Live answering services have operated for nearly as long as there have been telephone service for businesses. For much of the middle 20th century, in-house live answering at a switchboard was an essential feature for mid-sized and large businesses. There was simply no way to direct phone traffic through an organization without it.

For smaller companies, individual contractors providing first-line answering and after-hours messaging became an essential aspect of competing with those larger players. By the time the digital revolution provided additional options like email for customers to use when connecting with your business, customer service call lines and live answering professionals were standard expectations, even though the days of switchboard operators were long in the past.

Today, live answering remains an essential business service in many industries and a good idea in many more. Not only does it provide a personal touch when customers reach out to your company, the right answering service will also empower you to streamline your on-site receptionist coverage or even to replace it with options that are more cost-effective for your company’s current size and client base.

For startups and one-person operations, this service is even more essential because it allows you to set up a buffer between yourself and customers without making it difficult for them to reach out for help and without using any impersonal automated systems they might find hard to navigate. In fact, thanks to innovations in the industry, you now have more control than ever over your communications.

Access Messages on Your Terms

One of the innovations that has made these services more useful, more accessible, and even less expensive has been the development of app-based software used to manage your messages and listen to recordings. The right answering service software can provide you with a wide range of options, including:

  • SMS texts summarizing communications and providing links to more detail
  • In-app transcription for voicemail
  • Transcription of both sides of customer interactions with live answering
  • Whitelisted incoming numbers for direct connection to your line
  • Support for outsourced phone reception
  • Options to set and change available hours for direct customer service connections to your main business line
  • Support for accessing business messages from your personal cellular device

All of these features may not be available from every modern answering service, but they are all available from some of them. Each provider has its own range of additional services and software features, including some less common services not covered here. If you’re looking for something unique, it’s worth contacting a service provider about your needs to see what your options are for service plans. You might find they can put together exactly what you need, even if it doesn’t appear on their main list of plan features.

Connect Your Customers and Knowledge Base

Live answering services do more than just serve you messages. Today’s packages often include the option to outsource some live customer service or reception duties, at least among their upper tiers. You can use this to your advantage by providing knowledge base services over the phone with the right provider. Put the online compilation of common issues and questions you already maintain at their disposal and let them directly resolve basic issues with customers who engage better on the phone than online. That reduces the number of messages you need to return while eliminating a class of them you are already seeking to defer so you can focus on other matters.

Direct Messages To the Right Staff

Basic, low-cost answering for small businesses and professional practices can be set up for just a few dollars a month, but as your business grows it’s fairly common to wind up needing more, and not just more help with customer service. Your growth will result in more staff specialization, which means incoming calls will need to be sorted and forwarded to the right person. To do that, you’ll either need additional numbers or extensions to your mainline for direct calls.

Your answering service will also need to be upgraded to provide forwarding to multiple recipients, but that kind of change is easy and cost-effective with today’s software-based messaging options. You can maintain a single incoming line while setting up backend rules for call forwarding that send the messages to entirely different mobile devices on different carriers if necessary when you work with a competitive, innovative answering service. That makes it easier than ever to set up an effective customer service structure.