Categorized | Telephone Reception

Back Office 5.11. Telephone Reception

At this point, we need to distinguish the various communications services that are part of your back office. Your needs for each of these services will vary considerably and no single provider may be able to provide you with cost-effective and quality solutions across the board.

  • Telephone reception―this is, simply put, handling incoming calls and directing them to the correct destination . . . or taking a message if the “destination” is out of the office. These calls can be from business partners, clients, customers, vendors, or your parents, and the receptionist identifies your business and directs the call. If you have other communications services, such as customer support, then you can expect all your customers needing support to call customer support rather than your telephone receptionist.
  • Fulfillment―fulfillment is a broad set of activities involved in servicing inbound calls rather than just taking a message or routing the call. Some phone answering services only offer reception―they just receive the phone call and either send it to the proper place or assiduously take down a message. Call centers and support services, however, often provide total service to the inbound caller such as taking orders, handling complaints, or providing information or help―this is what is meant by fulfillment.
  • Customer support―customer support is a fulfillment operation consisting of answering questions and resolving problems your customers have. It is typically performed by a call center or contact center. The most cost-effective customer support solutions are online chat services, but you can also handle all your customer support via the telephone or email. In general, customer support services, whether a call center or online chat service, require special training and skills for the operators.
  • Call center―used in a specific sense, a “call center” often refers to an outbound call service, the type of service you need for doing telephone surveys or telemarketing. Used generically, however, “call center” can describe any centralized service that has a bank of phone operators to handle both inbound and outbound calls such as customer support, telephone reception, and so on.
  • Contact center―a contact center usually refers to a centralized communications hub that includes email, chat, and other communications services in addition to or in place of a bank of telephone operators.
  • Fax centers―fax centers are, well, faxing services. For most businesses, you’ll find yourself barely using the fax―or at least using it at a level you, or a virtual assistant, can do at reasonable cost. If your business is fax heavy―for instance, you do heavy fax-based direct marketing―fax services significantly cut down on the costs and time required for faxing. Most fax services produce significant cost-savings because of both economies of scale and fax virtualization―these services store electronic forms of your fax documents and have sophisticated, automated phone dialing which allows them to perform mountains of faxes in little time.

You hire a telephone reception service if you do not expect a high volume of calls or you need your calls directed to people within your organization. It may not look good if you, as the president of your business, are answering the phones, so shoestring start-ups sometimes bring a telephone reception service on board to make the company look more professional. In addition, telephone reception services allow your phones to be answered when you’re not around―either because you’re out or it’s after hours.

Why would you want a phone receptionist rather than an answering machine? You are, after all, on a shoestring budget and nothing beats a phone machine for cutting costs. Two reasons: first, while the numbers are not totally trustworthy, it’s estimated that between fifty and eighty percent of people who reach an answering machine do not leave a message―so you should consider your messages to represent, at best, only about half the people who tried to contact you. Second, an answering machine cannot distinguish between an important phone call and a junk call. If a mission-critical, high-priority phone call comes in, the answering machine is just a dumb beast that records the message. A phone receptionist service, if it’s worth its salt, will have a priority list for incoming calls and can contact you on your cell phone or through some other means when a high priority call comes in.

What should you look for in a telephone reception system? You want availability (the service should be available twenty-four hours per day, 7 days per week), transferability (you should be able to divert your current phone number to the reception services), cost savings, and inbound call specialty. When choosing a vendor based on their inbound call specialty, you need to determine what type of inbound calls to expect. If you run an appointments-based business―or simply expect to have a majority of inbound calls to be about making or changing appointments―you should be looking for a service that specializes in keeping an appointments diary for your business. If you expect a variety of calls―some critically important and others unimportant―then you want a service that offers prioritization of calls. If a certain percentage of calls involve issues that can be easily handled by a phone receptionist, then you want a service that offers some level of fulfillment.

Most importantly, a telephone reception service should be staffed with operators who have a basic understanding of your business and DO NOT represent themselves as a telephone answering service, especially if your receptionist service is involved in fulfillment in any way. Your goal is to have your telephone reception look like your employee; telephone answering services that present themselves that way to your customers are no better than an answering machine.

And what does it cost? Various services and plans vary and most services offer “packages” rather than per-minute deals. Despite that, you can expect to pay between $1 and $3 per receptionist minute.

5.11.1. American Executive Centers

American Executive Centers provides an entire range of services including trade show assistance, Web site design, and QuickBooks, but the company specializes in telephone reception, collections calling, and telemarketing. They offer standard front-desk receptionist services as well as a package of enhanced reception services that allow you to prioritize calls, give priority and handling instructions, and have your schedule on file for the receptionist to use in answering calls.

5.11.2. Agent Phone, Ltd.

Founded in 1995 as a dedicated inbound call handling company, Agent Phone offers a virtual reception desk that can connect callers either to a live receptionist or a “tone menu” (Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Customer Service, etc.). Agent Phone staffs receptionists twenty-four hours per day and they are professionally trained to represent your company―callers will have no idea that the person answering the phone is employed by a call service. The service also takes voicemail messages and stores them as computer audio files that can be emailed to your computer. Finally, for an extra fee you can have a call recording feature that records every call coming into the center―kind of a combination between live reception and an answering machine.

5.11.3. Real Time Reception

Primarily focused on health services businesses, Real Time Reception provides full inbound-call reception with an emphasis on scheduling appointments and keeping appointments diaries―the solution you’re looking for if your business model is appointments-based and you expect a majority of your inbound calls to be concerned with making, inquiring about, or changing appointments.

5.11.4. Ruby Receptionists

Ruby Receptionists provides general telephone reception services and caters to all sizes of businesses. Calls are answered with a greeting customized to your business and screened, announced, and transferred as with all receptionist services.

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