Virtual Receptionist

Category: Answering Services

Many small businesses are using virtual receptionists these days, outsourcing the job of answering incoming customer calls, and taking voice mail messages. Can your small business benefit from having a virtual receptionist? Read on...

What is a Virtual Receptionist?

Virtual Receptionist Before we talk about the advantages of a virtual receptionist, we'd better discuss exactly what that is.

You may have heard of a virtual PBX – an office phone system that takes up no office space and requires no phone lines. A virtual PBX consists of software on a remote server connected to the Internet. It provides all calling, call management, and reporting features of a physical PBX without the up front hardware cost and ongoing maintenance. You pay only for the PBX services you use. See the related article Virtual PBX for more info.

A virtual receptionist works the same way, essentially. It's expensive and time-consuming to recruit, hire, and train a live receptionist. Then you have to pay another employee; pay the employee's taxes and benefits; pay for office space and equipment; and perhaps hire another, Human Resources employee to take care of inevitable "people problems." But with a virtual receptionist, you just call up a vendor; provide your office phone directory and the words you want the receptionist to say; and pay only for the time that the virtual receptionist is receiving and directing callers.

You can choose between a live or automated receptionist. Either can work on a virtual, "not in my office" basis. A live remote receptionist physically works in a call center somewhere, or perhaps even from home; it doesn't matter to you as long the calls get answered professionally and routed correctly. A software-based automated receptionist is a specialized program running on a computer in a data center somewhere. There are pros and cons to live and automated virtual receptionists.

A live receptionist has a personality, usually. Callers don't smile and feel good when a computer answers the phone, even if it calls them by name. On the other hand, an automated receptionist can handle many callers simultaneously so no one hears interminable ringing or "Can you hold a moment, please...? ". A live receptionist cannot work around the clock, although several shifts of them can. But an automated receptionist cannot think, so it cannot respond to callers' requests that are not pre-programmed into its software.

Perhaps most importantly, an automated receptionist can't do anything but answer phone and route calls. A live virtual receptionist can also provide virtual secretarial services: typing, making travel arrangements, ordering office supplies or pizza -- just about anything except make coffee for you. (Actually, that *would* be possible with the right home-automation hardware and software.)

Such virtual administrative assistants cost more than less versatile virtual receptionists. But remember, you pay only for what you use. You don't have to pay someone to sit around waiting for you to need something. A virtual office assistant works with multiple clients and is seldom idle. Therein lies one potential disadvantage of virtual office solutions.

If you need something done instantly – like a package delivered to the Fedex drop-off box before pickup time – then it's good to have a live person at your beck and call. But if your days are less urgent (and they should be) then waiting a few minutes or even hours for something to get done won't matter. An online virtual office assistant may well work for you, and save you a great deal of money.

Do you have something to say about virtual receptionists? Post your comment or question below...

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Posted by Bob Rankin on May 21, 2010 01:42 PM

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Article information: All About Voicemail -- Virtual Receptionist (Posted: May 21, 2010 01:42 PM)
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