What is an answering service?

Reading time:
How do answering services work

An answering service is a company that answers phone calls on behalf of another business. 

That’s it, that’s the straightforward definition. What it doesn’t capture is the many differences between providers, types of professional answering services, and the impact an answering service can have on your business. 

Depending on what kind of solution you choose, using an answering service can be so much more than paying someone else to pick up the phone.

A high-quality professional answering service can present your business in a positive light to new and existing customers, improving your brand image as well as customer satisfaction and retention rates. And the best answering service providers create meaningful, personal connections with every caller, ensuring your business stands out as truly attentive and customer-centric.

Keep reading to learn what kinds of answering services exist, how those services work, the pros and cons of using an answering service, and how to choose the ideal answering service for your business.

What this article covers:

  • What types of answering services exist?
  • How does an answering service work?
  • What are the business benefits of answering services?
  • What to look for in an answering service?
  • Answering service solutions with Ruby.

What types of answering services exist?

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of services that answer your phone:

Interactive Voice Response Systems

These are the so-called “robots” or “autoresponders” that provide lists of rudimentary self-service and transfer options—as in “press ‘3’ to check the status of a prescription” or “press ‘6’ to speak to a pharmacist.” 

Benefits

Interactive voice response systems (IVR) and other automated solutions are easy to scale because their interactive component is very simple.

Challenges

Some IVR and IVR-equivalent technologies attempt to handle the customer interaction entirely from beginning to end; they may ask a caller to “please describe your problem in a few words” and then perform an action the caller could have done for themselves, or (more often, it seems) reply with a “sorry, I didn’t get that.” Interactive voice response systems (IVR) and other automated solutions remove or obfuscate the human element on the business side of the phone call. Most automated answering services fail to understand context or tone and can’t deal with questions or requests they aren’t preprogrammed to respond to.

An automated answering service may be a good choice for…

  • businesses that receive calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • businesses that receive more calls at once than a team of human agents could handle
  • businesses whose customers frequently need immediate, relatively basic assistance

Note that in any of these cases, an automated solution should be used to supplement—rather than replace—a human answering service agent.

Call Centers

This is the traditional answering service, less personal than a virtual receptionist but still a real person. Call centers are large operations that specialize in sales, marketing, and customer support over the phone.

Benefits

Call centers are built for size and speed. They’re used by businesses that need to handle a high volume of low-complexity calls at once—as quickly as possible.

Challenges

Unlike virtual receptionists, who provide personalized customer service experiences, call center agents typically work from pre-written scripts. When your call is routed to a call center, you know that you didn’t reach someone at the actual business. Call center teams are much larger than virtual receptionist teams (think 200 people versus 20) and tend to undergo less intensive training for each client they serve. Finally, many call centers differ from virtual receptionists in the fact that their bread and butter are outbound rather than inbound calls. They excel more as calling services than answering services.

Call centers are a good choice for…

  • large B2C companies
  • businesses with thousands of customers
  • businesses in high-sales industries such as retail, automotive insurance, and telecommunications

Virtual Receptionists

Virtual receptionists are human beings who manage phone calls remotely (virtually) for business clients. The only difference is that they don’t work onsite.

Benefits

To a caller dialing up a company, a virtual receptionist is indistinguishable from someone located on the business’s premises. They work the same way conventional receptionists do—answering and transferring calls, scheduling new appointments, taking messages, collecting caller information, answering basic FAQs, and so forth. 

Unlike the traditional answering service in the form of large call centers, Ruby’s virtual receptionist service is rooted in the small business experience. Ruby receptionists are trained on the value of the phone call for small business and are dedicated to the creation of real, meaningful connections–it’s not just answering the phone. 

Challenges

With so many opportunities to customize virtual receptionist performance, your business will time at the outset detailing your preferences, talking points, and workflow. Ideally, the virtual receptionist provider will make these introductory steps easy (like Ruby does). This might be more involved than the onboarding process for a generic call center, but it’s an investment in long term workflow efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Virtual receptionists are a good choice for…

  • Small and medium-sized businesses
  • B2B companies
  • Businesses in high-touch industries such as healthcare, real estate, law, and financial services
  • Businesses that receive calls at unexpected hours and frequencies
  • Businesses looking to differentiate their customer service

Learn more about virtual receptionist services with our virtual receptionist overview.

How do answering services work?

Depending on the type of answering service you use and your purpose for using it, your answering service might:

  • Forward callers to you or another individual in your company
  • Take messages
  • Sell to prospects
  • Resolve customer issues
  • Collect customer feedback and/or personal data
  • And more…

Despite their differences, there are a few elements that are consistent through answering service options. When you use an answering service, you’re paying for someone else to represent your business over the phone, greet callers on your behalf, and attend to those callers’ needs.

…or all of the above, along with anything else you can imagine an agent can do over the phone. 

After taking a call for you, a good answering service (usually one in the virtual receptionist category) will typically follow up by sending you an email, text message, or app notification with the caller’s message or voicemail. The entire process happens behind the scenes, so callers are seamlessly forwarded to an agent who’s ready to greet them and manage their request swiftly, courteously, and professionally.

And, when it’s done really well, the caller truly believes that they spoke to a receptionist in your actual office.

