There comes a time in every business when you know you’re going to be in it for the long haul. Not matter your business - wholesale grower, retail or trade - the day will come when your business starts getting more phone calls that you can personally handle while still doing all the other work that needs to get done. And all that work must this done while trying to sound happy and perky over the phone. It is, after all, up to them to create a great impression.Between answering calls and managing office work, small business owners may find themselves short-staffed, with one person only having time to answer calls and nothing else. If this sounds like your business, a virtual phone receptionist may be just what the doctor ordered.
What is a virtual phone receptionist?
Virtual Phone Receptionists are not your old-school answering service.They are services staffed by real people who have access to powerful software tools, who simultaneously do the following:
Receive customer calls
Utilise formal quality assurance processes for managing calls, to ensure that no customer request will fall through the cracks
Pass calls on to the right staff member at the right time
Manage your calls by knowing when you can take them and when you are NOT to be disturbed
Answer basic questions about your business and assist your customers by finding a helpful solution
While all Virtual Phone Receptionists answer calls straight up, others enhance their services with specialised call management technology out of reach of many small businesses. These include the ability to manage multiple incoming calls at the same time. The combination of telephony technology and expert call management makes it impossible for your business to miss a call...ever. All calls are answered and all business opportunities are taken without missing a beat. This service allows you to drop any extra fixed lines and call hunting plans that you have, which in turn saves money... which you can then use to help pay for your virtual phone receptionist!
A business handling large call volumes can be hard pressed to have sufficient staff to man the phones all day. This is even more of a problem if the business operates 24/7 or offers emergency or out of work hour services. Virtual Phone Receptionists can be available to cover all shifts, 24/7, weekends and holidays too -if needed.
Importantly, customers and clients do end up having to leave messages on voicemail. Our own studies shat that less than a third of customers leave voice messages. Having a live person talk with customers every time they call, taking orders or making bookings on the spot, can dramatically increase business results.
Virtual Phone Receptionists can also answer basic questions about your business or point your customers in the direction of the most helpful answer. If a solution isn’t available immediately, they can call you to find out the right information and, if you are too busy, call the customers back and give them the information they are seeking, which demonstrate excellent customer service. They can even arrange a call between you and the client so that you can personally answer questions.
An often overlooked benefit of a virtual phone receptionist is that of business overheads. While virtual receptionists are a cost, they are generally a lot less than hiring a full time staff member and, importantly, there are none of the additional costs associated with staff, such such as space, electricity, office equipment, tax, etc.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds
Working with a Virtual Phone Receptionist has some challenges. Since VPRs work remotely, you need to give clear and specific instructions for them to perform exactly as you want. They don’t, nor ever will, know your business like you do. Before using a virtual receptionist, it is vital that you and your staff have a long hard think about how you answer calls, what sort of information your customers request over the phone, and how you want a receptionist to respond. All of this needs to be written down clearly and concisely. Many of the virtual phone receptionist agencies will help you create ‘scripts’ for their staff, guiding you through this process. While this may seem like a chore, it is actually a great way to gain clarity about your business and your customers, regardless of who answers your phones.
For small to medium sized businesses, especially those with specialist product knowledge, such as propagators and landscapers, in-house employees will need training in the CTI’s (Computer Telephony Integration) used by Virtual Phone Receptionists, as well training to understand when and why calls will be routed to them by the virtual receptionists, and in how to follow up with any calls the receptionists put through to them.
You may experience some variation in receptionist quality. Staff turnover at Virtual Phone Receptionist firms is quite common, and this various of staff can be accompanied by differences in work ethics and productivity levels. There may even be language barrier issues (very rare, but it has been known). Before entering a contract with a virtual phone receptionist firm, be sure to ask them for references and try them out. Also, check the contract to be sure you can demand a replacement, or terminate the service, should a receptionist (or group of receptionists) not be meeting your standards.
Finally, you should only embrace a virtual phone receptionist if you are willing to work closely with them on an ongoing basis. During your journey with the virtual receptionist, it is a certainty you’ll discover things that are not quite right: your scripts will need to be rewritten; information will need to be updated and changed; your own staff will need more training. Just like any on-site staff member, you’ll need to develop a close working relationship with your virtual phone receptionist.
Is it for you?
Virtual Phone Receptionist can be perfect for:
Non traditional business settings like mobile professionals: landscapers, associated traders
Start up businesses that are watching their overhead while, looking for low risk ventures and testing the waters.
Emergency / after hours service providers: tree loppers, weekend services, etc.
Small nurseries that need all hands on deck.
Affiliate traders with e-commerce that need a dedicated customer service line.
Not even remotely unheard of
Here are some links to Virtual Phone Receptionist Service providers to get you started. This is not an exhaustive list and there are any more service providers out there.