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?”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.