Business owners know better than anyone that once you’re up and running, the phone never seems to stop ringing. It’s a good problem to have — you’re successful, growing, and serving customers — so what’s the issue?
Incoming calls can often be overwhelming, taking up significant time and resources even if you outsource some of them to a contact center. Just getting back to people can feel like a chore.
Unsurprisingly, businesses of all sizes are increasingly turning to 24/7 answering service software to field calls and resolve common questions, saving time and money.
A virtual receptionist allows you to offer round-the-clock support. It can be an easy and cost-effective way to keep your customers happy. And in this post, we’ll explain how.
What Is a Virtual Receptionist?
A virtual receptionist is a software solution that answers and directs incoming calls, ensuring no calls go unanswered. It can transfer calls to the correct department, resolve basic customer needs, provide account information, and answer commonly asked questions like company hours or locations.
How does a virtual receptionist work?
Virtual receptionists field incoming calls and provide assistance with basic needs, such as scheduling appointments or sharing account information.
If the virtual receptionist can’t handle the client’s needs directly, it will route calls to the right person or department.
For example, a virtual receptionist service for a financial institution can look up a caller’s account number and let them know their account balance or their next payment due date.
However, it may not be able to process a fraudulent charge complaint so that it will connect the customer to the fraud department.
In both instances, the virtual receptionist has saved time for the customer and your team. If it can resolve the client’s question without ever requiring a team member to answer the call, great; that reduction in call volume means less strain on the support team and shorter wait times for those who need a customer support agent to help them.
And if the customer needs help, they won’t wait on hold just to hear they need to be transferred again; the auto attendant will send them to the correct department immediately.
Property management companies can use a virtual receptionist as a 24/7 after-hours service so tenants can report urgent issues. Doctor’s offices can use it so patients can reach an on-call nurse.
Virtual receptionists vs. live agents
When choosing between virtual and live receptionists, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Affordability: Call volume can fluctuate significantly without hiring new employees, and the price of virtual receptionist software is a fraction of a live receptionist’s salary. At the bare minimum, it can automatically connect calls to the right agents.
- Effectiveness: Callers are greeted by an auto attendant and either assisted or directed to the right department immediately; there’s no waiting on hold because the receptionists are fielding multiple phone calls. This is one reason virtual receptionists are such a popular call center feature.
- Personality. Automated receptionists can offer a friendly first impression with a professional, pleasant greeting. However, live receptionists may recognize callers by their caller ID and be best suited to handle urgent matters.
The good news is that businesses can (and often do) take advantage of both virtual and live receptionists.
Auto attendants can greet callers and direct them to the right department or take calls after hours and when the receptionist isn’t available. During business hours, auto attendants can give callers the option to speak to an operator by dialing zero anytime.
How Much Does a Virtual Receptionist Cost?
The cost of virtual receptionists varies depending on the software you use and the plan you choose. They’re often included in VoIP systems, so you won’t have to pay extra as you would with a landline phone system.
Auto attendants are included in Nextiva’s business phone service plans, starting at $18.95 monthly. More info on phone system pricing is covered in the video below.
Why Do Businesses Use Virtual Receptionists?
Businesses use virtual receptionists for several reasons, including improving the customer experience and reducing the workload for their customer support team or contact center.
Customize to your brand needs
Virtual receptionists allow you to customize your answering service based on your business’s needs, including:
- Setting up a custom greeting in your brand voice to thank customers for calling, ensuring a consistent experience.
- Creating straightforward navigational menus to transfer calls to the correct department.
- Implementing call forwarding based on business preferences and needs.
Call answering services can optimize your workflows by handling the “busy work” aspects of call management and forwarding, including:
- Answering common questions.
- Handling simple customer needs, such as order tracking or appointment scheduling.
- Sharing information, such as your company name, location, and business hours.
- Routing calls automatically to the correct department.
Provide consistent customer experience
When you use a virtual receptionist, you can provide a consistent and high-quality customer experience that makes a great impression on new clients and helps retain existing ones.
Auto attendants can improve the customer experience in the following ways:
- Customers know what to expect each time they call.
- Virtual receptionists reduce the amount of time it takes to speak to the right person.
- Customers can have some questions answered at any time, even if they’re calling when your customer support center is closed.