Bonus: Phone Number

You don’t necessarily need to get a new number for your business—often, answering services will allow you forward your existing phone number (all the time, part of the time, or on a delayed basis), or port the number over to them directly

Though, if you’re currently publishing your personal number, some answering services (like Ruby!) will provide a second, professional number for you. You can then publish this number and take calls from it on your personal phone–protecting your privacy and giving you two phone lines from one device. 

Many answering services offer flexibility, so you can outsource calls when you need to (e.g. if you’re busy or out of the office) and take the ones you’d prefer to answer personally. With more sophisticated answering services you can even set and update an availability status, giving you more flexibility and customization.

What kind of companies use answering services?

Organizations of all kinds and sizes take advantage of answering services—perhaps more often than most people realize. 

  • Entrepreneurs use answering services to offload the demand to pick up the phone themselves and to present their businesses as professionally as possible.
  • Small, internet-based businesses use answering services to protect their privacy and create virtual front offices.
  • Law firms and other professional services firms use answering services to field calls from clients and prospects.
  • Dentists and doctor’s offices use answering services to schedule patient appointments when in-house receptionists are busy.
  • Construction and real estate companies use virtual answering services to ensure calls don’t go unanswered when team members are offsite.
  • Large national and multinational corporations use answering services as dedicated sales and customer service departments.

These are just a few examples among countless others. The next time you place a call to a business, ask yourself: “Was that someone located at the business, or did I just speak to a virtual receptionist?” You may not be able to determine the answer—and that’s by design.

Virtual receptionist guide.

Learn more about the power of virtual receptionists for your business!

Download

What are the business benefits of answering services?

Given the premium customers place on personal connections, as well as the ways in which excellent customer service is a key differentiator, a good answering service has plenty to offer in terms of caller engagement and satisfaction. 

Why attempt to manage every call yourself when a professional can do it for you and ensure the best possible caller experience every time? Plus, answering services are especially advantageous for small and growing businesses. Here are a few reasons why:

Answering services can take calls when you’re busy.

Your time is valuable. Don’t let incoming calls get in the way of your and your team’s productivity. An answering service can engage with prospects, handle customer issues and inquiries, and collect critical information when you’re otherwise preoccupied.

Answering services can take calls when you’re closed.

Not every call comes in during the bounds of normal working hours. Rather than allowing potential sales opportunities go to voicemail or attempting to make yourself and your team available more than you need to be, leverage the flexibility answering services provide.

An answering service can help your business save money.

You don’t need to hire a full-time, on-site receptionist to ensure excellent customer service. An answering service can fulfill the same role at a fraction of the cost of hiring and training an employee—or several.

An answering service can increase your customer satisfaction rates.

Human connections increase customer loyalty. Report after report bears this out. For instance, Invoca found that 80% of consumers are likely or very likely to become a repeat customer after a positive phone experience.

What To Look For In An Answering Service

Thus far, we’ve looked at the many features and benefits associated with answering services. No list of pros, however, is complete without cons. It’s essential for any business owner thinking about using an answering service to consider the potential drawbacks and risks, such as the following:

Effectively trained agents
Agents should be prepared for the requests and issues that are common among your callers – even if they’re unique to your business. Not every answering service may be capable of meeting your standards, particularly if you run a highly complex or specialized operation. For example, call center agents often lack knowledge of your industry or customer niche.

Technological competence
Be ready to take the time to set everything up and test it correctly. Between call forwarding errors, failed transfers, poor-quality phone equipment, incorrectly installed automated systems, and more, there are no shortage of potential glitches. An ideal answering service will be able to safeguard against these concerns.

Agents speak your language (and stick with it)
You want agents who can maintain a consistent company voice – speaking not only in appropriate industry terminology but also in the tone that fits your brand. We’re all human and everybody makes mistakes, but how an agent recovers from an occasional mistake is important. In addition to their technical capabilities and industry experience, pay attention to their professionalism.

Sensible pricing model
If you aren’t getting enough calls, it’s probably not worth paying someone to answer them. The costs may not justify the benefits. An answering service can delight your callers and help you convert business, but they can’t generate calls where they aren’t already coming in!

alternatives to automated answering service for small business

Answering service solutions with Ruby

At Ruby, we’ve built our solution with the needs of growing businesses in mind. Unlike a traditional answering service, we focus on creating personal connections with callers, turning rings into relationships and maximizing customer satisfaction and affinity for every organization we serve.

Today, ten thousand businesses across North America—from attorneys to roofers to marketing firms, nonprofits, and everything in between—trust Ruby to represent them over the phone and online.

Not sure if Ruby is right for you? Whatever path you take, we want to help you create more meaningful connections with the people who call your business. Talk to us.

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Ruby was founded in 2003 on little more than a humble SBA loan and a big idea. I remember the day our tiny Portland-based studio “opened” for business, and how we waited nearly three weeks for our first customer. I had no previous experience managing people, let alone starting up and running a business. But what I did possess is creativity and the desire to problem solve. I knew that the service we were offering was valuable to people — the question was how to go about getting it to them. 

I worked tirelessly, and sleeplessly, on this puzzle for the next five years. And somewhere in those early days, a friend recommended Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. As a person who generally prefers to figure things out for herself, I wasn’t particularly interested in picking up a “how-to” business book. Around the same time, my customers and fellow small business owners urged me to join the Entrepreneur’s Organization. To do this, I needed an annual revenue of at least $1 million. So, I strung together 12 months of revenue that amounted to a million and joined Portland’s chapter of EO. 

