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Written by
Katy Ratican
16 Sept 2021
4 minutes

A complete guide to phone answering services for small businesses

A telephone answering service helps you manage incoming calls to your business. Find out more about phone answering services and how your business could adopt a smarter alternative
Guide to phone answering services

You want your customers and clients to have the best first impression of your small business. One of the easiest ways to ensure that is through a phone answering service.

You might wonder whether companies still use phone answering services, especially small businesses. They do, mainly because a business answering service offers several benefits to companies that rely on traditional methods.

What is a phone answering service?

A phone answering service receives and makes calls on behalf of a company. They also take messages left by callers and pass them on to the company. Depending on the nature of the service, some answering services also give basic information on the company’s products and services to the callers.

What are the benefits of a phone answering service?

  • You won’t have to hire a receptionist to answer and make calls

  • Your clients will be able to call and leave a message even when you’re busy

  • You won’t be interrupted in the middle of important meetings

  • It frees up you and your staff to focus on more important parts of the job

  • Although they’re expensive, some phone answering services offer customised services

  • The details of the calls and messages will be shared with you over email or text, making them accessible from different devices

Which types of small businesses could benefit from a phone answering service?

These companies could benefit from a phone answering service for small businesses:

  • Healthcare providers

  • Veterinary services

  • Law offices

  • Real estate agencies

  • Property management companies

  • Transportation services

  • Accounting firms

  • Interior design services

How much do phone answering services cost?

The cost of a phone answering service for small businesses will depend on the services the agency provides. Most firms charge around £1 per call. Some would charge a base fee of £10 or £25 for a predetermined number of calls with more charges for additional calls.

Do keep in mind that you may have to pay for premium services including call forwarding and call diversion. Some may also charge you set-up and cancellation fees.

What happens outside normal business hours?

Some business answering services may work 24/7 while others may only take calls and messages during business hours. Some might charge extra for any service provided during off-hours.

How does my provider answer my phone calls?

That depends on whether you opt for an automated service or a live phone answering service. In an automated service, the caller will get a menu. For example, it could be “Press 1 for customer support, press 2 for accounting, etc.” The objective is to avoid the services of a live operator.

When your agency offers the services of a live operator, a person will answer the calls on behalf of your company. Many business answering services employ live operators who remotely work from their homes to receive calls and messages.

What is the difference between a phone answering service and a virtual receptionist service?

A phone answering service for small businesses would take calls and messages on behalf of your business and forward them to you. A virtual receptionist would offer all the services of a phone answering service and more.

The first difference is that they would be more trained and would usually work out of a call centre. Secondly, they will be able to transfer the calls to the correct individuals in your workplace.

How do I choose the right phone answering service for my business?

Business answering services are ideal for small and medium enterprises that have the budget to afford them. When you compare various phone answering services for small businesses, you should first pay attention to their rate per call.

Then you should calculate how many calls you get in a month and find out whether they offer a package with a similar number of calls. You should also confirm whether they offer service 24/7 and during holidays. Finally, you should find out whether there will be any set up or cancellation fee.

Alternatives to phone answering services

Although they’re popular among traditionally run businesses, there are certain downfalls to business answering services. They can be expensive for small businesses and entrepreneurs and may take time to set up.

A smarter alternative would be to have a second-line app that will give you a phone number exclusively for work. With such as app, you will be able to set auto-reply texts to missed calls and set a professional voicemail. You’ll also get value-added services like working hours and call routing.

In short

Does your company need a phone answering service? Perhaps, if you have the resources and bandwidth. But if you’re a small business, freelancer or solo contractor that wants value-added features with friendly fees, a second-line app for work would be a better choice.

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