April 29, 2022

The new age of virtual answering services

We’re living in an age of tech-powered convenience. We ask, “Alexa? What’s the weather outside?” We click “order again” on our favorite Uber Eats meal from the ramen place down the street and run to the door in slippers to pick it up and eat in front of Bob’s Burgers on tv. And we impulse-buy new shoes from an Instagram ad. And when we need help with something in the process of these modern conveniences — whether that’s making a reservation at a nearby restaurant, returning a pair of sneakers, or getting a refund — we expect a resolution immediately. 

But that’s not usually the case at all. Instead, we’re met with robots who think we said “Illinois” not “Massachusetts” when we try to order food with them. Or endless number selections to get to the right menu, or limited or hard to find customer service contact options. 

The people doing customer service for small businesses, restaurants, eCommerce shops, and other brick-and-mortar establishments are overworked, and trying to keep up with customers across all channels, all at once. 

So — what are these businesses doing to help? They have turned to technology. This same technology that helps make other parts of life more convenient and simple can help in the realm of customer service (for any industry). More specifically, this means turning to automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and integrations. 

One of these technologies that supports a better customer experience is automated answering services, or virtual receptionists that are smarter than your average “phone robot”. They can do a lot more than just let you enter an extension or press 2 for service in another language — they can reduce call volume to staff members, improve the customer experience, and serve as a marketing opportunity to drive business. 

Let’s explore the full capabilities of powerful, modern virtual answering services and how they benefit small teams.

What is a virtual answering service?

Virtual answering services are programs that act as the first contact for someone with any kind of question for your business. They help reduce the burden of answering every call right away from a receptionist juggling many other tasks, and they can sometimes resolve an issue or inquiry completely without ever having to route a call to a person in your office. You know when Pam screens Michael’s calls in the office? It’s like that — a cheerful, on-brand, familiar voice to help people get where they need to go.

michael standing at the reception desk talking to pam on the office
Source: The Journal


How does a virtual assistant work?

A virtual assistant is programmed to respond to basic queries your customers may have, from simple questions like “What time are you open?” to more complicated issues like “I received the wrong item in the mail”. 

All you have to do is set up the system by inputting your commonly received questions, frequent topics of discussion, and providing possible answers and actions for the system to take to help a customer — including setting up where a call will be routed to if a question goes beyond the scope of the programmed topics. 

When you begin to gather data about why people call, you can tailor your virtual assistant’s responses. For example, the #1 reason people call restaurants is to make a reservation, so if you can direct callers to a link to reserve online via text, you can save your staff time and allow the customer to make and edit their reservation on their own.

With more advanced virtual assistants like Slang.ai, you can customize your customer phone experience with soundscapes and personalization. And you can access a more sophisticated routing system that brings callers right to customer service before they get fired up and write a nasty Yelp review.

How AI-powered automated answering services improve the customer experience

AI-powered automated answering machines make it easier for a customer to get their questions answered without waiting for an eternity while bad hold music plays and no one’s there to listen. 

Customers can also avoid having to memorize which number the menu options list could potentially apply to their situation (was it 3 or 4?). Instead, they can just speak to the answering machine like it’s a person and have their call be routed accordingly.

These systems save time for the customer and help prevent voicemail pileups leading to stress for receptionists and potentially lost business. A “virtual receptionist” can answer thousands of calls at once, so there’s no frustrating hold music right off the bat with no information or indication of how long the wait will be.

Automated answering services pick up the phone 24/7  — either as your primary answering system or when your administrative professionals or customer care agents are offline. That means you’ll never miss out on new business, and can snooze peacefully, knowing you’ll wake up to potential new customers and leads. 

You also get the most important, timely information out to your customers with a recorded greeting and intro message you can customize, along with great background music that aligns with your brand. 

Pro tip: automated answering services can be a great marketing opportunity. The average business with a Google My Business profile shows up in over 1,000 searches per month, and after finding a business online, 60% of individuals prefer to call for more information. 

screenshot of the google result for bakery near me in newtonville massachusetts
 Source: Google


Sharing your hours of operation, important policies, and a kind greeting helps to set your customers up for success and establishes a friendly relationship with your brand.

Great automated answering services also have analytics platforms that let you know how many calls your system has fielded, how many text replies or confirmations the system has sent, when you’re getting the most calls (by day of the week or by time of the day), and how many calls have been deemed successful and resolved.

If you learn that like the average restaurant, you see 3x more calls on Saturdays, you can put in efforts to direct customers to your website or use self-service options to help staff serve customers instead of sitting on the phone.

the slang.ai dashboard for AI powered virtual phone experiences
The Slang.ai automated answering service analytics dashboard

Top questions people have about automated virtual assistants

How much does an automated answering service cost?

