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What is a virtual receptionist and do I need one?

A virtual receptionist is a person or company, external to your business, that answers phone calls on your behalf, giving the impression that they are working for you.

They operate in almost the exact same way as a traditional, office-based receptionist except, they also answer phone calls for a number of different companies. When a customer calls your business number, their call is routed to a virtual receptionist. The receptionist will see that the incoming call is meant for your business and will answer in whichever way you have specified in advance.

Depending on your specific set of call flow requirements, the virtual receptionist will take a message or forward the call to a specific member of staff.

This system allows sole traders and small business companies to access high quality, trained customer service professionals whenever they need them.

The Perfect Solution For Small Businesses & Sole Traders

As the world begins to embrace the idea of self-employment and startups culture, more and more services are becoming available to support them that previously would only have been attainable for a larger organisation with the budget to match.

Improvements in technology have changed how modern businesses work. Many businesses have capitalized on this by outsourcing non-core business activities such as:

  • Bookkeeping and payroll
  • Marketing
  • Social media
  • SEO
  • Website design
  • Logistics
  • Call handling

In Australia alone, there are 2.4 million people who are self-employed, 4.8 million in the UK and 16 million in the USA (Source: Civil Society).

Here we take a look at the advantages of using a virtual receptionist if you’re self-employed or running a small business.

You’ll Save Valuable Time

You know the saying “time is money”, well that’s especially true for freelancers and small businesses. Owners and team members already wear a lot of different hats when it comes to running the business, from marketing to bookkeeping and everything in between. There are times when it’s just not possible to answer every phone call.

Outsourcing non-key functions have become commonplace, giving business owners access to a talented pool of professionals, allowing their in house teams to keep their focus. It allows them to work ‘on’ the business rather than ‘in’ the business.

A virtual receptionist leaves you and your existing team free to concentrate on your core business activities, the tasks that will actually help you grow your business, without having to stop and answer the phone every five minutes. A virtual receptionist will be able to filter out any of those tiresome telemarketing calls, ensuring that only important callers are transferred through.

An unexpected knock-on effect of this is a reduction in employee turnover. Workers who are allowed to work on their core roles are more likely to be happy at work and less likely to leave.

You Can Keep Your Personal Number Private

If you’re working for yourself, you may not want to put your private number out there for the world to see.

There are a few solutions to this. You could carry a second mobile phone, but that will mean an additional cost for the phone and call package. If you spend a lot of time meeting or working with clients face to face, you don’t want to be interrupted with calls frequently.

If you are home-based, you can arrange for an additional line to be installed, but again, you’re looking at extra costs for this.

In addition to the genuine, business-related calls you receive you will more than likely end up on a lot of telemarketers, cold calling and scam calls lists too.

Despite the world tightening up its data protection laws, it’s still extremely difficult to get off those lists once you’re on them.

But people still need a way to contact you. A virtual receptionist service can provide you with an appropriate business number for your business, meaning that only the people you want to have your personal number will get it.

Using your personal number for business can be tricky. You’ll never truly be able to switch off when you’re on holiday as you’ll always want to have your mobile with you. You’ll need to have a professional voicemail message too, rather than a personal one.

You’ll Definitely Save Money

Hiring your own in-house receptionist can be expensive. In addition to paying a salary and associated benefits, there’s the cost of recruitment, equipment and ongoing training.

You’ll also need to provide cover during annual leave and periods of illness.

A virtual receptionist can cost a small fraction of hiring a full-time employee to do the job. Their services can be used full time, or as and when you need them. You might want someone covering your calls during your standard business hours, or just when you’re in important meetings, handling clients projects or on holiday.

Another great saving is on the actual call handling equipment you need to run an in-house reception desk.

If you choose a physical, desk-based, system and dedicated phone line, you will have to buy or lease the equipment, then arrange for a dedicated phone line (or lines) to be installed. There will often be a contractual term for the phone line as well as additional call costs.

You’ll also need to replace or repair equipment when it breaks down. Even if you use a VoIP based system, you’ll need to use a specialist company to set this up and pay setup and monthly subscription costs.

Instead, the company providing your virtual services will be responsible for the maintaining and upgrading of their equipment and software. Being specialists in the sector, they are more likely to have state of the art equipment and service contracts with guaranteed service level agreements. Any issues that do occur can be fixed rapidly within their comprehensive business continuity procedures.

