New technology has offered an array of communication tools for businesses to use, from social media, to direct messaging to live chats on websites.
But all too often, they underestimate the importance of providing consistent, professional communication over the phone.
Which is a mistake.
Because customers expect a high-quality, professional and consistent service across every channel they have available to them.
And they have more options to move on from any business that doesn’t deliver on it.
Dealing with evolving customer expectations
More than two thirds of customers (67%) are willing to spend more money for the same product if it means getting a better experience with one company over another.
When experience is the deciding factor, businesses that can match expectations – or exceed them – will win the battle for new customers.
Whether you’re a small business, or a large organisation, anticipating and meeting these customer service expectations is crucial.
One reason is because customers aren’t shy about expressing their displeasure with a business that lets them down on customer service.
It’s not that they’ll tell the actual business they’re unhappy. In fact, most won’t actually tell the business.
In one study, 96% of unhappy customers never complain to the company, but they share their poor experience with 9-15 people on average.
And they’re definitely not shy about turning to social media to publish how unhappy they are with a brand that’s let them down on the customer experience.
But get it right, and the pay off can be substantial.
If you’re not sure whether a virtual receptionist will be a benefit to you, see this guide on the 6 signs you need to outsource your call handling.
What makes a great customer experience?
The biggest factor in creating a great customer experience is simply making it as easy as possible for a customer to get in touch with you when they want to.
And to not limit how they can do that.
According to Zendesk, the other factors that customers put ahead of all others when judging a good experience, include:
- Speed of response (89%)
- Speed of resolution (89%)
- Friendliness of the customer service rep (82%)
One simple way to do this, is to make yourself (or someone at your business) readily available to answer the phone when it rings so they can resolve customer issues directly.
Despite the rise of digital communication tools, more people still prefer to call businesses – especially small businesses – on the phone rather than deal with a chatbot or find an answer themselves online.
According to another study by PwC, more than three quarters (78%) of UK consumers prefer to talk to a human when dealing with a company.
Call answering remains vital for the customer experience
While call answering is still valued by customers, anyone who has ever got stuck in a loop of robotic voice tones, number dialling and unhelpful instructions understands that some businesses don’t see it as valuable.
And this is a mistake.
How you handle customer enquiries over the phone can make or break the trust your customers have with your business.
Get it right, and they’ll actually be willing to come back and spend more money with you.
More than half of customers say they’d be willing to make additional purchases with a company after receiving a positive customer experience, according to Zendesk.
Plus, those happy customers will become advocates for your business.
Get it wrong, and not only will they not come back to you, they’ll encourage others to avoid your business too.
How does a virtual receptionist fit into this?
So we know that customers value human communication.
But how does a virtual receptionist help with this?
Surely you can just answer the phone yourself?
But anyone who’s ever run a business knows that you can’t always be around when the phone rings.
You might be dealing with customers or completing a job.
You might be in a meeting and unable to walk away to take a call.
You could be travelling.
Or, you might just innocently not hear your phone ringing.
There’s any number of reasons why you might not be able to answer the phone.
Even if you’re based in an office and have employees, you know how frustrating it is when every employee answers the phone in their own way – most employees deal with phone calls as a distraction to deal with quickly so they can get back to work.
And when it comes to employees taking the relevant information for a message, it often doesn’t happen.
Before we get into how a virtual receptionist can help with this, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what a virtual receptionist is.
What is a virtual receptionist?
They deal with calls, can take messages and transfer calls to the right people, and can even help you manage your diary and with booking meetings.
The only difference is, they work remotely.
A virtual receptionist works as an extension of your business.
They work with you to understand how your business works, what kind of calls you tend to deal with, and how you want your calls to be dealt with.
Unlike call centre phone answering services – which only take messages – a virtual receptionist can deal with some customer enquiries directly, and pass the relevant information to you and your team to deal with more complex enquiries.
Benefits of a virtual receptionist
A virtual receptionist provides a number of benefits to your business.
Whether you’re a one person band who can’t always get to the phone when it rings, or you’re an office based business and want to bring some consistency to your business’ call answering, a virtual receptionist can help.
A virtual receptionist can:
- Professionalise your customer service and call answering
- Put real people behind your business
- Create consistent and reliable call answering and message taking
- Provide some extra admin and diary support
- Help you book meetings and deal with calendars
Virtual receptionist vs ‘traditional’ receptionist vs call centre call answering
As an alternative to hiring a virtual receptionist, you could hire a more traditional receptionist, and you might consider this a better option if you work in an office and want a front of house who can greet people as well as deal with calls.
But you have to consider the costs and additional admin that comes with hiring a full-time, or even part-time receptionist.
For a start is the salary of a receptionist.
If you want an experienced receptionist you could easily have to spend around £18,000 a year.