Again, and with little surprise, Verne Harnish’s work was in my orbit. EO itself was created by Harnish, and my peers had found value in his book. Alas, semi-begrudgingly and with little expectations, I picked up a copy of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. 

Turns out, I couldn’t have caved at a better time. With 2008’s recession on our heels, this book set Ruby’s success in motion. All of the resting potential energy that had been building since our very first phone call suddenly had a place to go. For the second time in Ruby-history, we were off to the races! 

The Planning Pyramid  

Verne Harnish handed me a blueprint to running a business with The Planning Pyramid. One of the first questions posed by the Pyramid is around purpose. Why do you do what you do? What is your motivation for getting up and coming to work every morning? How can you set goals to lead up to something bigger when you can’t name that overarching theme, that all-encompassing reason? 

For Ruby, our purpose was to create the kind of real, meaningful connections that enable small businesses to flourish. So when the recession hit, we decided that if we were going to go out, we were going to go out swinging. We turned up the volume on being there for our customers to make them feel a little less alone. We started our WOW program, began systematizing what it means for Ruby to go above and beyond…and gosh, we actually started to grow. 

And then, after not only surviving but thriving through an economic downturn, we set targets. Big targets. Verne refers to these as Big Hairy Audacious Goals in his book. We asked ourselves where we wanted to be ten years down the road and what we needed to accomplish within the next 90 days to move the dial. Every day, every week, every quarter we thought about the Planning Pyramid. In fact, a decade later, we still show the Pyramid at our quarterly staff meetings and design our next-steps around it. 

Exceptional customer service has always been table stakes for Ruby, but when we doubled-down on our purpose and developed systems that could support us in our effort to really show up for our customers, we were reminded of how special our mission is. I wanted my team to feel this, to have a set of values that accurately reflect the spirit of what we did every single day. 

Cue the creation of our Core Values. 

Core Values 

Ruby had a set of core values before the impact of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits could be felt within our company, but they were lackluster and, frankly, borrowed. I can’t even remember them now and was hard-pressed to recite them then, but they embodied the same sort of forgettable, generic language that any uninspired work might. 

With a clear purpose, a struggle, and a couple of wins under our belts, we set to work in writing, as Verne puts it, a constitution for our company. We knew who we were, the reason for the work that we did, our goals, and the kind of people-powered culture we were cultivating. In understanding these foundational characteristics of Ruby’s identity, our first four Core Values were born: Foster Happiness, Create Community, Innovate, and Practice WOWism

Since then, we’ve held ourselves accountable to these values. From big business decisions to every-day actions, when in doubt we ask ourselves, “Does this align with who we are?” 

It was an exciting day when we were able to add ‘Grow’ to this list. When our team suddenly sprang to over 300 hundred strong across three different offices and we were in step with our growth goals, the addition felt pretty natural. 

Just last month, I was able to retire (well, “retire”). And when I left, we had over 10,000 customers across the country, over 600 employees, and a self-perpetuating culture that often leaves me at a loss for words. There was a moment when all of this could have failed, when I could have failed. But, in taking a little advice from my friends and cracking open a book, we were able to really open Ruby up. 

What could a book like this do for you? 

Get social and join the conversation with #RubyReads.

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Here at Ruby, our small business roots run deep. Whether we are reflecting on our own humble beginnings or elevating our service to better meet the needs of our customers and their callers—we’re on a mission to help small businesses grow.

When Ruby was founded in 2003, it was by a former receptionist who had little more than a big small business dream and a modest SBA loan. The recession hit five years into getting her company off the ground. Ruby went from barely-surviving to thriving that year. How? It all started with a book.

We’re taking a page out of Ruby’s history to create an opportunity for small business owners to access and share their greatest resources while discovering what has worked for others. From our own executives and subject-matter experts to industry leaders to our customers, you can expect to see a wide breadth of reads curated by Ruby.

First up, Ruby’s Founder and recently-retired CEO talks Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, and how Verne Harnish handed her a blueprint for her business.

Next, we’ll be interviewing Ruby’s CEO, Kate Winkler, on her favorite book for business. Stay tuned!


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Bottom line, when I saw Ruby’s pricing and the quality of your service, I said, ‘Let’s try this out because I guarantee it costs me more money to have my team multitask and be disrupted by answering the phones.’”

What is the opportunity cost of spending time on the phone when your team is already busy? What about the cost of missed calls?

At Axia Public Relations, client connections are key to their business growth.

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You want to make more money and grow your real estate business, but you don’t want to spend more time at the office behind a computer screen. So how are top agents and brokers growing their real estate business while maintaining a healthy work/life balance? We talked to two real estate agents (both commercial and residential) who shared how they maximize their income by placing a higher value on creating community.

Why Creating Community is an Income-Driver

Great realtors are more than sales agents. They’re connectors—people who bring residents together, people who cultivate communities, people like Garett Chadney, one of the principal brokers and owners of The Broker Network who met his business partner at a community leadership event. 

The company works across both residential and commercial real estate in the Pacific Northwest. With four offices in Oregon and Washington and more than 26 years experience in real estate, Chadney knows what it takes to nurture successful client relationships while scaling his company’s revenue year after year.

