How Answering Services Can Facilitate Small Business Growth

Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Grayson Kemper. Grayson Kemper is a Content Developer at Clutch, a B2B research and review platform based in Washington, DC. He specializes in telecom research.  For more information, https://clutch.co/.

SmallBizLady: WHAT EXACTLY ARE ANSWERING SERVICES?

Grayson Kemper: Answering services are business services that, at their core, offer telephone and other response services features to for business communication channels. These services include automated and live answering services, virtual receptionists, and internet-platform services.

The features included range from 24/7 answering to appointment scheduling, bilingual answering, email response, and social media monitoring. Essentially answering services are the front line to your business communications, and can serve to tools to organize and ensure that all incoming communications and enquiries are received and properly addressed

SmallBizLady: WHAT ELSE DO ANSWERING SERVICES DO BEYOND PICKING UP/DIRECTING INCOMING PHONE TRAFFIC?

Grayson Kemper: Although answering services are typically perceived as services that simply receive and answer telephone calls for their clients, there have been significant technological innovations over the past decade, which have opened up their capabilities as business tools. Specifically, more advanced forms of answering service, like live virtual receptionists and internet-platform services, have made some headway in the market. These services leverage digital technologies to provide features such as voice to text, email answering, analytics, live web chat, web dashboard, and social media monitoring. These features allow answering services to act as an extension of your business, rather than mere tools that provide a small convenience.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF ANSWERING SERVICES?

Grayson Kemper: Three (3) main forms of answering services that businesses use today: automated, live virtual receptionists, and internet-platform.

  1. Automated service are the most common, as well as most basic, form of answering service. They include interactive voice response, auto attendants, and traditional voicemail services.
  2. Live virtual receptionists are similar to automated services in that they answer and direct calls. The difference is that a live virtual receptionist provides live answering, so a caller interacts with a real person who has access to company dashboards.
  3. Internet-platform services leverage internet connectivity as the backbone of for their features. These services include live web chat services, automated email response systems, and social media monitoring tools..

SmallBizLady: HOW DO I KNOW WHICH TYPE OF ANSWERING SERVICE TO USE?

Grayson Kemper: Identifying the particular type of answering service that best fits your business needs shouldn’t be a super difficult process. Most importantly, the service needs to make sense for your business, i.e., it needs to be compatible with existing communication infrastructure and the features you use should provide practical value and have realistic application for your business. This logic applies both for considering which service you should use, as well as which service you should not use. If you don’t get that many calls, probably don’t need a live answering service, and if you don’t get emails, you probably don’t need an email response tool.

SmallBizLady: ARE ANSWERING SERVICES VIABLE INVESTMENTS, GIVEN THE TRANSITION TO DIGITAL AND ONLINE AS PRIMARY COMMUNICATION CHANNELS FOR MANY BUSINESSES?

Grayson Kemper: Just because communications and inquiries from customers have moved online, doesn’t mean there are less of them. In fact, the proliferation of business communication channels online has increased the volume of incoming communication for many. Internet-platform services in particular were created to address this dynamic.

Other technological advances and demands in the market have led answering services providers to offer other features like live web chats, mobile apps, analytics, and CRM integrations as part of their plans and packages, all of which are well suited for digital platforms. So, yes, answering services are still very viable investments.

SmallBizLady: HOW EXACTLY DO ANSWERING SERVICES PROVIDE VALUE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?

Grayson Kemper: Answering services can provide value for answering services on various fronts. One of the most significant is through strengthening users’ customer service capabilities. An answering service allows for essentially every inquiry directed at a business to be addressed, which generally leads to a more satisfied customer base. Better customer service results in more customer loyalty, which means more consistent revenue. While that seems tangential, strong customer service has proven business value, and answering services can help businesses achieve that.

Other ways answering services provide value for small businesses are through their ability to generate and capture leads, operate as marketing tools, and perhaps most importantly, preserve time resources spent on monitoring and addressing all of a business’ communication channels.