In London, or for a receptionist with more experience, you could be looking at an annual salary of £30,000 for one employee.
Then there’s all the extra things.
You’ve got to deal with holiday pay, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave, tax, pension contributions.
Not only do you have the admin and money that comes with these extras, but you’ll also have to find cover for your receptionist when they are out of the office – which is even more expense for your business.
Plus covering breaks.
Eventually, dealing with your receptionist can take up more time than they save you.
At this point they become a bad investment.
The other option is a call centre answering service.
But these provide little in terms of improving the customer experience and your call handling.
For a start, many call centre phone answering services only operate during standard business hours.
So if someone calls you out of hours or on the weekend, they’ll still end up dealing with an answering machine.
Plus, call centre agents don’t work closely with the businesses they work for, so they literally serve the purpose of answering the phone and taking messages.
If a customer needs a quick answer, they won’t get it. And that can destroy the experience.
A virtual receptionist on the other hand works with you to understand your business.
You can provide them with the frequent questions they’ll be dealing with so they can help customers directly.
And you can also provide the relevant information you need from messages so you always get what you need.
You could even give them certain questions to ask for certain callers e.g. always get an eMail address?, what area is the caller based?
As far as the caller knows, they’re dealing with someone in your business.
Personal service for a better experience
Ultimately, your call answering should deliver a personalised experience to your customers and serve as an extension of your business.
If customers believe you’re pawning them off to a call centre, they’ll go somewhere else.
How virtual receptionists work
You set up a divert to transfer the calls when you want.
This can be done easily either online with some telecoms suppliers or arranged over the phone.
You decide is it:-
- all calls
- calls after a certain period that are not answered
- and / or when your phone lines are all engaged
You should agree this with your virtual receptionist.
If required they should help you sort this with your telecoms company.
Once the calls are diverted your virtual receptionists answer calls from customers and prospects.
From the point of taking the call, a virtual receptionist can either deal directly with a customer based on the information you’ve provided.
They can take messages for you so you can return the call later.
Or they can take some relevant information and transfer the call to the correct person in your business.
All the instructions they follow for call handling are based on your preferences (which you’ll arrange with your virtual receptionist before they start working).
If you want specific types of calls dealt with in certain ways, you can sort this with your virtual receptionist.
For example, instantly transferring sales calls to your team, while talking messages from other callers so you can deal with them in your own time.
If you receive a lot of cold calls from people trying to sell you a service, a virtual receptionist can deal with them and ask for calls to stop.
If they’re taking a message, your virtual receptionist will put all the relevant information into a message which you can access via an email or through your client portal.
Here’s a quick look at how the process works:
Virtual receptionist greets the caller, answering in your company name > They’ll take basic information and then offer you the chance to connect with the caller (unless you’ve arranged for them to just take messages) > They’ll take a detailed message if you’re unavailable, ensuring they take all the information you’ve requested be included in messages > Direct messages to you via email or through your client portal
For more information about how to set up your remote receptionist or new call answering service, check out this guide.
How can you make more money using a virtual receptionist?
As well as saving you time answering unwanted calls and ensuring you don’t send important calls to voicemail, a virtual receptionist can also help you increase your revenue and profits.
They can do this by:
Saving you money on a full-time or part-time staff
Rather than paying salaries, benefits and tax, you only pay the fee based on the level of services you need. This means you can invest money in other areas of your business like marketing or sales.
Free you up to grow your business
Instead of spending your time dealing with calls all day, a virtual receptionist can give you more time to concentrate working on your business, rather than in it.
Create brand loyalty
We’ve already seen how brand loyalty leads to a rise in repeat business and company loyalty. A virtual receptionist ensures you give customers that human-to-human contact you want and customers demand.
Never lose a sale because of a missed call
Every call that comes into your business is potentially a new customer. Never worry about losing a sale because you couldn’t answer the phone.
A virtual receptionist can be used to qualify leads before passing them to your sales team so you can focus more on the hot leads and less on the low quality enquiries.
Call answering support when you need it
Being able to answer the phone and talk with customers directly is a great way for a business owner to build trust and keep customers happy.
But it’s not always possible.
Sometimes it’s just not possible to answer the phone, but you don’t want to risk sending paying customers to voicemail or losing a sale to a competitor over a single missed call.
And you also don’t want the expense and admin that comes from hiring a full or part-time receptionist.
A virtual receptionist provides the perfect back-up for your call answering, offering a flexible and scaling call answering service that you can use when you need it.
They can help you extend your business’ opening hours and keep your time open to do revenue generating tasks for your company – rather than getting bogged down in calls.
You can get on with growing your business and working with customers, safe in the knowledge that your business’ calls are being dealt with professionally and consistently, every time.
Which virtual receptionist service is best for you?
Before you decide on a virtual receptionist service, you need to ask some key questions.