According to Chadney, “Community can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But for me, it means doing right by the people that are around you. Whether it’s our agents here at The Broker Network, or going out and participating in various activities within our community—there are so many ways to do right by people and create that sense of community. What we try to do here is serve our clients in the best way possible and what we’ve found is that people appreciate how we do business and they keep coming back. We have a lot of repeat business and that’s really important to us.”

Building an expectation of trust and reliability with your existing clients and in your community isn’t just the right thing to do, it also plays a major role in your ability to grow a network and generate income. Especially when you consider that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know over any other form of advertising.

How To Grow Your Real Estate Business By Creating Community

J’nai Stuller, a newer commercial real estate agent in Indianapolis, Indiana, talked with us about the importance of creating community as you build your network.

“I love meeting new people and build my network by getting out and doing things for others. For years, I have been involved with a foundation called Samantha’s House & Van Foundation that works toward helping build houses for persons that have been seriously injured and need home adaptations/modifications to make everyday life work for them. By getting involved I have been able to meet wonderful people and help make the lives of families a little easier.”

In the book, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, research professor and NYT bestselling author, Brené Brown, advises that “trust is in fact earned in the smallest of moments. It is earned not through heroic deeds, or even highly visible actions, but through paying attention, listening, and gestures of genuine care and connection.”

Which is interesting, because many of us think that trust is built in those big moments or at crucial moments, but the research shows that trust is typically built over time with small actions. 

It truly is the “little things” that make the biggest difference to your bottom line. Excellence practiced in the everyday is how top performers maintain their top status. Building trust with your clients is key to the development of long-term relationships.  

Which means that as a real estate broker or agent, it’s not enough to focus only on negotiating terms on behalf of your clients or closing day logistics and celebrations. Every client interaction, no matter how small, is an opportunity for you to build trust.

Leverage Every Opportunity

In the age of Zillow, Redfin and Trulia, buyers and sellers are able to do that first-step research on their own. So when it is time to engage with an agent, what they’re really looking for is a one-to-one personal connection with an agent or broker who they can trust and who is available when they have a question or want to check-in. 

People today are looking for that sense of community and personalized service that they can’t get from a mega-platform or mobile app. Whether it’s taking the time to write an extra sentence or two to personalize a standard client email, or ensuring that you’re always reachable on all channels during business hours, it’s good practice to take an inventory of all the interaction opportunities that present themselves in your day-to-day client interactions.

Where might you be able to make the “little” moments more “wow!” worthy, personable, or warm? How might you foster a bit more happiness and convenience in your clients’ lives?

A good place to start is to think through the customer service moments you experience in your own life. What types of communication scenarios frustrate you or cause unnecessary inconvenience? And what types of business interactions and communications put you at ease and make your life easier?

Do you enjoy receiving handouts prior to presentations to make following along and taking notes easier? Is it nice to be offered coffee or water when you come into another person’s office for a meeting?

Anticipating your clients’ needs and preferences during every step of their interactions with your company is a chance to demonstrate just how committed you are to the relationship. It’s also a way to build hard-won trust over time. 

Be Predictably Excellent

Dependability and consistency play a crucial role in maintaining the goodwill and momentum you work so hard to achieve in your real estate business. The nature of the industry—handling someone else’s big-ticket purchase or sale—means that trust is a critical component of doing business. 

Clients (and potential clients) must feel that they can depend on you. Which is why even one missed call or subpar interaction can cost you big time. The ROI of personal connections cannot be underestimated. Which is why even though you may not always be able to speak with a client when they call, it’s important to have someone available to answer their calls during business hours. Whether it’s a full-time solution for your business, or simply a way to cover lunch breaks, vacations, sick days or the overflow work for your in-house receptionist—having a remote receptionist will ensure that you are always providing predictably excellent service to all of your callers.

Meet Them Where They’re At

Your clients’ expectations, as it relates to being able to communicate with you, are evolving rapidly. With the proliferation of social media messaging options, “always-on” text messaging, and live chat options, people expect to be able to connect with your company, ask questions and receive answers immediately. Being available to connect in the moments when your clients and prospects choose to reach out to you is fast becoming a baseline expectation. We all know the experience of calling a business and being sent to voicemail, and many people now choose to forego leaving a message altogether—either hanging up to send a text message or email, or dialing a competitor in hopes that they’ll answer the phone.  

Be there for your clients/prospects when it counts QUOTE from influencer

What Creating Community Can Mean to Your Bottom Line

Fostering a true sense of community with your client base is shown to drive a true difference to your bottom line. An increase in the volume of positive connections and interactions you have with people can only lead to a larger network and an increase in business opportunities. So what can creating community mean for your business? Let’s take a look at a simple step you can take today—answering your phone 100% of the time during business hours.

If you get three inquiry calls each business day and answer 100% of them, you’ll wind up receiving approximately 60 inbound calls each month. If just 13.25% of those calls result in a new business dealing, you’re looking at eight new qualified leads every month. And with 17% of those leads expected (on average) to become new clients, you’re looking at earning one new client every month. With the average deal size being $279,000, at a 3% commission rate, residential real estate brokers stand to earn an extra $8,370 every month—just from answering the phone!

Discover the power of personal connections. Try Ruby’s virtual receptionist and live chat services risk-free with a 21-day money-back guarantee. 

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What does a Virtual Receptionist do?