The Slang.ai starter package is priced at $159 a month, and can handle up to 500 monthly calls. For businesses with more complex needs, higher call volume, or those who want their automated answering service to tackle even more, the Growth package is available for $240 a month. And for businesses fielding up to 2,500 calls a month, the Rocket package is available at $480 a month. To learn more, check out the Slang.ai pricing page.

Other services offer free trials, or are priced by the minute, and pricing varies based on the option to use a live virtual assistant or receptionist and using AI-powered automated answering. Many similar services also offer auto-text responses, live chat support, and other features that impact pricing. 

What’s the difference between an answering service and automated voicemail?

An automated voicemail is the system you’ve likely become accustomed to over the past several decades across industries: press 1 for sales, 2 for customer service, 3 for opening hours, press 4 to repeat your options, and press 0 to speak to an operator. 

An answering service goes above and beyond these numerical menus — especially those powered by AI, that allow customers to describe what they’re looking for and route them quickly to an answer. When AI-powered virtual answering services sense that someone needs an immediate response, they route them to a human right away, reducing customer wait times for urgent issues.

How are virtual receptionists different from automated answering machines?

The term “virtual receptionist” can be a little confusing, as it can refer to people who work remotely as a receptionist for a business, fielding all phone (and often email, text, and chatbot) inquiries as needed — but it can also refer to automated answering machines, whether they’re the basic numerical type or the more modern, AI-powered systems ready to handle the most common issues and inquiries sent to a business.

What are the benefits of using automated phone systems?

  1. Free up time for your receptionists and assistants.
    Instead of constantly having to route incoming calls themselves, receptionists can focus on the dozens of other office-based tasks on their plate.
  2. Calls will never go missed or to an unmonitored voicemail.
  3. It’s an opportunity to show off your brand.
    With a variety of background music options and voices to choose from, as well as other points of customization, automated phone systems like Slang.ai help your company make an excellent first impression that lines up with your brand. 
  4. Automated phone systems can be programmed to guide people curious about your business and turn them into customers.
  5. Great automated phone systems like Slang.ai can be programmed to know how to answer dozens of questions.
    And their system gets smarter as more people call in. 
  6. Learn about your customers.
    Slang.ai keeps track of the topics that your customers are calling about so you can update your system to reflect their needs and questions. 

Popular types of virtual answering services and automated phone services + 8 of the top platforms to compare

When choosing an automated telephone answering service, you’ll want to think about your business needs, from call volume, to integrations, to brand features. Here are three types of virtual answering systems and eight unique platforms to research and compare.

Cloud-based phone systems

Cloud-based phone systems go beyond wireless, they’re powered by the cloud. These “soft” phone systems don’t require any hardware, and can field business calls or serve as the outgoing phone number for sales and marketing teams. 

  1. RingCentral can provide video, phone, and messaging services for companies. They also have inbound, outbound, and digital products that can help both the sales and customer service sides of a business.
  1. Nextiva does phone as well as video meeting software and an email communication platform. They also have the option to add sales and service tools to their phone packages, which means customer information can be saved for next time. 
  1. Grasshopper is ideal for new small business owners who want their personal phone to also have a business line to keep work and life more organized. 
  1. Vonage is a great choice for medium-sized businesses with up to 99 employees, according to fitsmallbusiness.

Live human-based answering services

Having a live person to answer calls at busy businesses can be a lifesaver. Live answering services can provide an added level of customer service at a less expensive cost than a full-time staff member, but more than an automated answering service.

  1. Ruby offers 24/7 virtual phone receptionists, as well as live chat customer support and works well for healthcare, legal, real estate, and a variety of small businesses.

  2. Posh is a live virtual receptionist service that provides customized call handling and 24/7/365 customer support. Posh integrates with business tools like Calendly, Google Calendar, HubSpot, Salesforce, and more.

  3. AnswerForce’s team of virtual receptionists are specifically geared towards service professionals. They help book appointments, answer calls after hours, and provide bilingual answering support. 

AI-powered automated customer service answering solutions

AI-powered voice assistants leverage the most advanced voice technology to serve customers and reduce the amount of time employees spend on the phone. These platforms sit on top of a cloud-based phone system and help to route urgent calls, answer customer questions, and provide personalized service at scale.

  1. Slang.ai — with its AI-powered system developed by Spotify engineers, customers will no longer have to deal with the frustrating numerical menus of the past. It’s more like actually talking to a human. Slang.ai provides auto-text responses, customization across voices, greeting messages, and topics, as well as a powerful analytics dashboard. We’re laser-focused on making phone interactions the best they can be. 

The Slang.ai customizable virtual phone agent handles over 50% of incoming calls without needing to involve a team member, and it saves companies more than 200 hours per month — all with an 80%+ customer satisfaction score.

Want to learn more about Slang.ai’s innovative AI-powered phone services? Schedule a demo today.


Alex Sambvani

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