How do virtual receptionist services work?

Someone calls your business, and they hear a friendly voice on the other end of the phone.

“Hi, you’ve reached ABC Business & Company. How may I help you?”

The twist: the voice doesn’t belong to you or one of your employees. It’s the voice of a virtual receptionist.

Simple enough, right? This is what you might imagine when thinking about how virtual receptionist services work. And in many cases, it’s more or less accurate—at least at the very beginning of an interaction.

But it’s just one small piece of the customer service puzzle.

A day in the life of a virtual receptionist

Virtual receptionists do so much more than simply answer the phone on behalf of businesses they represent. They also…

  • Help the caller feel emotionally supported
  • Guide the caller to the information they’re looking for
  • Collect the caller’s information, such as name, address, and reason for calling
  • Take detailed notes about the call
  • Determine if the caller is an existing customer or client, or a potential sales opportunity
  • Transfer the caller to the right person, depending on availability and the business’s pre-set instructions
  • Create a personal connection with the caller

Keep in mind this is one call among many the receptionist may handle that day. The next call may require an entirely different approach—and then there’s the call after that, and the one after that. Some will be quick and easy, others extensive and complex.

There will be people calling to book dental appointments. People seeking legal advice. People looking for the best deals on window installation. People curious about the marketing company their colleague told them about. One caller may be cheery and pleasant while the next is distraught and facing a life-changing situation.

This rapid-fire, no-telling-what’s next tango is where the best virtual receptionists excel. They’re able to deftly weave between hundreds of conversations over the course of a shift, representing many different businesses and creating meaningful connections with all kinds of people. It can be an exciting, intense, emotionally taxing job.

Now, take that picture of a person juggling calls, multiply it by a hundred, and speed it up. And voila—that’s what a virtual receptionist service looks like.

Hundreds of virtual receptionists, thousands of calls: the big picture

A virtual receptionist service should have three primary goals:

  1. Create positive experiences for callers.
  2. Make sure calls are handled in line with businesses’ instructions.
  3. Handle calls as quickly as possible.

In other words, a virtual receptionist service needs to balance the needs of its customers, their customers (the people who call in), and receptionists themselves. If any of these groups are unhappy, the service isn’t doing its job.

So, how does a virtual receptionist service keep everyone informed and in sync, and all the parts moving behind the scenes? The answer comes down to the right combination of technology, processes, and people.

The technology

Every virtual receptionist provider uses different technology to facilitate customer communication.

A company may use multiple systems, tools, and programs to accomplish tasks such as the following:

  • Receiving calls
  • Routing calls
  • Informing receptionists about calls and call handling instructions
  • Enabling receptionists to transfer calls
  • Logging call details
  • Training receptionists
  • Tracking receptionist minutes
  • Reporting on performance
  • Maintaining customer data

Let’s take a look at a few of the key ingredients here:

Telephony

Telephony is everything that makes telecommunications happen—the network of phone lines, transmitters, receivers, and various other devices that bring data from one location to another. A telephony setup can include hard-wired or digital elements, or both.

Some virtual receptionist services host their own telephony systems or use preestablished systems while others use voice over internet protocol (VoIP).

Regardless of how it’s constructed or where it’s hosted, telephony determines things such as message speed and clarity. A badly implemented telephony system is often the culprit behind poor connections, choppy sound, latency, and low mobile device signals.

Tip: If you’re curious about the sound quality of a virtual receptionist service, ask about how its telephony system ensures clear connections between callers and receptionists.

Receptionist equipment

Phones, headsets, microphones, computers—every piece of equipment receptionists use plays a role in how well they can do their jobs. And where these components are located, along with how they’re used together, can make a big difference. Certain headsets are easier to hear—and be heard through—for instance, but work best with specific phones.

How a virtual receptionist’s workstation is structured matters too. Many skilled receptionists use two or more screens for quick navigation between websites, information dashboards, call notes, and chat windows. In any case, the workstation needs to be set up ergonomically, comfortably, and in a way that eliminates background noise.