Reading time:

What is a virtual receptionist? What does a virtual receptionist do? How does a virtual receptionist differ from an answering service or call center? What makes them “virtual,” exactly? And what are the benefits of a virtual receptionist for your business?

You’ve got questions—we’ve got answers. I could run through each question and give you a dry explanation, but it’s probably faster (and more fun to read) if I show you what a virtual receptionist does.

A Call With a Virtual Receptionist

Imagine this: You’ve just placed a call to a business. Let’s say it’s your local printer—you need fliers printed for a last-minute event. As the phone rings, your heart rate rises a bit with anticipation:

How long will this take?

What kind of customer service are you about to experience?

Will the person on the other end be able to help you? Are they going to answer?

Will you even be talking to a person, or are you about to encounter something else entirely—one of those automated systems that seems to offer every help option except for the one you need?

But then someone answers—a human being.

“Thank you for calling ABC Printing. This is Danielle. How may I help you today?”

You tell Danielle about your last-minute order. She listens to your explanation, making you feel heard.  When you ask about the printer’s hours, and a couple of basic FAQs, she has the answer ready. Then, she offers to transfer you directly to the sales manager.

You say sure, that sounds good.

Within a couple of minutes, you’ve had your questions answered, you got in contact with the sales rep, placed your order, and you never even had to talk to a robot. Customer service: complete.

Ready for a twist? Danielle isn’t actually located at ABC Printing’s offices, nor is she technically an employee of the company.

Danielle is a virtual receptionist.

Shocker, I know. “But she seemed so real!” you’re thinking. “She was able to handle the call so effectively!”

That’s because Danielle is real. (Well, she’s a fictional construct for this blog post, but you get the idea). And the reason she can seamlessly provide customer service for a company she doesn’t work at is that she’s been thoroughly trained to do it. Danielle is a human receptionist, the same as any professional who takes calls and coordinates other forms of business communication for a living. She’s “virtual” in the sense that—to a customer or client—she’s virtually identical to an on-site receptionist.

Over the phone, a virtual receptionist can do pretty much everything a conventional receptionist does, including…

  • Answering calls
  • Representing your business to callers
  • Transferring calls
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Taking messages
  • Collecting and relaying information on your behalf
  • Making outbound calls
  • Resolving basic customer/client issues

How virtual receptionists differ from other answering services.

A virtual receptionist is not

  • a call center. Call centers are built for size and speed. They’re used by businesses that need to handle a high volume of low-complexity calls at once—as quickly as possible. In contrast to virtual receptionists, who provide personalized customer service experiences, call center agents typically work more or less exclusively from pre-written scripts. Call center teams are much larger than virtual receptionist teams (think 200 people versus 20) and tend to undergo less intensive training.
  • an interactive voice response system (IVR) or other automated solution. Again, don’t let the word “virtual” confuse you—virtual receptionists are living, breathing humans. They can understand more than button presses and programmed conversation strings, and they can do more than transfer a caller or offer rudimentary self-service assistance. Virtual receptionists adapt their approaches to every context and caller, meaning they can handle urgent requests on the fly and work around unforeseen obstacles.

The benefits of a Virtual Receptionist

Given the premium customers place on personal connections, as well as the ways in which excellent customer service is a key differentiator, practically any business can benefit from having a virtual receptionist available to answer calls. Indeed, recent customer service trends suggest phone calls are more important than ever.

That said, virtual receptionists are especially advantageous for small and growing businesses. Consider a few reasons why:

Virtual receptionists can answer calls when you’re busy. Your time is valuable. Don’t let incoming calls get in the way of your and your team’s productivity. A virtual receptionist can engage with prospects, handle customer issues and inquiries, and collect critical information when you’re otherwise preoccupied.

Virtual receptionists can answer calls when you’re closed. Not every call comes in during the bounds of normal working hours. Rather than allowing potential sales opportunities go to voicemail or sacrificing your personal time (and sanity) attempting to make yourself available, leverage the flexibility virtual receptionist services provide.

Virtual receptionists can help your business save money. You don’t need to hire a full-time, on-site receptionist to ensure excellent customer service. Virtual receptionists can fulfill the same role at a fraction of the cost of hiring and training an employee.

Virtual receptionists can increase your customer satisfaction rates. Human connections increase customer loyalty. Report after report bears this out. For instance, Invoca found that 80% of consumers are likely or very likely to become a repeat customer after a positive phone experience.

Ruby’s Virtual Receptionists

At Ruby, our live virtual receptionist services stand apart for the quality of our team and the depth of our platform. Over 10,000 business owners have trusted our virtual receptionists to represent them and their companies. And with an average 20% increase in sales inquiries and customer service satisfaction among Ruby customers, as well as 2–3 times quantifiable return on investment, it’s easy to see why. 


Learn more about virtual receptionists and discover what an industry-leading solution can do for your company.

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If your business is receiving more calls than you’re able or willing to answer, it’s time to consider using a virtual answering service.

I realize that may sound daunting. When business owners first encounter the words “virtual answering service,” they frequently assume it’s something highly technological and perhaps unaffordable. They figure we’re talking about an app or automated system that greets callers robotically—essentially a fancified answering machine you have to pay a steep monthly fee for.

In reality, virtual answering services are much simpler and more analog than many people realize. When you use a virtual answering service, you’re paying a company to handle your calls for you. The phone rings and a real person answers, communicating with customers, clients, prospects, and other parties on behalf of you or your organization. 

