How to Use a Small Business Answering Service or Remote Receptionist

Call Center, Answering Service or Remote Receptionist to Answer Calls for my Small Business?

If you need help answering the telephone for your small business, there is a dizzying array of choices available. From massive call centers in distant countries to locally-based remote receptionists and telephone answering services, there is no shortage of companies willing to answer your phone. Unfortunately, the process of choosing a service provider can often be frustrating and confusing, which is unfortunate because, let’s face it, you’re already pressed for time.

To streamline the process, it is helpful to determine what type of service you need and the experience you want your callers to have with your company. Although there is some cross-over among service providers in this rapidly evolving industry, the following categories have emerged.

The Call Center – Typically these organizations employ a large number of telephone operators trained to take callers through specific steps and/or scripts based on the nature of their inquiries. They frequently do an efficient job of handling large volume of telephone calls and often make use of an automated menu (IVR ‘Interactive Voice Response) on the front-end to aid is routing callers to the proper department. They may be based domestically in the Unites States or located overseas in areas such as India or the Philippines. Most often, call centers handle an entire call from inception to termination and offer 24/7 service.

The Answering Service – Traditionally, the answering service has been a third-party relationship. This is where it is clear to the caller that they have NOT reached your place of business, but a third-party service. Frequently, their capabilities are limited to taking messages or paging a service provider who can return a call. They will often employ a large team of 24/7 shift workers who are available to answer calls live around the clock. Many provide nationwide service to a particular industry such as medical doctors or plumbers, or offer more locally based services across a variety of industries. While some can connect calls live, the per-minute charges for call connections make this option prohibitive.

The Remote or Off-Site Receptionist – Recent advances in telephone technology and web-based tools have resulted in a new option for business owners who wish to offer more personalized service to their callers and engage a more active partner in their business. Sometimes called a virtual receptionist, these companies typically offer a smaller, dedicated team of receptionists whose philosophy centers around functioning as an extension of your staff and the front-end for your business. Typically, callers will feel as though they have reached your office. Questions can be answered, appointments can be scheduled and calls can be screened, announced and connected in real-time to your people on any phone number. You are encouraged to communicate with your receptionist regularly regarding your schedule, preferred contact number, even particular people you do or don’t wish to speak with. Often locally based, off-site receptionist companies may even offer you the opportunity to meet and train their team just like you’d train your own employee.

While there are many companies who will answer your business telephone calls, the experience for your callers (and the benefits to you) can vary widely depending on the type of service you choose. Before beginning your search, take a few moments to outline your particular needs and seek out the type of service geared to you.

About the Author: Victor Mataraso, MBA is the founder and president of Reliable Receptionist. Serving the San Francisco East Bay Area and the western states, Reliable Receptionist provides personalized, off-site telephone reception services for businesses with 1 to 100 employees. For more information or to contact him directly, call (925) 627-4200 or visit .

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