What is a Virtual Receptionist? A Complete Guide

Written by Nicky Walker - Senior Marketing Developer
Cartoon of 3 virtual receptionists
6th November 2023 

The term “virtual receptionist” can mean a few different things to certain sectors and businesses. For some, it conjures up an image of a sophisticated software system, seamlessly handling calls. For others, it’s a dedicated professional, albeit remote, offering a personalized human touch to every phone call and interaction.

While both approaches have their merits, when it comes to delivering bespoke, professional customer satisfaction, a real life human being answering calls wins everytime.

In this “what is a virtual receptionist?” guide we will focus mainly on the latter as this is how Connect’s virtual receptionist service works, with real operators answering calls and handling client enquiries for businesses remotely.

Virtual Receptionists: What They Are & Why You Need One

A virtual receptionist is a trained professional who can handle incoming calls, appointment bookings, and other administrative tasks remotely, ensuring that no call goes unanswered.

Studies have shown that roughly 80 percent of callers will avoid leaving a message if they are greeted with a voicemail. Furthermore, a study, this time by eVoice, found that only 33 percent of recipients of a voicemail would actually listen to it! That’s a staggering chunk of potential business slipping through the cracks, as well as loyal clients who might feel they aren’t receiving the service they deserve.

80 percent of callers won't leave a voicemail
80% of callers won’t leave a voicemail

Operating much like an in-house receptionist, a virtual office receptionist will answer calls in your company name and can follow a script or guidelines. The ideal outcome is for callers to feel as if they’ve just interacted with someone sat in your front office, completely unaware that the friendly, professional they’ve been speaking to is in fact an outsourced service provider.

A traditional in-house receptionist sits at the front desk, welcoming guests and answering calls but what happens if they are on their lunch break, have fallen ill or are taking a holiday?

Virtual receptionists, sometimes referred to as “virtual assistants”, operate as part of a small team, pooling resources to ensure consistent availability. This means that they are always available to answer calls with no need for you to worry about holiday cover, sickness or that extended Friday afternoon “business lunch”.

How Do Virtual Receptionist Services Work?

To start, every client at Connect receives a unique telephone number dedicated solely to their business. Any call made to this number will be answered as the client wishes, whether that’s in their company’s name or with a specific greeting they’ve chosen.

 

Routing Your Business Calls to the Service

The first step in using a virtual receptionist is getting your companies incoming calls through to that unique number. There are a number of ways that this can be done, but the most common is by diverting calls from a number already in use by the company.

This is preferable for most businesses that already have an established telephone number that their clients know and call. Aside from not having to change their number, this method means that companies remain in complete control over when they use a call answering service.

Diverting telephone calls from existing number

By entering different divert codes, businesses can choose to send calls under specific conditions – be that when their line is busy, after a certain number of rings without an answer, or for some, simply redirecting all incoming calls, all of the time.

 

How Should Operators Respond?

Once lines are being successfully routed, operators will answer calls as directed by the client, whether it’s “Good morning, <insert company name>, how can I help you?” or something more personalised, it’s really best to stick with something close to how calls would normally be answered for the company.

One of the main goals of a good virtual receptionist is for the service to be a seamless as possible, callers should rarely be able to suspect that their call has been answered by an outsourced receptionist.

 

Call Handling and Script Guidance

From there, operators are again guided by call scripts or bespoke training on how to handle calls. By default, our operators will take and record simple information such as name, best contact number and a brief message.

If diary management is required they can log in to online diaries, in order to book/amend/cancel or confirm appointments, or access online order forms and CRM software.

If acting as an outsourced switchboard receptionist, they will attempt to transfer to the correct department or person.

 

The Importance of Clear Instructions

The main thing is that clear instruction is provided when setting up the virtual receptionist service, if ever in doubt, our operators will organise a call back, rather than risking potential errors or providing incorrect information to the caller.

Why Opt for a Virtual Receptionist or Telephone Answering Service?

One of the main reasons business look at outsourcing to a Virtual Receptionist is, quite simply, one of cost. Hiring a full-time, in-house receptionist comes with fixed salaries, benefits, holidays, and other overhead costs.

By outsourcing, most services operate on a flexible pricing model, where you pay for the services or time you use. This allows businesses to scale up or down based on call volume, ensuring you’re only paying for what you need, when you need it.

 

Complementing In-House Teams with Virtual Support

Many smaller businesses may not be able to justify the cost of employing a receptionist, even on a part-time basis, especially if they need calls to be answered full-time. Likewise, many larger businesses may need more than one receptionist but not quite enough to justify employing a second.

Here at Connect we have many clients where our virtual receptionists work in unison with existing in-house receptionists, not in competition.

 

Ensuring Uninterrupted Call Handling

Outsourcing not only makes sense financially but also practically as it means uninterrupted availability during working hours. Unlike traditional in-house receptionists who might be absent due to holidays, lunches, illnesses, or personal emergencies, virtual receptionists ensure there’s always someone present to answer your calls.

Employees get ill, they are entitled to holidays and maternity leave, it’s just part of business, but by working with a virtual receptionist, employers no longer have to scramble for temporary replacements or let calls go unanswered.