If that sounds a lot like a receptionist, that’s because it is. In most respects, virtual answering services fulfill the functions of receptionists. The chief differences are 1. the person answering the phone isn’t an employee located at your business’s physical address, and 2. you only pay for virtual answering services when you need them. In other words, you get all the benefits of a dedicated, in-house receptionist—without the overhead.

Of course, that raises the question: Why pay anyone to answer the phone? In today’s digital world, is it even necessary to have a person pick up? The answer is an undeniable yes. Data shows that phone calls are more important to businesses than ever. A majority (65%) of potential customers prefer to reach brands by phone. They’re tired of unresponsiveness and frustrated by lackluster customer service. They want and expect to connect with friendly, professional human beings. (By the way, we’re not just referring to phone conversations, but interactions across channels and touchpoints, including live online chat.)

For virtual answering services, human = effective.

“Human” is the operative word here. For customers, clients, and prospects, the appeal of calling a business on the phone is immediate human engagement. It’s the ability to have an honest, pleasant conversation with someone who will listen, answer questions, and address concerns with understanding and empathy. 

This requires skills and training that frankly not every virtual answering service can offer. Consider your callers’ experiences. From their point of view, agents who lack conversational competency and rely on scripts aren’t much better than machines. 

Here are a few elements that set the best virtual answering services apart from the rest. Keep these key ingredients in mind when evaluating options for your business. (And feel free to practice them yourself—try them out in your next phone conversation and see how they transform your customer experience.)

Things only the best virtual answering services do.

1. Use warm greetings.

The first words a caller hears are pivotal. They set the tone—not only for the ensuing conversation, but for the caller’s overall experience with the business. 

Effective virtual answering services delight and connect with callers immediately by using warm, friendly greetings that provide essential information and frame the conversation in terms of service. They combine a polite welcome (“Good afternoon!”) with a mention of the company’s name (“This is Dr. Gomez’s office.) and an offer of assistance (“How may I help you today?”). 

Learn 3 ways to optimize your company’s greeting.

2. Practice active listening.

All good receptionists are good talkers—but the great ones are even better listeners. They know that listening is one of the most important and powerful skills in customer service. And they know that listening doesn’t just mean sitting back and hearing what the other person is saying. Instead, they practice active listening by taking notes, offering small verbal cues (“yep,” “that’s right,” “mm-hmm”), reiterating what they’ve heard, and responding in ways that indicate they’ve been paying close attention.

Learn a few tricks for leveling up your listening skills.

What is a virtual receptionist?

Get the guide to learn how live virtual receptionists can help your business grow!

Download

3. Maintain consistent business representation and brand stewardship.

The best virtual receptionists are chameleons. They can adapt their approach and conversational style to the needs of different businesses, callers, and contexts. This is founded in a deep respect for the businesses they serve and the brands those businesses have built. 

An effective virtual answering service has agents who sound like experts—people who know industry jargon, understand industry-specific issues, and can present an organization’s identity and philosophy in a concise way for newcomers.

See how we serve the legal services industry—download Ruby’s ultimate guide to virtual receptionists for attorneys.

4. Ask targeted questions.

Asking questions is one form of active listening—it shows you’re engaged and interested in what the other person is saying—but those questions need to be relevant to the conversation and, more importantly, useful

Effective virtual answering services train receptionists to use targeted questions when speaking to callers. Such questions often include the following:

  • “How may we be of service?”
  • “May I ask who is calling?”
  • “What’s the best telephone number for a return call?”
  • “When would be a good time for us to give you a call back?” 

The idea is to deftly weave targeted questions into the conversation to gather necessary information and guide interactions. If done right, the virtual answering service can obtain contact information; gauge a caller’s compatibility with the business (i.e. determine the strength of the lead); and figure out how to best serve every person’s interests, wants, and needs.

Read more about guiding callers with targeted questions.

5. Focus on caller success.

The goal of any virtual answering service is to lead callers through a dialogue that leaves them feeling-oriented, supported, and optimistic. It’s about emphasizing the caller’s success at every opportunity.

Here are a few ways we do it at Ruby:

  • Think about what’s going on at the business. It’s important to recognize the daily reality of each company we’re representing and act accordingly. For example, if there’s a certain time of day the business is busy and overwhelmed, it’s probably not a good time to transfer the call—better to take a message.
  • Manage caller expectations. If a receptionist can’t answer a caller’s question or manage their issue, they should at least be able to help that individual get a sense of how and when their issue or question will be resolved. We always make sure the person on the other end understands the timeline and the protocol for the next steps.

6. Make it as easy as possible to follow up.

Our job is to inspire the caller to take the next step, whether it’s making a purchase, showing up for an appointment they just booked, visiting the company’s website, calling back, or any number of follow-up actions. A virtual answering service should ultimately help people along the customer journey.

Discover how we make life easier and happier for our clients and their callers with contextual approaches to call handling.

7. Understand caller needs.

This is perhaps the most basic element of effective customer service—the fundamental concern of every phone call. And yet many virtual answering services lose sight of it, instead paying too much attention to inconsequential conversational nuances (“Should I say ‘hi’ or ‘hello?’ Am I addressing the customer by name often enough?” Who cares!). Simply stated, your caller’s needs are all that matters. Respect their time—keep it quick. Help them, even if you can’t answer their questions directly (never say “I don’t know”). Don’t go for the hard sell unless it’s obvious that the caller is ready for it.