Your Business Will Have A More Professional Outlook

A polite, friendly, professionally answered call can provide people with a great first impression of your business, doing wonders for your brand and reputation.

Your calls will be answered in whichever way you choose, fitting in perfectly with your style and brand. Depending on the industry, you might want a very formal greeting or something that reflects your personality as a business and is a bit more informal.

The person on the other end of the phone won’t know that the person answering the doesn’t work for you unless you tell them.

Your Customer Service Will Improve

A good virtual receptionist is a vital part of your team. They get to know you, your team and your business, even your little quirks.

Customers and prospects receive a smooth customer experience, strengthening your relationships. Many people won’t leave voicemails now, so you need for them to speak to someone first time.

Never Miss A Potential Sales Lead

You don’t particularly have time to answer every phone call, you want to be able to concentrate on your business, but what if there is a potential client on the other end of the phone?

A virtual receptionist can be directed to ask a few pertinent questions and if there is a sales enquiry, can route their call directly, or take a message and alert you quickly. You get to decide how sales enquiries are handled and routed so that you can act on each and every one. Don’t take the risk that a potential customer will call a competitor, who does answer the call.

A survey conducted by UK based telecoms company BT showed that 60% of callers to a business won’t leave a message on an automated voicemail system.

Appear To Be Bigger Than You Are

There are a number of reasons that you might want to appear to be a more established, larger organisation than you actually are.

Unfortunately, some people do judge a book by its cover, or a business by its size. You could be the very best at what you do but to some people, size matters.

By looking like a more established, larger business, you can seem a more professional option for customers, even if you do all your work in the garden shed.

It’s one of the reasons that virtual office services are becoming very popular, they provide a higher profile business address for your correspondence, even though you don’t actually work in the building, your company can be legally registered there.

If you want to give the impression of a national presence, you can also have additional numbers for a different region of the country, that can be routed to your service too. This will allow you to use region-specific phone numbers in advertising, marketing and business pitches. A virtual receptionist will help create this national reach impression for you.

The Opportunity To Speak To A Real Person

Technology is a wonderful thing. There are many fantastic and convenient ways to get in touch with businesses today. Social media, instant messaging, chatbots, email. They are well used and some people prefer them as it fits in with their buying patterns and online business search behaviour.

While a lot of communication is done online, there is still a need for a way for people to contact you to speak to someone. When someone does call your phone number, they expect to speak to an actual person, not an answering machine or an interactive voice response (IVR) system. Great customer service is still about human connection.

Offer Better Windows Of Availability

Beginning your day facing a pile of voicemails or missed calls can be very stressful, and can suck up a lot of time in the mornings.

An in-house receptionist will usually only work office hours. If your business doesn’t work standard hours, or you expect calls from people not in your timezone, then you’re going to be leaving a lot of calls unanswered.

24/7 call answering doesn’t mean that you have to be available to receive calls 24 hours per day, but you will be confident that your calls are being answered professionally and any important messages are getting sen to you.

You Can Choose A Service That Scales With You

You don’t have to commit to a long term contract or a fixed monthly fee. The beauty of using a virtual reception service is that the terms and flexibility are great for small businesses. Keeping costs down is extremely important to small businesses.

Choosing a level of support that’s right for you is easy, and can scale with you as you grow and receive more calls.

Is your business seasonal? If you do a lot of your business at certain times of the year, then you can use a virtual receptionist to deal with your calls during this key time.

Call overflow is also an option for businesses when you only need calls answered when you can’t answer them yourself.

All you need to do is divert your number when you are in a meeting, out to lunch, off sick, or on holiday, it’s totally flexible.

This kind of flexibility is vital for sole traders and small businesses who have to make budgets and cash flow go a lot further and are often surviving month to month. Now you don’t have to sacrifice your customer service for the sake of cost or avoiding a long term contract.

You Can Use Your Existing Business Phone Number

You may not want to change your existing business phone number. After all, it’s probably already on advertisements, business cards, online directories and any number of other places. It can be very costly to change it.

The good news is, you don’t need to change it, your virtual receptionist service can work with your existing number. You will be allocated a new number by the service, but you don’t need to display this anywhere, simply arrange for your existing number to divert to your virtual services. The system allows for a seamless answering service. Callers will not know the difference and you don’t have to change all of your stationery.