—even remote team members—with tools like Basecamp, Asana, Trello, and Jira. These tools bring your team together, even if they’re physically far apart. When they’re used well, they’re powerful.
  • Team Relations: If you work remotely, you may already know the value of technology. But did you know you can use it to help your team members bond with each other? We love Facebook Business, which takes the familiar platform and turns it into an instant online office, where you can chat with co-workers about work and personal happenings.

The key to enhancing human interaction with technology is remembering that technology should never replace the human element. No matter how smart your bots and AI technology gets, it will never replace the sincerity and power of a business owner or employee interacting with a customer.

Gabe Arnold

Gabe Arnold is the founder of Copywriter Today where you can get unlimited fresh content for all your marketing needs. If you want 250 free headline ideas for your next marketing campaign, use their free tool here.

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The service blueprint process

A service blueprint is a fundamental component of service design—it’s a method that allows you to identify the people, processes, and systems needed to deliver amazing service, by providing a robust organizational framework.

Service design is defined as the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication, and material components of a service to improve its quality and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.

In a preceding article, we talked about getting in your customer’s shoes with service design, detailing how you can strategically get to know your customers. Today we’re going to talk about a particular part of the service design process—your service blueprint—using Ruby’s famous Fashion Friday as an example.

Recently, Ruby’s Director of User Experience, Terri Haswell, hosted a service blueprint workshop at the monthly Service Design PDX Meetup. Sara Mesing and Christopher Machuca, the co-founders of the Meetup, guided the participants through the service blueprint process. The goal? To use a service blueprint to better understand a specific journey—in this case, the Fashion Friday experience.

To add authenticity to the experience, Macie, Ruby’s Associate UX Designer and Marcella, one of our Office Experience Managers played the role of subject matter experts—one from the perspective of a Ruby participating in Fashion Friday and the other as someone who plays an active role in making Fashion Friday happen. A service design blueprint is most effective when the voices involved in its development come from stakeholders in the process. Since Macie and Marcella both participate in and help make Fashion Friday possible, their insights are integral to laying out a successful blueprint.

The service blueprint.

To make use of a service blueprint you need to first map a customer journey. A journey map captures the end-to-end user journey, uncovering the highs and lows people feel as they try to meet a goal or satisfy a need. A service blueprint is a method that allows you to identify the people, processes, and systems needed to deliver on the steps in your customer’s journey.
You can break your blueprint into three parts:

  • The Front Stage – Where your customer interacts with your service or product.
  • The Back Stage – Everything required to produce the front stage experience.
  • Behind the Scenes—the systems and processes that keep things moving but are never experienced directly by the customers.

A well put together service blueprint will show you where processes can be improved, shortened, or clarified to achieve a smooth journey to a given goal and who needs to be involved in supporting each step of the journey.

The Fashion Friday service blueprint process.

Fashion Friday is Ruby’s response to the traditional Casual Friday. We just took a not-so-casual approach! Dating back to 2011, Rubys dress up in costumes or fun outfits to reflect a preselected theme. Each week photos are taken and shared for voting to select a winner. From floral to ugly sweaters and bad hair to Pokémon, each week’s theme is creative, unique, and irrevocably Ruby.

As casual and fun as the themes are, there are quite a few people and processes in place that keep Fashion Friday running—both for the organizers and the participants.

We mapped out a 13-step journey for the person who was going to be dressing up that includes getting the notice, figuring out what to wear, transporting their costume, signing up, getting photos taken, voting, and all the little details that are all too easy to overlook.

  • Journey/Front Stage—participation in Fashion Friday, from learning about the theme and getting dressed up, all the way to voting in the competition.
  • Back Stage—what we need to do to inform Rubys of upcoming themes, send out reminders, provide them with a means of voting, and share winners.
  • Behind the Scenes—systems for communication including SharePoint and Outlook.

The process
Think of your service design blueprint process like a brainstorm. You need poster board, sticky notes, and a collaborative mindset! In this example, we mapped out the 13 steps and made suggestions and discussed options on each step.

The goals
The goal was to identify pain points from both the user’s journey and the people supporting the journey. By creating this as a visual blueprint it was easy to start seeing areas of opportunity. People were excited to talk about how to inspire participation and how to overcome the administrative and logistical difficulty associated with organizing this event every week. Often new opportunities bubble up throughout the blueprinting process. This is where those varied perspectives really come in handy.

The Outcome
Participants in the workshop found the process engaging and enlightening. They also enjoyed learning about a little slice of life at Ruby.


Leah B.—What an engaging and informative workshop! Thanks to all the folks at Ruby and Chris and Sara for organizing and providing this great opportunity!
Chris G. — Excellent service design workshop. Far exceeded my expectations. Many thanks.


Do you have a service or process you’re looking to improve? A service blueprint can be applied to any experience or journey to make sure you understand all it takes to reach a goal.

Example service blueprint.

Service blueprint example

On top of being a great experience and opportunity for improvement, the creativity and collaboration associated with a service blueprint can be a lot of fun!

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Missed connections translate to lost revenue. With Ruby, you have a partner in gaining and retaining customers. Plus, we’re so confident you’ll love our service, we offer a 21 day money-back guarantee*.

*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the canceled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner. Some restrictions may apply.