The concepts behind answering services are not new. A company or individual hires a specialized service to take and screen calls, provide basic information to the caller and pass on messages -- and possibly also to take orders, schedule appointments and provide product support. But while the phone answering service has been around for decades, its capabilities and equipment keep evolving as business demands change and technology advances.
Answer services usually fit into one of the following categories, although answering-service providers often offer services from several categories:
- Automated answering service
- Live answering service
- Internet answering service
- Call center
Automated answering services allow callers to leave voice messages and to obtain information based on responses to prompts. They might be asked, for example, to Press 1 if they want to know business hours, Press 2 to get directions, Press 3 for the company directory or Press 4 to hear directory listings and leave a message. Automated systems work well with customers who are only looking for general information and cost less than live answering services. However, these systems lack the flexibility or personal touch that live answering services provide.
Live answering services give callers the opportunity to talk to someone who may be able to meet their particular needs better than an automated service. The operator also can decide whether the call is urgent enough to send through immediately. In fact, callers often aren't aware that their call has been redirected to the answering service. For telecommuters and solo entrepreneurs, a live answering service can give their business a more professional appearance.
Wondering where to find an answering service to fit your needs? Check out the next page for some ideas.