SmallBizLady: HOW DO THESE MEASURES TRANSLATE TO BUSINESS GROWTH?

Grayson Kemper: To piggyback off of the previous answer, the time answering services save small business managers does a great deal to ease and facilitate business growth for small business. Since a lion’s share of the phone calls and emails directed to small businesses are handled by either the owner or manager, the time they can spend answering inquiries can be easily overwhelming. However, with an answering service in place to help alleviate some of this responsibility, time resources can be devoted to other aspects of running a business.

Another way in answering service help business growth is through the scaling small businesses’ communications operations. Not only do they handle incoming inquiries, answering services also collect, store, and organize them. This data is of the utmost value for small businesses, as it can provide business leads to be identified and contacted, information regarding customer’s specific needs, and provide other general feedback, all crucial for expanding and curating a business’ health.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH ANSWERING SERVICES?

Grayson Kemper: Cost varies based on the type of service used as well as the tier of package. Answering services typically charge on a usage-based scale (i.e. minutes allotted) and will have different price ranges based on what features are included in a particular package. A recent study from Clutch, shows that 50% of businesses that use answering services pay less $250 or less a month for their service. So, while it is nearly entirely dependent on which service you decide to use, chances are that it won’t break the bank, which of course bodes well for your business.

SmallBizLady: HOW CAN I TRACK PERFORMANCE OR RETURN USING AN ANSWERING SERVICE?

Grayson Kemper: First, I would say avoid being solely dependent on traditional metrics to measure the effectiveness of an answering services, since many of the ways that they provide value to your business and help facilitate growth are through more intangible methods, like improving customer service.

However, measuring ROI can be achieved if you have the ability to track leads directly from their interaction with your service, from which point you can calculate the revenue brought in from those leads to determine the return on investment. For example, there is a company on our site, Answer Force, who calculated that they provided 508% ROI for one of their clients. There are also ways to keep tabs on key performance indicators (KPIs) for answering services, through measuring the percentage of calls where the agent addresses all of the caller’s needs on the first call, or without having to transfer, escalate, or return it.

SmallBizLady: WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL TERMS OF USE? WILL I BE LOCKED INTO A LONG-TERM INVESTMENT OR PARTNERSHIP WITH A PARTICULAR SERVICE?

Grayson Kemper: Answering service are typically offered as month-to-month services, which leaves a good deal of flexibility for users. This structure allows for some businesses to contract an answering service only in periods of increased phone or communication volumes. An example of this would be a retailer during the holiday season. It should be noted, though, that there is some technical installation that has to be done when an answering service is set up, so having a service for a period of just a couple of months might be a bit of a hassle.

SmallBizLady: HOW CAN I BE CONFIDENT THAT AN ANSWERING SERVICE WILL BE ABLE TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE WITH MY CUSTOMERS?

Grayson Kemper: This is an issue that spans the entire history of businesses using answering services, especially for industries dealing with sensitive information, like the legal and medical fields. This dynamic has actually spawned cottage answering service industries, in which providers solely provide services for companies in the medical (or legal, real estate, etc) industry. These industries operate on the basis that they can effectively communicate about sensitive or complex issues that people would potentially inquire about. Ultimately, though, ensuring that an answering service can effectively communicate about your field with your customers requires a degree of vetting from the user. This echoes my point in a previous answer, which is that small businesses need to ensure that the service they choose is applicable and can provide definite value to their business.

SmallBizLady: WHAT SHOULD BE THE EXPECTED RESULT FROM INSTITUTING AN ANSWERING SERVICE?

Grayson Kemper: Answering services are not a magic bullet for facilitating business growth. Installing one won’t automatically increase your sales by huge margins or open up a previously undiscovered revenue stream. What answering services can do is ease the business growth process for small businesses. Whether that be allowing for management to invest their time into an existing project or streamline your process of collecting and contacting business leads to help grow your customer base, answering services are a fantastic tool by which these goals can be accomplished.

If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter.

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