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Interactive Voice Response (IVR) vs Outsourced Phone Answering Services
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Interactive Voice Response (IVR) vs Outsourced Phone Answering Services

If you’re scrambling to answer calls or finding your business is struggling to manage messages or getting callers to the right person or department to deal with their enquiry, then using either an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system or an outsourced phone answer service can be good options.

Which is best for your business will depend on a couple of things (like whether personalisation is important to you, or your budget) but it can be useful to know the difference between the two.

For the record, as an outsourced phone answering service ourselves we’re obviously more biased towards that, but we’ll do our best to give a full picture.

What is an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System?

IVR is an automated telephone system that interacts with callers, gathers information, and routes calls to the right department or person. Callers listen to pre-recorded responses, then use the numbers on their keypad to move through a menu of options based on what they need (some more advanced IVR systems allow callers to say which option they need).

Simple benefits of using IVR

IVR is pretty cheap because you only need a single setup and then the system can handle as many calls as it needs to. Plus, because it’s automated and there are no people involved, you can leave it on 24/7.

Depending how difficult your call routing is, IVR can also be relatively easy for people to use (press option 1 for customer service, for example) – although it does assume some level of knowledge from the user that they already know who or which department they need to get to.

It would be fair to say too that IVR is a scalable service for call handling, because it’s automated you can leave it to run and the system will just handle as many calls that come in.

What’s the catch?

The biggest downside to using IVR is that it’s very impersonal (obviously because it’s automated and robotic and callers aren’t speaking to real people).

This can be a problem because 62% of customers say they prefer talking to a person when they call a business rather than dealing with an automated system.

It’s also not great when callers need to talk about a sensitive issue (like a financial or health matter) and instead of getting empathetic responses from a human, they get a generic robot voice asking them to press 3.

All this is before you get to the time, investment and training needed to set IVR up.

As well as the hardware and software costs, you’ve also got to spend the time setting up all your call routing options – ensuring each customer response moves them on to the right next step, plus building in resources to help callers navigate back if they choose the wrong option.

Plus, because you need to anticipate what callers are going to need, any caller specific enquiries could be left unresolved if they can’t work out how to navigate to the right person or department.

Outsourced phone answering service

An outsourced phone answering service (like us) gives your business a team of human PAs who can cover and manage your calls so you don’t miss new business opportunities, or disappoint existing customers.

We can help with things like taking detailed messages and getting them to the right person, forwarding calls to the right department or person, or even dealing with some customer enquiries directly so callers have their questions answered quickly.

Outsourcing your phone answering to Face For Business ensures you retain a personal touch to your call answering, while freeing you up to focus on more important tasks.

Benefits of Outsourced Telephone Answering Services

For us the main benefit is the human interaction and personal service your callers get when you use our phone answering services, compared to that of an automated system.

We’re fully flexible and can build your phone answering around your business. Whether that’s answering all or just some of your calls, dealing with enquiries directly or even taking payments, and directing callers to the right person quickly.

We can also represent your business just as you would if we were answering calls in your office. You can edit your call script so our PAs answer calls just as you would, ensuring you give off a professional, personable image for your business.

Potential Downsides of Outsourced Telephone Answering Services

It’s a big deal to outsource such a customer facing part of your business to a third party. 

Whether it’s down to the quality of the service, the way the service is priced, or how transparent the service is.

We’ve put together a list of the questions we recommend you ask before choosing an outsourced phone answering partner.

Key Considerations for IVR vs phone answering service

1. How much does it cost?

IVR systems can be expensive to set up because you have initial hardware and software costs.

Even for a small business with a couple of lines you could be looking around £1,600 in setup costs, plus ongoing monthly fees and any additional costs to customise the system for your business.

You’ve also got the costs involved with training staff how to use the IVR system properly.

With an answering service (at least with us) you’re looking at much cheaper costs.

For a start we don’t charge setup fees, so that’s a lot of your IVR costs gone immediately.

Then the costs are just down to the service level you need. For a lot of our clients, the average monthly fee is around £95 up to £200.

Fully outsourced switchboards with multiple lines and more complex call management requirements can be more expensive, but still good value compared with an IVR.

2. How many calls do you need answering?

You might think IVR systems win this category hands down, but not necessarily.

