When small businesses struggle to keep up with the number of customers calling their business, they may consider implementing automated channels, like a phone menu.

According to a recent survey, nearly 90% of people prefer speaking to a live customer service agent though, and automated communications systems often end up frustrating customers who can leave poor reviews online.

Another 2017 study by Clutch found that callers prefer speaking to a live person because they want human interaction, friendliness, clarity, and faster service.

what callers want from telephone customer service reps

When interactive voice response systems and artificial intelligence fail to please customers, businesses often turn to outsourced voice communications to improve their calling systems.

In this article, we explain the different types of outsourced voice communications and show you how each can help improve the satisfaction of your callers.

Use the information in this article to understand the differences between answering services, call centers, and virtual assistants so you can determine which is best suited to your business’ needs.

When and How to Outsource Telephone Customer Service

When customers frequently complain or leave negative online reviews about your automated answering system, it’s time to consider outsourcing your communications so that a live person can handle their calls.

The three most common ways to outsource your business communications are:

  1. Answering services
  2. Call centers
  3. Virtual assistants

The type of communications systems that will work best for your business depends on your budget and the needs of your organization.

What are customers frequently contacting your business to inquire about?

For example, over half of customers (54%) contact a business or medical organization because they need to schedule an appointment. Asking product/service or billing questions are also popular reasons people call businesses.

The level of information needed to respond to customer needs helps determine which system is best for your company.

Outsourcing to Call Centers

Call centers address nearly all of the reasons people call businesses. They can often manage the same tasks that an in-house team would handle, such as:

  • Answering questions
  • Providing tech support
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Taking orders

According to a report by Sound-Tele, the average duration of a phone call placed to a call center is about 4-5 minutes, but it’s not unusual for them to handle calls that take longer than 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, call center services developed a poor reputation for low-quality customer service many years ago, and many customers are turned off by the idea of speaking to a call center.

Because of the old stereotype, people can become frustrated when they think they’re speaking to a call center, so call centers need to be wary of how they’re perceived.

For example, nearly 40% of people think they’re speaking to a call center if they get transferred to another line. Poor audio quality and scripted conversations are also red flags for customers wanting to avoid call centers.

why customers think they're talking to call center

Today’s call centers have improved from the services of decades past and may not deserve the lingering poor reputation.

Professor Shehzad Nadeem, outsourcing expert and author of the book “Dead Ringers,” emphasizes the high-quality and value call centers now provide.

In Clutch’s 2017 survey, Nadeem explains that modern call center employees are different:

“They’re very ambitious. A lot of those stereotypes are completely wrong. These people are very well-educated. They’re multilingual and global-oriented.”

Call services can provide the human touch customers are hoping for while addressing most customer needs. Businesses must be careful, though, to choose a high-quality call center and take steps to present a professional, individualized impression.

Outsourcing to Answering Services

An answering service is a type of call center, but its services are usually limited to answering incoming calls, taking messages, and sometimes managing appointments.

Answering service operators are trained to manage up to three callers at once, but some services offer dedicated attention with operators that focus on only one person at a time.

The average call length to an answering service is about 1-2 minutes, according to the Sound-Tele report, and the operator’s primary responsibility is to ask basic questions, gather information, and pass the message along to the business.

Answering services can also address emergencies by contacting your business directly when a situation is urgent.

Outsourcing to Virtual Assistants

A virtual assistant (VA) handles nearly all the tasks that an in-house employee would handle, and their services can include:

  • Answering phones and personally helping customers
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Email communications
  • Managing documents

The tasks of a virtual assistant vary, depending on your agreement with the assistant. Responsibilities can be limited to receptionist work or span a broad range of functions.

Virtual assistants can offer a high level of customer service to small businesses, but larger companies may benefit more from call centers due to the volume and variety of incoming calls.

For a small business, though, virtual assistants can provide the type of customer service people say they value most — representatives who don’t transfer them and can communicate clearly, spontaneously, and naturally.

Choosing an Outsourced Voice Communications Provider

Customers gravitate toward people with authentic phone manners and warm personalities that are well-versed in the business and its products. Call centers, answering services, and virtual assistants provide different types of services, and choosing one for your business depends on the size and needs of your company.

Riley-Panko-headshot-300Riley Panko is a Senior Content Writer for Clutch, the leading platform for B2B research, ratings, and reviews. She’s also a Senior Writer for The Manifest, a B2B news and how-to site. Her research focuses on business services and emerging technologies.

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