Internal software

How do virtual receptionists sound like informed, on-staff representatives for hundreds of different businesses every day? The answer lies in the software they use.

The best virtual receptionist companies leverage robust software that keeps receptionists on track and empowers them with the information callers need to know. It’s faster and (much) more effective than asking receptionists to rely on their own notes or keep information in their heads.

Virtual receptionist software often functions a little like a customer relationship management platform. It keeps key business and caller information in one place for easy reference during conversations. Details in a business’s file may include name pronunciation notes, call handling instructions, customized greeting scripts, directions to the company’s office, and so forth.

Note that only a select few virtual receptionist service providers truly own the technology they use. Many companies rely largely on third-party systems. As a result, they sometimes have minimal control or oversight when it comes to ensuring receptionists have the tools to deliver high-quality caller experiences.

What about live chat?

Although this article primarily covers phone calls, there are other customer communication channels worth considering. As we’ve explored elsewhere, some virtual receptionist services also offer live chat.

Chat and phone calls are similar in terms of the skills they require and the kinds of conversations that occur on either channel. For this reason, whenever possible, we at Ruby like to explore both simultaneously.

The technology and processes involved in live chat, however, differ significantly from those involved in phone calls. So, for the purposes of this article, we’ve chosen to focus on the common perception of virtual receptionists as professionals who answer phones. For a full overview of live chat and details about technology and processes, check out our guide: the rise of live chat.

The processes

Just as important as technology—if not more—are the ways in which people use it.

When considering a virtual receptionist service, think about the following questions related to processes:

How are virtual receptionists trained? A high-quality virtual receptionist service provides rigorous training for new receptionists before they ever take a call, as well as ongoing education, coaching, and mentoring thereafter. Virtual receptionists should be trained to use the tools at their disposal for maximum efficiency and minimal error. They should also know the fundamentals of clear customer communication, from active listening and persuasive speaking to tone-matching and de-escalation.

How is company and caller information handled? Customer conversations are valuable for businesses, and sometimes contain sensitive information. It’s crucial to make sure the people who answer your phones are prepared for the responsibility of managing those conversations down to the smallest details. This is especially important for professionals and organizations that must follow strict ethical and legal standards such as attorney confidentiality or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

What does the service actually do for the businesses it serves? There’s a big difference (or about 100 differences) between an answering service and a virtual receptionist service. Many businesses need more than someone just answering phones. A high-quality virtual receptionist service will take care of that and much more, with…

  • 24/7 live answering
  • Number porting and hosting
  • Call routing
  • Call screening
  • Lead capture and qualification
  • Client intake
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Business insights

An answering service fulfils a limited need—it answers your calls. A virtual receptionist service brings your business to the next level with wide-ranging capabilities that optimize your callers’ experiences. And the best virtual receptionist service for your business will take a proactive role in your company’s growth, using every interaction with callers to collect insights and create loyalty. 

If phone calls are an important channel for your business, don’t choose a service that merely manages them. Go for an option that presents your company in the best possible light and delivers a tangible return on investment.

The people

As pivotal as the processes and technology are, the quality of a virtual receptionist service rests squarely with its people.

A virtual receptionist role requires certain skills, passions, and personality traits that not everyone possesses.

People who succeed in the job tend to have well-developed soft skills. We’re talking about…

  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Listening skills
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Organization and time management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Creativity
  • Reasoning and problem solving
  • Stress tolerance
  • The ability to connect with others

The right virtual receptionist service for your business has people who can speak your language, in more senses than one. Beyond being fluent in English, Spanish, and other languages depending on the location, they should sound comfortable using common industry terms and understanding the needs of the people you serve.

This is partially a matter of experience, but much of it hinges on strong listening and reasoning abilities. The best virtual receptionists can—to use a host of clichés—think on their feet, read the room, adapt quickly, and say “yes, and.”

Top-performing virtual receptionist services employ diverse teams of people and keep those people engaged with positive, rewarding cultures. These receptionists not only have incentives to do their best, but truly believe in the power of what they do. Their personal values align with the company’s values, and they’re driven to bring results to the businesses they represent by making callers happy.