Answering Service vs. Message Service: What’s In a Name?

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Have you ever heard colleagues having water cooler discussions about the differences between answering services, message services, and virtual receptionist services? We have. Just about every day. And these discussions can get pretty heated.

Some people believe that message service or messaging service refers to an outdated concept of a switchboard born in the early days of telephony in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with the focus on transferring calls and nothing else. Others may argue the term answering service was minted to show the evolution from strictly transferring calls to transferring calls with the added abilities of message taking and dispatch. And still others believe that virtual receptionist is the union of call transferring, message taking, and traditionally receptionist type tasks like appointment scheduling and information relay (think of the interaction you’d have with a receptionist when you call your doctor’s office).

As a company fully staffed with all variety of telecommunication nerds, we’ve heard just about every term thrown out during tense discussions about message service, answering service, and virtual receptionist service like automated answering, 24 hour availability, order taking, live operator, 800 number, oncall management, remote support, blah blah blah. We’d be here forever listing all the industry jargon.

We’re outsourcing peacemakers, and to all of this we say “What’s in a name!” What does it matter what you call your outsourced receptionist provider? After all, there are thousands of answering service companies in the world, and each generally does the same thing and has the same capabilities. Many messaging services will focus on transferring calls, but will have the capability of building an on-call dispatch or adding front end automation to your live operator line. Answering services may showcase their ability to take messages and transfer calls, but they will also have the ability to answer FAQs, script out detailed call center type interactions, and integrate with the support software you’re already using depending on the provider. Virtual receptionist providers too may be able to provide everything a messaging service or answering service can provide.

Whatever these outsourcing providers prefer to label themselves as, they will all offer a ton of great communication solutions to help your small business meet the needs of your customers. Whether it’s help closing sales, or assistance meeting customer needs in a support capacity, the goals of outsourcing providers are the same:

  • Make sure your inbound communication channels are available to your customers 24 hours a day: In an ideal world, customers would only call your business during the normal hours of operation. Unfortunately, that’s not our world. Customers will contact your business at any time, day or night, weekday or weekend, holiday or not, and expect to be helped. And what can you do? You can be there for them. While you probably can’t be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, an answering service can, and they can do more than just answer your calls. By outsourcing your live chat and email response to the service, your customers can be helped 24/7 through whichever channel is most convenient for them.
  • Make it easy for your customers to talk to someone at your business: Making your customers fight their way through an automated maze is almost as bad as not being there for them at all. While automated support does come in handy, most people prefer to speak to a live voice when they call, and not your machine. Using an answering service means laying off your answering machine as your go-to customer service representative.
  • Filter out calls that don’t need immediate attention: Customers will call for just about anything. And most of the time, their requests do not need immediate attention. For the calls that are not urgent, having your answering service or virtual receptionist screen and filter through them allows your in-house staff to prioritize their workload accordingly. Additionally, allowing your service to answer basic questions can help reduce the number of calls your staff have to return. When your employees are able to focus on the more pressing issues, they can address them quickly and efficiently, and continue providing the same level of service that your customers are used to.
  • Ensure that new customers won’t look elsewhere, and current customers are happy: When potential customers have a hard time reaching a business, there’s not much holding them back from simply moving on to the next available option. In fact, 7 out of 10 callers will hang up if they reach voicemail. That means you have a 70% chance of missing out on new business by having your voicemail field your calls, which is not good for any company. While on-boarding new customers is important for any growing business, keeping your current customers happy is just as important. If your customers are having issues and jumping through hoops to talk to someone, they’re not going to be your customers for long. Answering services can not only help get more leads in your pipeline, but they can work to keep your current customers happy, too.
  • Reduce your small business expenses: Running a business is expensive, especially if you’re just starting out. Instead of spending money to hire more staff in-house, hire a receptionist service for a fraction of the price. With a virtual receptionist, you don’t have to worry about adding another employee to the payroll, paying for overtime, benefits, bonuses, or insurance. And, answering services usually offer multiple pricing plans that can typically scale up or down with your business. So, you can increase plans during your busy season to ensure you have coverage, and then decrease back down to a lower plan during your off season.
  • Keep your employees happier: Employees that feel like they’re drowning at work won’t be happy, won’t be working for you much longer, or both. An easy way to alleviate some of the pressure is by outsourcing simple tasks to your virtual receptionist. For example, while your in-house receptionists are busy checking clients in and getting them settled, your answering service can handle inbound traffic, and schedule appointments. Another great way to take some of the heat off your staff is by having your service take care of data entry. Some answering services can integrate with software you’re already using, which means the information they gather from your callers can automatically create or update your CRM or start tickets in your help desk. The less work  your employees have to do, the happier and more refreshed they will be when handling the more important tasks like closing deals and meeting with VIP customers.
  • Unify business communication and ensure efficiency: Outsourcing companies can help you streamline communications by offering a single point of entry for contacting you. You want to make it as easy as possible for customers to contact you, and if you have separate numbers for sales, billing, and customer service, it can get confusing. With a single number setup, an outsourcing provider can take those calls and route them internally either with an IVR or live receptionist to make sure customers are getting transferred to the right department.
  • Help your organization understand and analyze the types of calls they receive: Outsourcing gives you insight into the types of calls your business is receiving, which helps you better identify weaknesses in your organization. With all calls coming in through a single funnel and labeled properly, you’ll easily be able to identify trends, which you can use to modify processes, adjust articles in your knowledge base, or change your trajectory with some of your business processes. For example, if your answering service reports show an increase in calls about your pricing after you made a change in the formatting of your invoices, you’ll know pretty quick that the new invoice format isn’t resonating well and needs to be adjusted to reduce calls.

So we say, stop arguing about what to call outsourcing companies. It doesn’t matter what you refer to them as, as long as you consider how any one of these can positively impact both your business and your bottom line.

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Specialty Answering Service is a leading call center company, helping fast-growing businesses close sales and deliver amazing live customer support 24 hours a day. SAS' friendly virtual receptionists and customized call handling create an outstanding virtual office experience. There are thousands of small businesses already using our services. Try SAS for free today.

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