 

Maintaining Professionalism and Efficiency

Rather than having unanswered calls bounce through to someone that’s not particularly “client facing” within the business, when using a virtual receptionist service, all operators are trained specifically to deal with inbound calls.

They’re able to deal with high call volumes and follow bespoke scripts whilst always being professional, empathetic and friendly to callers. They provide a level of professionalism and efficiency that can boost your company’s image, make you appear larger and more established and help ensure that every caller’s first impression is a positive one.

 

Filtering Unwanted Calls

Part of being a highly trained and professional call handler also means that virtual receptionists are able to sniff out unwanted sales calls that many businesses find an unwelcome distraction.

unsolicted sales calls solution

Repeat offenders can be blacklisted with the answering service and notes on screen guide operators to politely, but firmly request that the companies details are removed from the callers database so as to try and reduce future attempts.

 

Better Customer Service

Providing excellent customer service is the backbone of any successful business. Virtual receptionists play an important role in ensuring customer queries are addressed promptly and effectively. Their training allows them to handle a huge range of customer queries, from scheduling appointments to addressing grievances.

With a virtual office receptionist in place, businesses can guarantee that every customer call is handled with care, boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty in the process.

Take a look at our blog on reasons to opt for a virtual receptionist for further reading.

When to Consider a Virtual Receptionist

High call volumes: If your business is finding it hard to keep up with call volumes then that’s certainly a good reason to look at outsourcing but it’s not the only one.

Seasonal variations in calls: As many businesses are seasonal then it can be hard to manage staffing through the peaks and troughs of the year. Most virtual receptionist services offer relatively flexible packages and tariffs meaning that you can reduce and increase volume at short notice.

Unhappy clients: Sometimes it may not be obvious that calls are being missed, has your business seen an increase in negative reviews from existing clients? It’s not uncommon now for disgruntled customers to take to Twitter or Trustpilot when they can’t get hold of a company or perceive a dip in customer service.

Small businesses and Start-ups: Just starting out? With limited staff and budget, a virtual receptionist acts as member of your business remotely and provides a professional customer service experience without the overheads a new start-up may struggle with.

Choosing a Virtual Receptionist Service

Not all services are created equal, points to consider when choosing a provider:

Flexibility

How rigid is the service offered in terms of what they can and can’t do? Many providers offer the world in their marketing but the reality may be that all they can really offer is a glamorised voicemail whereby the operator can only do very basic call answering tasks. Such a service may be all you’re looking for in a Virtual Receptionist, but if it is, make sure you’re not paying for a more premium service than you need.

Accessibility and Scalability:

Are you able to easily change the way phone calls are answered and handled if volumes increase or your needs change? If you are running a new marketing campaign or releasing a new product you need to be confident that the call handlers are up to speed with any changes. Likewise, if you are using the service as an outsourced switchboard, you need to be able change to where and when calls are transferred to in your business depending on availability, holidays and absenteeism.

Pricing Structure:

Is it easy to understand what’s included and what the charges are likely to be if you’re busier or quieter than anticipated? Be aware that the more you use a service, naturally the higher the costs. Connect offer a 30 day free trial so that we can give you a realistic estimation of cost, we aim to be a transparent as possible. We offer a monthly, rolling contract so that you can change packages easily to suit if call volumes increase/decrease unexpectedly or place the account on hold or cancel at short notice.

Closing Thoughts

Virtual receptionist services can serve as a crucial link between businesses and their clients, offering a wide range of call-handling solutions: a real person answering your business calls when you can’t, booking appointments, intercepting unwanted sales calls, and ensuring smooth communication.

By outsourcing to a virtual receptionist, businesses can expect numerous advantages over employing in-house: cost-effectiveness, uninterrupted availability, and enhanced customer service. As always in business, when choosing a new service, considerations should revolve around flexibility, adaptability, and transparency in pricing.

 

Considering a Virtual Receptionist for Your Business?

Businesses grow when communication with clients and potential customers remains consistent and professional. Imagine having the peace of mind that every call to your business is addressed promptly and professionally, even during lunch breaks or unexpected absences.

Whether your call volumes face seasonal fluctuations or you’re a budding start-up looking for a cost-effective solution to your call answering, outsourcing means that you have the ability to adapt quickly to changes.

If you’ve ever faced the challenge of missed calls, disgruntled customers, or juggling multiple tasks, it might be time to consider taking advantage of Connect’s 30 day free trial to see if a virtual receptionist service is what your business needs.

What is a Virtual Receptionist? FAQs

 

•How Does a Virtual Receptionist Work?

A virtual office receptionist operates remotely, answering calls and following on screen instructions as directed, can manage appointments and handle client interactions on behalf of businesses.

 

•What’s the Difference Between a Traditional Receptionist and a Virtual Receptionist?

The main difference is location and modality. While traditional receptionists work on-site, virtual receptionists operate remotely, usually as part of a small team meaning that they have constant availability.

 

•What are Three Duties a Virtual Receptionist Can Perform?

They can manage incoming calls addressing client queries, work as a virtual switchboard operator and schedule appointments via online diaries among other tasks.

 

•What are the Benefits of a Virtual Receptionist?

Key benefits include cost-effectiveness, uninterrupted availability, professionalism, screening of unwanted calls, and superior customer service.

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