That’s because not all virtual receptionist services offer the same value or level of service.
Here’s some of the key questions you need to ask before signing up:
How many clients do they have?
This is always a tricky one.
If you’re potentially the virtual receptionist’s only client it means they’re either new to the job and might not be able to offer the level of service you want, or they’ve not been able to keep their clients.
If they’ve got a large number of clients, do you risk becoming just another face and have your calls fall through the cracks?
You need to find a provider with a good mix of clients and more importantly, with case studies or testimonials from those clients.
How can they prove they’re answering calls properly?
This is where a lot of phone answering services and virtual receptionists fail.
They’ll provide you with your messages, but you won’t know how they dealt with the call to get the message because you never get to hear it.
Choose a provider that will give you easy access to all your phone recordings so you can check exactly how your virtual receptionist is dealing with calls.
For the record, at Face For Business we provide instant access to all your phone recordings via your client app, or portal, so you can hold us accountable and ensure we’re meeting your expectations.
What services do they offer?
Sure, you might only need a phone answering service for now.
But what about later when you’ve used your newly found extra time to grow your business?
Now you need help managing your diary and booking meetings.
If you’ve decided to choose only a phone answering service, that means going back out to find another provider to help with diary management as well.
It also means splitting the tasks across two providers, which isn’t ideal, if at all possible.
Find a virtual receptionist service that offers all these services under one roof, even if you only need one of those services immediately.
When the time comes you can always add diary management to your phone answering service and, because it’ll be dealt with by the same company, you know the service will be joined up and you won’t run into problems later on.
What hours are they available?
Many business owners choose a virtual receptionist to get an out of hours phone answering service so they can switch off and spend time with family and friends at the end of the day, without missing an important business call.
But if your virtual receptionist is only available until 5:30pm, then what’s the point.
Make sure your virtual receptionist service offers extended hours service to ensure you don’t miss those important business calls when you’re spending quality time at home.
Also, do they offer a weekend service?
You should also ask how their out of hours service works in terms of getting your messages – i.e. do you still get them immediately, or are they sent the next working day?
How would they handle a situation they may not be prepared for?
As much as you work with your virtual receptionist to understand the types of calls they’ll be taking and how to deal with them, there’ll always be the chance they’ll get a call they’re not prepared for.
In this situation you want someone who is calm under pressure, and ideally someone with the experience of dealing with unexpected calls.
If your virtual receptionist panics or gets flustered, it removes that mask of professionalism. Especially if the request is something a customer would expect your company to deal with easily.
Try running a few scenarios past your virtual receptionist to see how they’d deal with them.
How would you handle a client call when you’re struggling to understand what they need?
It does happen every now and then.
Someone will call us and the signal may not be great and they’re cutting out, or we’re just really struggling to hear or understand what they’re saying.
If this happens to your virtual receptionist, how would they deal with it?
Remember, you’re trusting them to not only put some professionalism into your call answering, but to make sure you get accurate messages that could be important to your business.
What types of clients do they typically work with?
If you’re a large company, would you be happy choosing a virtual receptionist who’s used to dealing with sole traders or small businesses?
Similarly, if you’re a small business do you want a virtual receptionist whose priority is the big multinational company they’re also dealing with?
Depending on the size of your company, you’ll probably be dealing with differing types of calls with different levels of complexity and requirements.
Make sure your virtual receptionist has the experience dealing with a business like yours so they at least know the basics of what your type of company expects from the service.
Do they specialise in any specific sectors?
Similar to the size of your company, the sector and industry you work in can often dictate what type of calls you deal with.
For example a sole trading carpenter isn’t likely to get the same types of enquiries as a large pharmaceutical company.
Choose a virtual receptionist service that has people trained specifically to work in your particular industry.
This greatly reduces the chances they’ll be caught out by unexpected questions or enquiries.
Plus, they’ll have the experience to provide a professional service within your industry.
How would they communicate with you?
How your virtual assistant communicates with you is as important as how they deal with customer calls.
You’re hiring them to make your life easier so how they communicate with you should be a part of that.
Are they just taking messages and emailing them to you?
What if the email gets lost in the deluge of spam you get every day?
Are they expecting to call you at the end of the day and update you about messages?
Or, do you get your own dedicated client app or portal, where everything you need is instantly uploaded so you can access it from one place? (This is what we do by the way).
Can they provide any case studies or client testimonials?
This is a big one.
Every virtual receptionist or assistant will tell you they can professionalise your phone answering.
They’ll say they can book your meetings, organise your diary and help make your business run smoothly.
But can they prove it?
Have they done it before for other businesses?
Ask if they’ve got case studies or client testimonials that back up what they’re saying.
If they don’t, can you really trust they can do the job they say they can?
What kind of training do your VAs get, and is it regular?
