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Answering Service Options for Small Businesses

Aparna Iyer
Answering services for small businesses enable entrepreneurs to provide superior customer service, set up appointments, take orders for advertised products, and render other services.
Answering services assume importance when the employees find it difficult to keep a track of unattended messages and revert to the callers. Many times, a business may lose revenue despite attending to messages on a prompt basis, since a number of callers may hang up instead of leaving a voice mail.
It's time to turn to a professional service when messages start piling up, and delays in answering customer queries translate into lower business revenue. A 24-hour service, that is geared towards handling customer queries, ensures that a business provides the desired level of customer service, and retains clients while roping in many more.

Preferred Answering Services

These services may be virtual or live. The latter is preferred since the caller has the opportunity of talking to an operator who can render the desired assistance.

Virtual Services

A virtual answering service or a virtual receptionist is programmed to answer calls in the name of the company, take the message and inform the recipient by email or SMS. This is an automated service that is set-up to handle either select calls or all calls that are not answered within 15 seconds.
These services also allow the caller to obtain a series of information based on responses to prompts. It may also divert calls to a call center in case a busy signal is detected. The caller, whose call has been routed, is typically given the option of speaking with an operator or leaving a voice mail.
A virtual order taking service can be useful for a business, when clients typically call after normal business hours to place an order for a specific product or a service that has been advertised on television.
Businesses can also use computerized telemarketing to advertise products. This is done by connecting a computer to a standard phone and programming it so that numbers are dialed automatically.

Live Services

These services give the caller the opportunity of talking to operators, who assess the urgency of the call and decide on the course of action. If the call is not urgent, it may be transferred to an automated service. This is useful for entrepreneurs who would like to provide a service that is personalized to suit the needs of the clients.
An operator is desirable, when the business would like to set up appointments with potential customers or would like to conduct surveys to gather public opinion.
A number of such service providers invest a great deal of money for setting up systems that provide virtual answering services in addition to meeting 24/7 call handling requirements. Telecommuters and solo entrepreneurs benefit from using these services that help render a professional appearance to their enterprise.
An 'automatic 800' service or a toll-free service is made available to callers by businesses engaged in processing a large volume of calls. It is also possible to get an 800 business number for a residence phone or a cellphone.
Moreover, a number of service providers have started waiving the one-time line setup fee and monthly fee for initial months of service. This has made it possible for small businesses to extend this facility to callers. These services have caught on in a big way, thus encouraging entrepreneurs to practice such services from the comfort of their home.