What is an answering service
  • Illustration by Molly Stotts
  • Penny Brazier
  • March 15, 2021
  • 5 min read


What Is an Answering Service?

An answering service is a company hired to answer your customer phone calls —it’s as simple as that. But done well, it can be so much more. 

A top-notch answering service can be a real asset to your business, improving your customer journey, boosting sales, freeing up resources, and saving you time. Using an answering service tends to be much cheaper than hiring an in-house receptionist, so it can save you money too! 

But how does an answering service work? What are the different types available? And is it a good option for your business? We’ll give you the lowdown right here. 

Do I Need an Answering Service?

The thought of outsourcing help for your calls can feel overwhelming, and it sounds expensive, right? A few different types of answering services are out there to suit a range of needs and budgets. Get the right one for your business, and it could save you money in the long-term and help you achieve your business goals. 

You might benefit from using an answering service if any of the following apply to you: 

  • You can’t always get to the phone yourself.
  • Your receptionist is often busy.
  • You want to give a polished, professional first impression.
  • You’re looking for a team to sell your product or service. 
  • You want to maintain your privacy.

What Types of Answering Services Are There?

There are various types of service out there to help you manage your calls, each one suited to a slightly different set of business needs. The one you select will vary depending on the volume of inbound calls, the complexity of inquiries your business receives, and the level of service quality you’re looking for. 

Maybe you’re a small business where every lead counts, but it’s just not possible to pick up every phone call. You’re relying on voicemail, but you know having a live receptionist would provide a better service for your customers and convert more leads. 

Or maybe you’re a busy organization juggling a high volume of straightforward calls —you need them fielding quickly. Having a human on the line for every call might not be necessary. 

Here are the different types of answering service and how they can help your business: 

Interactive Voice Response Service (IVR)

This is an automated service with no live agents involved. We’ve all used these before! A pre-recorded or “robot” voice speaks to the customer, maybe asking them to select from a menu of options or describe their problem in a few short words.  

IVRs are great at fielding and directing call traffic when many customers need to get in touch. Think banks, mobile phone providers, or doctors’ surgeries. But they can be frustrating for clients who have a more complex problem or want to speak to a human. 

If you have many queries 24/7 from customers needing relatively simple assistance, an IVR could be an excellent solution for your business. However, for a stand-out service, you’ll need a human on the phone at some point in the process. 

Call Centers

These are large operations that specialize in handling sales and marketing calls for all types of businesses. Most agents will work from a pre-written script to provide a consistent experience for customers. It’s a less personal service than a virtual receptionist (see below) but more personal than an IVR. 

Call centers are well known for dealing with outbound rather than inbound calls, but most will provide an answering service. Other call center services might include taking orders, giving out simple information, or qualifying leads. 

If your business deals with high call volumes and relatively straightforward customer inquiries, a call center may be a good choice for you. 

Virtual Receptionist Service

If you’re looking for a live answering service with a personal touch, a virtual receptionist might be a good fit. They work just like a usual company receptionist would, taking calls and fielding queries for your business. The only difference is they’re based off-site. 

If you’re a small business looking for a high customer service level, a virtual receptionist could be the perfect solution for managing your calls. At Olly Olly, our answering service operates in this way — we’re an extension of your team! We’ll get to know your company, just like any other employee would, and make sure your brand is well-represented whenever we pick up the phone on your behalf. 

Virtual receptionists provide many services, including appointment scheduling, message taking call forwarding, collecting customer feedback, qualifying leads, and making sales. 

How Do Answering Services Work?

Answering services use call forwarding to pick up calls to your business number. When a customer rings your phone number, the call bounces over to the answering service, where it will get picked up on your behalf. 

You get to control exactly when you’d like this to happen. For example, if you only want calls picking up outside business hours, you can instruct your answering service company to divert calls when your office closes, then switch back to your line when you start to work the next day. If you’re a small business, you could even use an answering service to take your calls when you go on vacation! 

At Olly Olly, we work 24/7/365 to be available for your customers. We’ll let you patch your calls through to wherever you’d like them to go —whether that’s your home, office, or an employee’s cell phone. And if we take a message on your behalf, you can choose if you’d like to receive it by email, voicemail, or text message. 

Do I Need To Change My Phone Number?

Not at all. Your unique business phone number is essential, especially if you’ve publicized it elsewhere, making it costly to change. Most answering services will let you keep your number  — we do! 

However, if you’re currently using a personal number for your business, it might benefit you to switch to a new number to keep work calls separate. At Olly Olly, we offer a toll-free number you can use to maintain your privacy if you’d like. 

What Kinds of Businesses Use Answering Services?

Having someone else take your calls may seem kind of fancy for a small business, but actually, companies of all shapes and sizes use answering services successfully.  

These might include:

  • Entrepreneurs 
  • Internet-based businesses 
  • Professional services (lawyers, marketing agencies) 
  • Construction firms 
  • Dentists 
  • Plumbers 
  • Real estate agencies 

We could go on all day! An answering service works for any business where you’re out and about and unable to take calls for large parts of the day, or you have too many incoming calls for your employees to manage. 

Can I Afford To Invest in an Answering Service?

Fees will vary depending on the type of service you use and how much you want to use it, but it may work out cheaper than you think. A good answering service provider will have flexibility in their pricing structure, meaning they can scale up or down to suit a range of budgets.

Is an Answering Service Right for My Business?

If you’re missing important calls, you could well be missing out on business. New customers are more likely to hang up and try a different company than leave a voicemail and wait for you to call back. And, if your regular customers can never get through to you, they’ll be less likely to stick around too. 

It might be helpful to consider the following questions: 

  • If your business has a high volume of calls, could you provide a better service for your regular customers by making sure those calls get answered rather than letting them go through voicemail or keeping them on hold?  
  • Would you be able to qualify more leads if you had a trained professional picking up the phone on your behalf? 
  • Would having somebody else answering your phone calls allow you to go out and make more money in your business? 

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it might be worth looking at an answering service as a possible solution. 

As with many business decisions, the answer lies in the bottom line. If the money you’d make through sales and customer retention outweighs the cost of hiring an answering service, then it could be time to invest. 

Turn Your Leads Into Sales

If you’re looking for an answering service provider who will take care of your customer calls with professionalism, we can help! 

Our highly trained, US-based receptionists take the time to get to know your business so we can talk like you do, understand your work, and ultimately become an extension of your team. We even have bilingual solutions available! 

To find out more about our answering services, contact our friendly team today. 


guest contributor
Article by Penny Brazier

Olly Olly is a resource for business owners who could use the occasional hint and helping hand in their digital marketing. 

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