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Answering Service or Virtual Assistants, Which is Best for You?

Answering Service or Virtual Assistants, Which is Best for You?

Customer Service | How Answering Services Work | Healthcare | Virtual Receptionists 101

Which is better, using a telephone answering service or a virtual assistant? Well, no one can answer that question except for you. In fact, the real question is, “Which style of support is best for you?”

To gain some clarity, you must understand the basics of each style and then determine your needs. Which is why you should continue reading this article. You'll learn about answering services, virtual assistants and call centers. Then we'll walk you through some basic questions to determine your needs. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of how to choose the right service for your business.

What is an Answering Service? 

An answering service is an organization who employs agents to support your business. These agents are often referred to as virtual receptionists and can help you in many ways. Like call centers, these agents are usually part of a centralized team.

An answering service will take messages and transfer calls. Agents can provide scripted answers for FAQs and basic company information. They will categorize calls according to your guidelines and set customer expectations. They can dispatch urgent issues for immediate resolution and follow up to make sure you got the message.

Some answering services will book appointments through a shared calendar. But, agents generally don't work within your CRM or calendar unless it is part of a niche service. Most can integrate with certain CRMs and sync appointments with your calendar. Mid to large sized answering services may also offer 24 hour support with scalable call center solutions. So, it is always worth clarifying the specific capabilities of each answering service.


Pro Tip: Don't let the name virtual receptionist mislead you. Virtual receptionists are real people, not AI.

To compare providers, download our free comparison checklist here:

How to Choose the Right Answering Service for Me

What is a Virtual Assistant? 

A virtual assistant is a single person or a group of dedicated agents who support businesses. Like an answering service, virtual assistants will take messages and transfer calls. But, a virtual assistant is more integrated with your business. They may support other projects and administrative tasks unrelated to answering the phone. They may make travel arrangements and give in depth customer service to your clients. Generally, a virtual assistant only supports a small number of small businesses or individual business owners.

For example, a virtual assistant may log into your EMR or CRM to provide account updates and schedule. They may use a company email and build relationships with clients. This is especially true in the medical field and other specialized lines of work.

A virtual assistant will gain company knowledge the longer they support your business. They may be expected to stay up to date with industry changes. Due to this, assistants will need less direction on how new things should be done and may go "off script". The quality of their support depends on their personal knowledge and is hard to scale. As such, before you hire a virtual assistant confirm their hours of support and how they use voicemail if unavailable.

What is a Call Center?

A call center is a centralised team of agents who support a large volume of calls for their clients. Services may include hybrid solutions, help desk support and employee reporting. Frequently, call centers will also support email monitoring, chat and order placing. Call centers may support both in and outbound calls or they may only support inbound calls.

Call center agents will conduct all the functions of virtual receptionists for clients. Small and medium sized clients will receive support within the call center's software. Whereas, larger clients may receive support within their EMR or CRM. Call center agents are not industry experts.

Some call centers provide niche services such as telemarketing. Call center agents will not have relationships with clients like virtual assistants. Call center agents will "follow the script". As such, call centers are able to offer 24/7 support and scalability.

Which is Best for You?

If you’re still unsure, take a moment and answer these three basic questions.

1. Does your team need support within a specific piece of software, CRM, ERM or calendar?

a. If not, an answering service may be the right fit for you.

b. If yes, is your team open to exploring integration and/or syncing capabilities? Or, do you use the same calendar as your potential partner? 

i. If yes, an answering service might be the right fit for you.

ii. If not, do you expect more than 100 calls a day?

1. If not, a virtual assistant may be the right fit for you.

2. If yes, a call center may be the right fit for you.

2. Could a polite professional simply follow your company protocol to support your business?

a. If yes, an answering service may be the right fit for you.

b. If not, a virtual assistant may be the right fit for you.

3. Do you just need help covering the phones so your team can focus?

a. If yes, an answering service or call center might be the right fit for you.

b. If not, do you also need support for projects and administrative tasks?

i. If so, a virtual assistant or hiring additional staff might be the right fit for you.

Again, this is not a one size fits all approach. Every answering service will be different. Just like, every company will need some kind of customized support. But having answers to these questions is a great starting point. If you're still unsure, our team at Ambs Call Center will be happy to guide you through the process. Even if we don’t end up being a good fit for you.

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About Jennifer M. Cronkhite