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I just cringe when I call a business and get some home recording message from a 1980’s answering machine. All home-based businesses need a professional answering service. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur looking for a professional “staff member” (i.e. virtual phone service) to field calls, or an at-home sales rep missing sales leads because you are on the phone in a client meeting, answering services are cheap and immediately handle your communications when needed. A professional answering service moves you up from the “trying to make a few bucks” category to the “sustainable and trusting business” category. Plus, once your business starts to boom with hundreds of inbound calls for your services and products, you’ll be able to manage, and respond to each one efficiently. And, when your power goes out or when you must run a quick errand, someone, or “something” will be there.
Professional answering services are easy to find and most telephone service companies offer as an added-value feature in addition to your phone service. But what potential problems might happen and what services are available to you?
There are four major types of answering services: automated, live, Internet and call centers. Automated is what we are used to where the caller will need to press a number to obtain further information. If you want to appear “larger” in employee size, you could create separate lines for departments, or even insert fake names. This type of system works well if you just want to provide general information.
A live service is a bit more expensive in where you would contract out an operator and the operator decides whether to talk a message or patch through to you directly. The advantage to this type of service is a real human operator rather than an automated message at any time of the day. If you operate an online site where customers make purchases, a live service can help customers trust your business and feel at ease when placing an order. On the other hand, if you go over the set number of calls in your contract, it could get very, very expensive.
Internet-based services like Google Voice, or RingCentral, work by consolidating phone lines and routing them to the best line or providing voice mail options that go to a Web-based account. Most of these VoIP services that use a Web interface to manage incoming calls have additional features like routing calls, accepting faxes, forwarding text messages to cell phones, and receiving an automated receptionist. And, all you need to set it up is an Internet connection and the phones. With an Internet-based service, you might have sound quality issues if you have a slow or bad Internet connection. Some phone system companies will guarantee a certain number of minutes a month your service will not be interrupted, but most of the time you can’t negotiate this number. The advantage of using VoIP answering service is that you will be able to manage your business from anywhere in the nation.
Call centers are more on the telemarketing services side and helpful if you need a promotional product or sales push, or need an inbound call center to answer multiple phones ringing. AnswerConnect.com for example, offers live message taking, online order taking, paging and live call transfers delivering messages instantly to the customer’s email box for permanent storage. If you plan to outsource your answering services needs to a call center, or use appointment setters to take online orders, etc., you should spend time training, providing copy and monitoring (or listening) to the calls to ensure the company is professional and speaks accurately to your business.