Another big issue but one that is often overlooked by businesses that are new to hiring a virtual receptionist.
Sure, the provider may say they offer a professional service, but if that consists of giving a receptionist a phone, a computer and a script, how professional is that really?
Your virtual receptionist should be trained to a high level to deal with day-to-day business communication.
They need to be organised, cool and calm under pressure, professional and consistent in how they deal with you and your customers.
Ask what kind of training your virtual receptionist gets.
And find out if it’s a quick two day course when they first start, or if training is an ongoing thing so they’re always keeping their skills at a high level.
How we train our virtual assistants at Face For Business:
Our training programme lasts 13 weeks, and each VA gets trained on the basics first, followed by 3 clear stages of calls progressing through until they can deal with all types of callers.
Is there an early exit fee?
Let’s face it, you can sign up for a virtual receptionist with the best intentions and high hopes, but sometimes things just don’t work out.
Maybe you weren’t as busy as you thought you were going to be when you hired them.
Or maybe the service wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and you want to look elsewhere.
Are you tied into a minimum service period? Is there a fee if you want to leave early?
Ask the question and make sure you’re satisfied with the answer before signing on.
How does the pricing work?
What kind of pricing model does your virtual receptionist service use?
Is it a flat fee depending on the services you sign up for?
Do they charge by the call or can they charge by the second, so you only pay for what you use.
Short calls less – long calls a little extra.
Is it a Pay As You Go service based on the number of calls they take, or hours they spend dedicated to your company?
Before you sign anything, make sure you understand exactly what you’ll be paying for and how the fee is worked out.
Why choose a virtual receptionist from Face For Business?
We can provide professional call answering services for UK businesses of all shapes and sizes, helping them create the essential human-to-human communications customers demand.
Clients come to us because they know we provide a reliable service and can keep customers happy and free up critical time to focus on growing their business and earning more profits.
Here’s some of our key stats that show our experience in providing virtual receptionist services:
What our customers say about us
Harsh of Eyewise Opticians
“We’re only a small team and you want to give people your full attention. Before we had an answer phone message that would kick in after a few rings. It was stressful. Now we have peace of mind – someone on the other line, who represents our business.”
Harsh of Eyewise opticians in Hillingdon is a community practice that puts a lot of effort in not only providing the best products to customers, but making a difference in the community.
Because staff often took time out of the office to complete community work, it meant they needed a call answering service that ensured they didn’t miss customer calls when out in the local area.
We worked with them to find the best solution, understanding their current call handling resource and the level of calls they were dealing with.
Within a few months of working with them we were handling 240 calls a month.
That’s 240 calls that could have otherwise been missed.
Metalfloor UK Ltd
Face For Business provides us with peace of mind, enabling us to focus on the day to day business without the worry of missing valuable new business calls.
We’ve been working with Metalfloor for over five years and have handled more than 10,000 calls for the ecommerce business.
They initially came to us for help dealing with an increase in call traffic generated by sales agents meeting with clients.
While the new business was coming in, they didn’t have the internal resource to deal with the increase in calls so needed help.
We worked closely with their team to design a call overflow service.
This meant our virtual receptionist only took over call answering when their own team was busy in meetings or already on calls.
It meant they could continue to work on generating new business in person, without worrying about missing enquiries over the phone.
The Legal Stop
‘Face For Business’ answering service is one of the best on the market. After having tried different telephone answering companies we decided to settle with FFB because we found their services reliable, efficient and effective.
The Legal Stop came to us back in 2016.
They’d tried a number of call handling services and failed to be impressed by what they’d seen.
One of the big problems they’d faced was finding a call answering service that understood how to deal with calls that were sometimes complex, sensitive or contentious in nature.
Because we’ve got sector specific virtual assistants, we offered The Legal Stop a 7 day free trial with a virtual receptionist team headed by our lead PA for legal companies.
After the end of the trial they immediately signed up with us full time.
Want to find out more about working with Face For Business?
If you think working with us and having us act as your call answering and virtual receptionist service could benefit you business, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Our professional team can work closely with you to understand the current level of calls you need to be answered and create a plan that works for you.
If you need more specialist call answering help, we can assign one of our sector specific virtual receptionists to help.
If you’re not sure you’re ready to commit to a virtual receptionist, get in touch with us and we can start you on a 7 day free trial so you can experience exactly what a virtual receptionist can do for your business without a long term commitment.
With more choice over what to buy and who to buy from, consumers aren’t as concerned by the old differentiators of product and price.
Much more than ever consumers are choosing brands to do business with based on the experience they get when making a purchase.
More than half of customers (54%) are more demanding of customer service, rising to 66% among 18-34 year olds – according to research from Microsoft.
And in an ever more digital world, business owners are trying to figure out the best way to improve this experience and communicate better with customers and prospects.