The Pros and Cons of a Virtual Receptionist
With virtual assistant technology like Alexa becoming mainstream, virtual receptionists are becoming more common as well. The global virtual assistant market, valued at $800 million in 2015, is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 34.9 percent until 2024 to reach $7.5 billion. As people get used to talking to machines, the number of virtual receptionist providers is also growing, with major VoIP providers such as Vonage now routinely offering virtual receptionist services. The increasing availability of virtual receptionist services presents business owners with the option of choosing between traditional and virtual alternatives. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of using virtual receptionists to help you decide which option is right for your business.
Types of Virtual Receptionists
Before looking at pros and cons, it’s important to realize that there are different types of virtual receptionist services. Live virtual receptions are human receptionists who work at a remote location rather than in your physical office and who handle calls forwarded to their location. This type of virtual receptionist is virtual simply in the sense of being remote, but is otherwise the same as a normal receptionist.
Automated receptionists greet callers with recorded menu options, allowing callers to choose an option to have their call forwarded to the appropriate department. This type of virtual receptionist typically forwards calls to live human beings or to menus where callers can enter digital options, such as entering your credit card number to hear your most recent account information.
Finally, there are fully automated virtual receptionists that are machines which can interpret human voice input and reply with programmed responses. This category of virtual receptionists is similar to intelligent virtual assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana and Google Assistant.
One of the biggest attractions of virtual receptionists is the cost. A live virtual receptionist costs less than a full-time traditional receptionist due to a number of factors. Live virtual receptionist billing is often scalable to the amount of time actually spent answering calls, in contrast to a full-time in-house worker. Both live and automated virtual receptionists avoid such costs as benefits and taking up in-house office space. Sysix Technologies found that replacing their receptionist with a fully-automated receptionist named Olivia Greet cut their costs by 73 percent.
Another advantage of virtual receptionists is that they answer calls which would otherwise have been missed. 80 percent of callers who get sent to voicemail don’t leave messages, according to Forbes contributor Adriana Lopez.
Virtual receptionists also increase efficiency. When call-answering duties are delegated to a virtual receptionist, businesses can handle a higher volume of calls, while at the same time having more time to focus on other duties.
Virtual receptionists can also help a company boost its professional image. When calls are answered by a trained specialist or by a sophisticated automation system, customers perceive a company as more professional.
While cost can be a pro for companies comparing the expense for a virtual receptionist service to that of a full-time receptionist, it can also be a con for smaller companies comparing it to the cost of not having either. Costs for virtual receptionist services range from $1.25 a minute to $2.59 a minute.
Another potential problem with automated virtual receptionist services is customer dissatisfaction. The biggest customer service complaint U.S. consumers have is not being able to reach a human being on the phone, a Consumer Reports poll revealed.
A third problem is potential lack of flexibility. Remote human receptionists are largely confined to scripted answers and may lack inside knowledge of your company to address certain topics. Likewise, automated menus and digital assistants are locked into the limitations of their programming.
Finally, virtual receptionists can only answer phones. They can’t perform other duties of traditional receptionists, such as filing, typing and greeting live visitors.
Evaluating Your Options
Which option is best for you depends on what types of calls your business receives, how many calls you receive of each type and your budget. First, consider what types of calls your company normally gets, which types could be automated and which types require a live person.
Next, estimate how many calls of each type you receive and how many minutes each type takes you to answer. You might take a sample for a week or two to estimate this. This will help you identify where and if automation would save you time. Estimating how many minutes you use will also help you estimate how much a virtual receptionist will cost you. You will then be in a position to compare costs from different providers and make an informed decision.