Improve customer trust
When customers call your business phone line, you want them to have a positive experience that builds trust in your business.
Using professional greetings with an auto attendant and automated call forwarding can help your business look established and professional. Small businesses that want to build trust with new customers can use virtual receptionists.
A virtual receptionist can answer multiple phone calls simultaneously, which no live receptionist can do. It can help with call forwarding and call transfers, answer client questions, and simultaneously provide core business information to different users.
With an automated system, every call is routed to the correct place. You can even set up rules to ensure that calls are directed to team members during business hours and to either their voicemail or a contact center after hours.
What Types of Businesses Use Virtual Receptionists?
Virtual receptionists are used in many industries and by companies of all sizes. Any business with incoming calls — whether handling them internally or outsourcing them to a call center — can benefit from live answering services. However, a few industries frequently use virtual receptionists for distinct purposes.
Law firms and legal practices
Law firms and legal practices often use virtual receptionists for the following uses:
- Sharing operating hours with callers.
- Providing extensions for team members.
- Routing callers to the correct team member or their voicemail.
- Allowing submissions for record requests.
- Scheduling consultations with clients.
Financial institutions such as banks, credit card companies, private loan officers, and financial consultants, commonly use online receptionist services for these reasons:
- Tracking the status of payments or account balances.
- Processing payments over the phone.
- Activating credit cards.
- Providing account information.
- Sharing business hours.
- Directing callers to the correct team.
Virtual receptionists are heavily used in healthcare industries for these purposes:
- Scheduling appointments
- Requesting records
- Confirming prescription refills.
- Providing callers with fax numbers, business hours, and locations.
- Directing callers to the correct physician or triage nurse.
- Directing urgent after-hours calls to the on-call practitioner
Nextiva helped Veterans Home Care prepare for significant business growth with our live answering service. See how:
“We are looking at doubling our business over the next couple of years. That’s a lot of people to talk to. We plan to leverage the IVR technology to prioritize where we spend our time and who we talk to.”
~ David Laiderman, Veterans Home Care Vice President
Retail and E-commerce
Retail and E-commerce businesses are often swamped with calls and use virtual receptionists for the following purposes:
- Order status updates, including tracking numbers
- Providing status updates on returns
- Directing callers to customer support or sales team members
Individual realtors typically don’t use virtual receptionists; they’re more likely to have a live receptionist or an assistant while relying on other VoIP features such as text messaging.
However, real estate brokers and agencies regularly use virtual receptionists to handle high call volumes. They may use auto attendants to ensure a fair distribution for new leads or send potential clients to the right realtor based on location and experience.
It’s more common to see real estate agents make good use of business call forwarding to get a listing under contract at any time of day (or night).
Travel and hospitality
Airlines, hotels, and car rental agencies make frequent use of virtual receptionists for these purposes:
- Assisting with bookings, including rescheduling, updating information, or canceling.
- Providing customer support.
- Answering frequently asked questions about policies or company processes.
When you call a government agency, you can expect that a virtual receptionist will answer calls. Government organizations often have virtual receptionists for these reasons:
- Sharing public announcements with callers.
- Allowing callers to request documents or information using self-service options.
- Providing information on where callers can access more information if needed.
- Sharing important contact information, including business hours.
- Offering bilingual announcements to incoming callers
Set Up a Virtual Receptionist With Nextiva
If you’re ready to set up a virtual receptionist, Nextiva is here to help.
Nextiva offers one of the best virtual receptionist services on the market with all of our VoIP plans. This means that the auto attendant is just one feature you gain, in addition to other benefits such as a toll-free or local phone number, SMS messaging, voicemail transcription, and integrations with some CRMs.
When it comes to our virtual receptionist service, you can count on these benefits:
- Reliability: Dependable 99.999% uptime you can trust.
- Call quality: High-performance data centers and HD Voice technology result in superior incoming and outgoing call quality.
- Ease of use: Anyone can set up and use Nextiva’s system, not just technical staff.
- Advanced features: Modify your call routing and call recording preferences, toggling your settings in minutes.
- Security: Nextiva is HIPAA and SOC-2-compliant, making it suitable even for businesses in highly regulated industries.
- Amazing service: Our in-house team offers live support 24/7 with all pricing plans.