Become a customer service pro with our comprehensive guide to call handling.

Virtual answering services, the Ruby way.

Let’s review. A good virtual answering service is powered by trained, capable, experienced customer service professionals who…

  • use warm greetings,
  • practice active listening,
  • ask targeted questions,
  • focus on caller success, and
  • understand caller needs.

As the leading virtual answering service for growing businesses, Ruby does all of that and more—providing our clients with happier customers, generating better quality leads, and freeing time in the days of business owners and their employees.

See why thousands of businesses trust Ruby.


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5 ways to increase revenue with Ruby.

Reading time:
ROI of virtual receptionists

Exceptional customer service experiences turn into a better bottom line, loyal customers, and a healthy, growing business.

Of course, that’s easier said than done.

But that’s why you have Ruby’s team of live virtual receptionists. With a combination of friendly, live receptionists and smart technology, Ruby’s receptionists provide your callers with those stellar experiences!

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Live chat for realtors

Are you meeting your potential clients where they are, on your website, and providing them with excellent experiences?

Research shows that 40% of live chat leads are deemed qualified, and convert at 3x the rate of all website leads (i.e. form fills). And, when customer-realtor relationships are built on trust, live chat helps your business grow by building relationships from the first interaction!

In fact, your potential new clientele is on your website right this moment. Are you capturing them and they work their way down their list of potential realtors?

In our guide you’ll discover:

  • The power of live, online chat
  • The negative impact of chatbots
  • 5 strategies to improve live chat software effectiveness
  • Online live chat agent best practices
  • And more!
  • Download the Ultimate Guide to Live Chat and discover the revenue-generating power of sales-trained chat specialists for your website!

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Call handling: a comprehensive guide.

Reading time:
good call handling skills

What is call handling?

Call handling is the a-to-z, start-to-finish, process of managing phone calls. It’s every step your organization takes when a call comes in, or when placing an outgoing call.

We’re talking about…

  • Whether or not a call gets answered
  • How it gets answered
  • The way a company representative communicates to the person on the other end
  • How the company deals with call traffic
  • How calls are routed
  • What calls are blocked
  • How issues get resolved
  • What happens when callers are transferred or put on hold
  • What information gets logged during and after a call
  • And more

Good call handling can be the difference between a positive, and decidedly negative, customer experience. Unfortunately, many businesses lack the resources to ensure high-quality call handling every time. Others aren’t familiar with call handling do’s and don’ts, and don’t even recognize a problem until it’s too late.

Here’s everything you need to know about call handling, from business benefits to best practices and industry solutions.

How does call handling work?

Call handling takes numerous forms. It varies across every business based on factors such as the organization’s size, location, customer base, operating hours, technological capabilities, and sales and support strategies. In fact, strategies for call answering and handling can range in complexity from an in-house receptionist to a live virtual receptionist service (like Ruby!), to a large call center operation with conversational scripts.

Inbound vs. outbound call handling: what’s the difference?

Inbound calls are calls made to a business. Despite inbound calls accounting for a majority of customer conversations, many organizations still let them ring to voicemail. In fact, many of these calls are from potential customers with questions about products, quote requests, appointment or consultation scheduling, etc.

The advantages of excellent inbound call handling include:

  • More calls answered
  • More leads generated
  • Faster resolution of issues
  • Fewer customer service mixups and delays
  • Less pressure on the customer service team
  • Happier customers

Outbound calls are the calls agents and other business representatives place. I.e the calls placed out from your business. These include sales pitches (e.g. “cold calls”), customer verifications, reminders about upcoming appointments, telemarketing, subscription renewals, surveys, and so forth.

The advantages of excellent outbound call handling include:

  • More outbound calls made
  • Increased sales
  • More information collected about customers
  • Less time spent on each outbound call

Should your business consider call handling?

If you’re wondering whether your business—and customers—would benefit from better call handling, the answer is almost certainly “yes.” While phone calls may seem like an old-school customer service channel, they’re as important today as ever. Actually, more people are calling businesses than any other time in history.

Consider the facts:

  • 65% of potential customers want to reach brands by phone.
  • 29% of calls lead to a purchase.
  • 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as valuable as the company’s products and services.
  • 67% of customers are willing to pay more for better service and support experiences.

Read more must-know customer service statistics.

The promise of great, or even good, call handling is speed, scale, and professionalism. A robust call handling solution empowers a business of any size to respond to as many inquiries as possible, minimize wait times, maximize efficiency, capture critical data, and ultimately provide excellent customer service.

See why it matters.

Calculate the ROI of a virtual receptionist service!

GET MY ROI

Top 3 benefits of call handling.

  1. Never miss a customer service opportunity.
  2. Save time—your team’s and your customer’s.
  3. Provide extraordinary customer experiences.

However, depending on what solution an organization uses, the costs can outweigh the potential benefits. Call answering and handling technology can be complex and difficult to set up. Providers may saddle the business with inequitable contracts and expensive fees.

A worst-case scenario would be sending your potential customers to people who aren’t familiar with your business, or even dead air! And, if the solution hasn’t been properly vetted, the business risks sending the wrong message—literally—to the people who matter most.

3 risks of a lackluster or poorly integrated call handling solution.

