When a head-splitting toothache awakens you at 2 a.m., you want to talk to someone about instant relief. When the instructions for setting up your new PC don’t make sense, you want to talk to someone who understands them. And when a marketing push has calls pouring into your business, you want callers to get information. But when you’re attending your daughter’s wedding, you don’t want to talk to anyone unless it’s an emergency.
In all of these cases, an answering service can suit your needs. With answering services, you can contact doctors and dentists 24 hours a day. A call center for an electronics company can give you needed technical support. And you can make sure clients have information when you’re not available — and can reach you when it’s really important. With an Internet answering service, you can even receive messages on your smartphone wherever you are.
Plenty of industries rely on answering services:
- Doctors work office hours but still need to be available for emergencies at other times.
- Plumbers, contractors and other field workers need to be aware of job additions and other schedule changes.
- Sales reps don’t want to miss sales leads but also don’t want to be interrupted during a client meeting.
- Solo entrepreneurs need professional communications staff for their virtual offices.
- Large corporations need call centers to take product orders, explain how to use products or provide more information about them.
- Service organizations, like insurance companies, need staff to handle routine inquiries about premium deadlines and coverage limits.
- Companies that have experienced a serious snowstorm or power outage need an immediate way to handle communications.
But what services are available, who provides them, and what are the potential problems? Keep reading to find out, starting with a look at the different services offered by answering service providers.
The concepts behind answering services are not new. A company or individual hires a specialized service to take and screen calls, provide basic information to the caller and pass on messages — and possibly also to take orders, schedule appointments and provide product support. But while the phone answering service has been around for decades, its capabilities and equipment keep evolving as business demands change and technology advances.
Answer services usually fit into one of the following categories, although answering-service providers often offer services from several categories:
- Automated answering service
- Live answering service
- Internet answering service
- Call center
Automated answering services allow callers to leave voice messages and to obtain information based on responses to prompts. They might be asked, for example, to Press 1 if they want to know business hours, Press 2 to get directions, Press 3 for the company directory or Press 4 to hear directory listings and leave a message. Automated systems work well with customers who are only looking for general information and cost less than live answering services. However, these systems lack the flexibility or personal touch that live answering services provide.
Live answering services give callers the opportunity to talk to someone who may be able to meet their particular needs better than an automated service. The operator also can decide whether the call is urgent enough to send through immediately. In fact, callers often aren’t aware that their call has been redirected to the answering service. For telecommuters and solo entrepreneurs, a live answering service can give their business a more professional appearance.