While IVR systems can technically deal with more calls, it depends on the quality of the call answering.

An IVR system can “answer” more calls because it’s automated, but then you have the matter of what happens when the system tries to pass someone through to a busy line?

An IVR system can’t take messages and the caller will end up in a loop or get cut off – either way their enquiry hasn’t been resolved and now you’ve potentially got an upset customer or a missed opportunity to win new business.

On the other hand, after 3m+ calls answered by real people we’ve answered 98%+ calls in 3 seconds, so you still get the volume of call answering along with the quality.

3. What type of business are you?

Essentially this comes down to how valuable the personal touch is to your business.

If you’re an estate agent, dentist, solicitor or opticians, it’s highly likely callers are going to expect to talk to a real person when they call your business, not be directed through a series of number options or voice commands by something from a sci-fi movie.

These are going to be sensitive queries (especially when it’s financial or medical) so having a real person answer the phone with an empathetic tone can make a huge difference.

These initial interactions can also give context for your team of what a call is about before it’s patched through to them, for example:

“I’ve got John Doe on the line he’s got a questions about his mortgage application”.

This can help your team prepare for the caller, rather than dealing with this after the caller has pressed three buttons.

Even when it comes to FAQs, an outsourced answering service is better, because your PAs will build a knowledge base about your business that they can use to answer some customer enquiries directly.

This way, the caller has spoken to a real person and their enquiry has been dealt with – so they’re happy – and your team hasn’t been pulled away from their work to answer another FAQ about your opening times or office address.

4. Will the service need to expand?

Again, you might think an IVR is better when it comes to growth and scalability.

You can just add more lines and transfers into the system as you need – pretty simple.

But with an answering service like ours, if you need more call answering support and your current team of PAs can’t handle the volume, we just add more PAs to your account.

You get a scalable call answering service that retains the personal, human interaction your customers value.

And then if you need to scale the service back down, you can do that too.

5. Do your customers expect to talk to a real person?

This next stat might be enough to convince you of using an outsourced answering service alone.

88% of customers say they prefer to speak to a live customer service agent instead of navigating a phone menu.

So you might think that an automated system for customers to navigate their way to an answer is a good investment, but it’s likely going to mean you take a hit on the customer satisfaction scores.

6. Do you need to integrate your call answering with other systems?

If you use a CRM or payment platform, is makes sense that your call answering is joined up with this.

It’s fair to say both outsourced answering service and IVR systems do the job here because most of the actions are automated.

For example, creating a new lead based on an action, or sending call data directly to the CRM so you can monitor previous interactions, or automatically updating information so your CRM remains accurate.

8. Can you customise the service around your business?

We have to say outsourced phone handling wins here.

IVR systems are customisable in the sense that you can set up call routes and options, but that’s about it.

With a service like hours, you can customise everything from the call scripts, to how certain calls are handled, to the call route options – or even how you get your messages.

We can make sure the service is customised as much as you need to make the service work for you, as well as making sure it represents your business the way you want when someone calls.

10. What’s the user experience like

We’ve already presented stats that show customers prefer to talk to a real person rather than deal with an automated system when they call a business.

So again we think outsourced phone answering services win here.

An IVR can be convenient, but it requires the user to do the heavy lifting and know which department or person they need to get to.

If they don’t, or an option fails to work properly, the user experience goes down quickly.

At least with outsourced answering services there’s always a real person talking to your customer.

11. Flexibility in Features

IVRs come with additional features like automatic call routing, but you can’t lose the mechanical feel to how the system works.

With an outsourced answering service there’s lots of flexibility that can be built in.

Whether it’s the volume of calls you need us to handle, making sure certain calls (like sales calls) don’t get through to adding other features like managed live chat so you can talk to customers via your website, it’s worth knowing what else your service can do.

Choose the service that’s right for you (but we think it’ll be a phone answering service)

You might have got to this point and thought “you know, I really like the sound of using an IVR system”.

In which case, I’ve failed dramatically to get across the benefits of an answering service.

If you’re not sure (or maybe you’re now dead set on using a service like ours) we can offer you a free trial of our answering service so you can give it a go for yourself and judge for yourself whether it’s a good investment for your business.

Either click here or complete the form on the right to get in touch.

06th June, 2024

Posted by Face For Business

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