  1. Sunk costs.
  2. Unhappy customers.
  3. Damage to your brand and reputation.

The key to effective call handling is connection with customers. Businesses that do call handling right prioritize their customers’ needs at every stage throughout the process and focus their efforts on building and strengthening customer relationships.

The do’s and dont’s of call handling.

Do you know what it takes to connect with customers and deliver stellar experiences?

If customer sentiment is any indication, most businesses fall short. From one-person teams to advanced call centers and answering networks, there’s always opportunity to improve. Check out a few of Ruby’s call handling best practices.

Call Handling Best Practices:

How to Connect with Callers

Do…

  • Answer the phone as quickly as possible. Step one to successful call answering is speed. The faster a caller can resolve their issue or inquiry—usually, by connecting with a real human who’s ready to help—the better.
  • Greet your caller graciously. “Hello” doesn’t cut it. Begin with something nice like “Thank you for calling,” end with a “How may I help you?” and be sure to slip your company name in the middle. Above all, you want to leave your callers with a positive impression.
  • Personalize the interaction. This is where access to good data, and knowing how to use it, comes in. With data you not only know a callers name, but you also their background, experiences with your company, and—ideally—the reason why they may be calling. This information empowers you to tailor conversations to every caller.
  • Mind your manners. Kindness and an ear for etiquette both go a long way. Ask for information rather than demanding it, as in “May I say who is calling?” and “May I have your name?” Use “please” and “thank you” as much as possible. Remember: everyone wants to be treated with respect.
  • Keep calm. Emotions can run high during a phone call. Whenever possible, avoid taking a customer’s anger or disappointment personally. Be kind to the other person—and yourself—and you can overcome unpleasant experiences while minimizing any additional frustration.

Don’t…

  • Add unnecessary obstacles for your customers. Nobody likes talking to a robot. Unless your business absolutely needs it, ditch the multiple-choice routing system (e.g. “Press 1 for technical support, 2 for sales…”) and the phone tree. A worthwhile call handling system can address the complexities of routing and forwarding behind the scenes, without entangling your customers.
  • Try to resolve every issue alone. Great customer service agents know that it’s not about having the answer to every question, but about knowing what to say when you don’t know. Instead of saying “I don’t know,” accentuate what you can do. “Let me find out for you” and “Let me connect you with the best person to help you” are excellent responses!
  • Create dead ends. When you’re not able to reach the person your caller is seeking, always offer to take a message or transfer the caller to voicemail. Similarly, never make your caller ask to leave a message—it’s awkward and off-putting. It’s as easy as this: “Tim’s in a meeting. May I take a message?”
  • Get caught up in a mistake. Everyone, at some point, has said the wrong thing on the phone. Agents have overpromised, overshared, used an incorrect name or form of address—the list goes on. Nearly any flub can be remedied with friendliness. Remember: you’re a person communicating with another person, so be prepared to be a human being and forgive yourself.

Looking for a great company greeting? Learn a few Ruby-approved strategies for leaving a lasting impression as soon as you answer the phone.

3 keys to customer conversations.

  1. Keep it positive.
  2. Keep it personal.
  3. Keep it fast.

Here are a few practical ways to forge connections while responding to potentially challenging customer requests:

When it’s a basic question, but you need a moment to find the answer:

  • Great question! Let me find the answer for you.
  • I’d be happy to find out. Would you mind holding for a moment?

When you don’t know the answer, but you know who does:

  • Great question! Let me put you in touch with Susan—she’ll be happy to answer it.
  • Tim would be the best person to help you. He’ll be happy to return your call. May I have your telephone number?

When you don’t know the answer, and you’re not sure who does:

  • Great question! Let me find the best person to answer it.
  • Great question! I’ll find the best person to answer it, and have that person return your call. May I have your telephone number?

When the question is about someone’s whereabouts or schedule, such as “When will he be back in the office?” or “When can I meet with her?”:

  • He keeps his own schedule, but I’ll be sure to have him return your call as soon as possible. May I have your telephone number?
  • She keeps her own schedule, but she’ll be happy to return your call and set up an appointment. May I have your telephone number?

When your caller presses you for information you don’t have:

  • I would hate to give you any misinformation. Susan is the best person to answer your questions, and she’ll be happy to talk with you. May I have your telephone number, so Susan can return your call?
  • Our attorney will be happy to help you—I would hate to give you any misinformation. Let me try to reach her for you.

Learn more.

See how a virtual receptionist combines smart call handling and friendly receptionists in our free guide!

DOWNLOAD

Call handling solutions with Ruby.

Ruby is a call handling industry leader. When you work with us, you not only gain a top-rated virtual receptionist service but a partner for customer satisfaction and business growth. Our team of live, virtual receptionists can communicate with customers on behalf of your company 24/7, 365 days a year. Take control of your day-to-day by answering only the calls you want to answer and outsourcing the rest.

Ruby’s customizable call handling platform includes everything you need to impress your callers and customers:

  • Create a custom greeting
  • Set call-answering instructions
  • Engage customers with 24/7 live answering and website chat
  • Screen and transfer calls automatically
  • Receive real-time updates and notifications
  • Manage calls on the go with the Ruby mobile app

See why we’ve received an average of 5/5 stars in over 400 reviews on Trustpilot. Discover Ruby’s call handling services for yourself.

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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.