Does your business need an answering service?

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I’ll let you in on a little secret: not every business answers its own phone. A large and growing number of companies use answering services.

These companies include law firms, healthcare providers, marketing agencies, real estate firms, construction companies, manufacturers, home services providers, and many more. Individual professionals such as solo attorneys, accountants, plumbers, HVAC technicians, chiropractors, consultants, and entertainers use answering services, too.

In fact, anyone can use an answering service. That includes you. If you want to make sure your callers always reach a real person, but you or your team are unable to answer every call (or just don’t want to), it may be time to consider using an answering service.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about answering services. In this article, we’ll cover the following:

Table of contents

What is an answering sevice?

In simple terms, an answering service is a company you hire to answer your business phone line for you.

Answering services come in many shapes and sizes. What they can do for your business varies depends on what type of service you use. But at their core, all answering services are built on the same basic value proposition: making sure your callers reach a live human being who represents your business—when that human being can’t be you or one of your team members. 

Wouldn’t it be great if all business phone calls happened during business hours? There would be no debate between answering service vs. in-house receptionist. But people’s lives don’t work like that.

People have jobs, families, pets, sick days, vacations, and day-to-day responsibilities. People might not know they need to reach your business until you’ve closed for the day. Broken furnaces and legal issues don’t stick to the 9–5 either. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to be awake and attending to your customers’, clients’, or patients’ needs 24/7/365. An answering service can take care of that for you. 

Answering services for very small businesses and sole proprietors

An answering service allows your business to be available at all times while ensuring you have the time you need to eat, sleep, focus, have meetings, or even take a much-deserved day off (gasp!). In other words, when you’re the main point of contact for your business, an answering service creates a buffer between you and your business.

Answering services for small-to-medium-sized businesses

If you have one or more in-house receptionists or team members who answer calls, an answering service can act as support or a backup solution. You can use an answering service to ensure coverage after-hours as well as on holidays and weekends, or any time your business is disrupted or your people need to work uninterrupted. Some answering services provide flexible options such as delayed call-forwarding, allowing you to decide when the service answers your calls (e.g. during certain days or hours, or after a certain number of rings).

Why use an answering service?

Why use an answering service if people can just visit your website when your business is unavailable to take calls?

Good question, self! (Thanks, self.) While your website absolutely should be part of your strategy for connecting with current and potential customers, relying on it for after-hours communication leaves opportunities on the table. Consider the fact that 65% of customers still prefer a phone call over other means of connecting with businesses. 

What about voicemail?

Wow, great questions today, self. Yes, voicemail is certainly one option you can offer your callers when no one is available to pick up.

But it’s not an option most callers like.

As a matter of fact, 76% of customers hang up when they encounter a voicemail recording. 

Many people choose to call the next business on their list when they reach voicemail because they’d rather not wait to hear back. They want to talk to someone right now. And if a representative of your business doesn’t pick up, that someone is likely going to be one of your competitors.

An answering service ensures your business never misses an opportunity to connect with a new or existing customer, client, or patient. That said, not every answering service is equipped to fully capitalize on that opportunity. Some solutions merely answer the phone while others delight, engage, and convert callers.

Types of answering services

Answering services differ in terms of how they work and what kinds of businesses they’re built for. In general, answering services fall into three broad categories: 

  • Interactive voice response (IVR) systems: These are the automated answering services that prompt a caller to “press 1 for billing, press 2 for technical support, or press 0 to repeat this menu” (or a similar prompt).
  • Call centers: Picture rows and rows of people answering and making calls for businesses, usually reading from scripts. That’s a call center. Call centers are built for large volumes of calls that hew to standard exchanges and don’t require much personalization or individualized care (think debt collection or polling).
  • Virtual receptionists: Oh, hi! That’s us here at Ruby! (Fun fact—we popularized the term “virtual receptionists.”) Virtual receptionists follow custom call handling procedures and answer the phone for your business as an in-house receptionist would.

Learn more about the different kinds of answering services.

What to look for in an answering service

The best answering services are built for your callers’ needs. They answer calls quickly, professionally, and personally. They’re able to offer the information and experience your callers expect, while creating lasting positive sentiments. Remember: a call is often someone’s first impression of your business.

When evaluating answering services, look for: 

  1. A company that offers flexibility. Do you need your phones answered all the time, some of the time, or just when you can’t? 
  2. Personalization. You want someone who will answer the phone as if they were you—with personalized greetings and call handling instructions specific and unique to your business. They should speak your language, using the terms and tone your callers are familiar and comfortable with.
  3. A service that greets your customers with the kindness, sensitivity, and empathy a person would expect when calling any company. 

What a high-quality answering service can do for you and your business:

  • Answer calls quickly.
  • Optimize customer experience through personal, empathetic call handling.
  • Ensure calls get routed to the right people at the right times.
  • Provide your business with more leads.
  • Convert leads into paying customers.
  • Ensure customers feel heard and have their needs met.
  • Help you grow and scale your business on your terms. 
  • Give you time away from the phones to tend to other aspects of your business or life. 
  • Allow you to take sick days, personal days, and vacation time without leaving your business unattended. 
  • Filter or screen robocalls, junk calls, and non-emergency caller needs. 

Pros and cons of an answering service

As with any choice you make for your business, the decision to use an answering service requires careful thought and consideration. It’s an investment in your callers’ experiences and your business’s future. And although any business can use an answering service, not every business should.

Answering service pros

  • Flexible and customizable
  • Can be more cost-effective than hiring a full-time or part-time employee
  • Ensures callers reach a real person when you or your team are busy or unavailable
  • Captures more opportunities
  • Reduces the number of callers who reach out to your competitors

Answering service cons

  • Costs more than voicemail and automated tools
  • Less equipped than a call center to handle high call volumes
  • Limited to the call handling instructions and information you provide to the service
  • Variable quality between providers

Keep in mind that when it comes to an answering service, the cheapest option is rarely the best option.

  1. For one, many low-cost providers charge additional (sometimes hidden) fees for basic services such as transfers and after-call work.
  2. Second, low-end providers don’t provide their employees (or contractors) with the training necessary to handle sensitive calls, create positive first impressions, and build trust. They’re there to answer calls—that’s it.

Your business’s customer support reputation and growth potential are on the line. Moreover, the wrong provider can create more headaches and work for you in terms of problem-solving. Look for a provider with a stellar reputation for customer care and an array of options.

Do you need an answering service?

Companies large and small use answering services to answer the phones. Larger companies with customer service teams or departments using answering services as support or backup. Smaller companies and one-person businesses rely on answering services some or all of the time as their primary receptionists.

Businesses that use answering services include…

  • Attorneys and law firms
  • Plumbers, electricians, and other home services providers
  • Accountants and financial advisors
  • Consultants, marketing firms, IT providers, and other business services professionals
  • Schools, tutors, colleges, and other educators and educational institutions
  • Doctors, dentists, orthodontists, and other medical providers
  • Any business that receives more calls than its owner(s) or employees have time to answer

Not sure if you need an answering service? Think about questions like the following:

  • Do you have the budget for a full-time or even part-time employee? (Don’t forget about costs such as insurance, paid time off, vacation time, and so on.) 
  • Who will cover the phone if in-house employees are out of the office? 
  • What days and times of day do your calls tend to come in?
  • What type of business do you run? Are you in a high-touch industry such as healthcare, law, home services, where responsive, personal service can make or break your business?
  • What are your long-term goals for gaining and retaining customers or clients?

The bottom line: If it’s important to you that your callers reach a real person—but your business is unable to ensure that happens 24/7—you should consider using an answering service.

Is Ruby an answering service?

Yes and no.

Sure, we answer phones, but we do much, much more than that.

Thousands of businesses choose Ruby to provide the people they serve with personalized customer care and best-in-class customer communication. We believe in turning phone calls into connections and rings into relationships.

For more information, watch this video:

 

What’s the difference between Ruby and an answering service? 

Well, a typical answering service answers phones and might offer a handful of other benefits, such as an online customer portal and outbound call assistance.

Ruby has three times as many capabilities:

  • Call answering
  • 24/7/365 coverage
  • After-hours & emergency dispatch
  • Personalized call handling
  • Service customizability
  • Extensive receptionist training & ongoing coaching Industry expertise
  • Dedicated customer support
  • Free local or toll-free number hosting
  • Free phone service porting (eliminate your phone bill!)
  • Online customer portal
  • Free mobile app
  • Real-time status updates
  • Ability to check activity & messages
  • Ability to call & text from your business number
  • HIPAA compliant services
  • Bilingual services
  • Live chat
  • Website lead capture
  • Lead qualification
  • New client intake
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Office software integration
  • Robocall filtering
  • Proprietary answering software
  • Voicemail service options
  • Voicemail transcription
  • Outbound call assistance
  • Call answering
  • 24/7/365 coverage
  • After-hours & emergency dispatch
  • Personalized call handling
  • Service customizability
  • Extensive receptionist training & ongoing coaching Industry expertise
  • Dedicated customer support
  • Free local or toll-free number hosting
  • Free phone service porting (eliminate your phone bill!)
  • Online customer portal
  • Free mobile app
  • Real-time status updates
  • Ability to check activity & messages
  • Ability to call & text from your business number
  • HIPAA compliant services
  • Bilingual services
  • Live chat
  • Website lead capture
  • Lead qualification
  • New client intake
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Office software integration
  • Robocall filtering
  • Proprietary answering software
  • Voicemail service options
  • Voicemail transcription
  • Outbound call assistance

The key difference? A dedication to personal connections. Ruby’s professional receptionists and live chat specialists serve as an extension of your business. We answer your calls and greet your web visitors with the kindness, empathy, and humanity they want and deserve.

To learn Ruby can help grow your business and delight your customers, give us a call!

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*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.

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