In this day and age, small business owners are gifted with a wealth of modern technology to take full advantage of. As you traverse the minefield of running a small company, you’ll come across lots of potential solutions to some of your biggest problems.
Amongst the many ideas you stumble upon, you’ll likely encounter the concept of a virtual receptionist. Lots of entrepreneurs swear by virtual receptionists and claim that they’ve transformed business operations. On the other hand, some companies believe that an in-house receptionist is still the best option. It’s a debate that continues to roar on even as this article is being typed!
So, which is better? Which of these two options makes the most sense for your small business? Should you use a virtual receptionist who works remotely and handles multiple tasks for you, or do you need someone in-house at all times to conduct your key admin tasks?
There are loads of questions, and the best way to figure out the answer is to look at what both options offer by way of advantages and disadvantages. That’s what we’re doing in this article, and it should help you decide who wins out of the battle between in-house and virtual receptionists!
A key point in favor of virtual receptionists is that they are a more cost-effective option. By looking at the statistics, it’s possible to save up to 78% on operating costs each year by opting for a virtual receptionist instead of a human employee.
When you consider how a virtual receptionist carries out their work and what you’re actually paying for, then these savings are clear to see. For one, a virtual worker doesn’t need any additional payments beyond the fee you’re being charged. If you contact the receptionist directly, then they set their own fee. However, most virtual receptionists work for companies who set the fee and give them a portion of it. The bottom line is that you don’t need to pay for any employee benefits, insurance, and so on.
In comparison, the average cost of hiring an employee in the US is around 1.5 to 3 times their salary. As such, you don’t just pay for their work, you’re paying for lots of extras on top of this. For some small businesses, this is simply too much money to handle.
Some arguments against virtual receptionists revolve around the idea that many of them don’t work in the same country as your business. There’s some evidence to support this notion, but it’s mainly to do with remote workers as a whole. On one freelance platform, it was found that around one-eighth of the registered users were based in the Philippines. Is this really that much of a problem? To most small businesses, it isn’t. Much depends on the language capabilities of the virtual receptionist, rather than where they’re located.
Nevertheless, some companies want to hire people who live and work in the same country as them, purely because it’s more convenient. You’re both in the same timezones, you both speak the same first language, and your customers may respond negatively if they feel like their calls are being outsourced across the globe.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of virtual receptionists are based locally to your business - it varies from company to company.
The majority of receptionists you hire for in-house work will be contracted to set schedules. The most common example of this is employing someone to work 9-5. It’s a standard approach, but what happens if clients call or you get emails from lead outside of working hours? Modern businesses are global, which means you may have clients all over the world, contacting you at different times. Even your local clients may only be able to speak to you outside of the regular working hours.
With an in-house receptionist, nothing. They’re not in the office to answer any calls, they’re not checking any emails, so you end up with a backlog of contacts to get back to the following day. Needless to say, this can annoy many of your clients. In fact, one Consumer Reports survey detailed that 75% of people get ‘highly annoyed’ when they don’t receive an answer on the phone in a reasonable amount of time. Typically, ‘reasonable’ is judged in terms of minutes. If you’re making your customers wait overnight for a response, then they’re bound to get very frustrated, and you may even lose their business.
Comparatively, virtual receptionists don’t have any strict working hours. They’re pretty much available around the clock as required. Sometimes, you can work with a company that provides a virtual receptionist 24/7/365! This lets you answer calls and deal with queries as they happen. Customers don’t have to wait for a response, which keeps them happy.
Granted, a virtual receptionist may be unable to solve all of their problems without your help. If you’re not available, then your customers still have to wait. However, it’s far better for them to get a response from a human being who can explain the situation, rather than being met with a robotic answerphone message telling them to call back in the morning.
Naturally, there’s one thing you can never get with a virtual receptionist; face-to-face customer service. They can offer all the support you need from a remote location, but if your business deals with customers walking into a physical office, then an in-house receptionist is probably the only option for you.
You could still use a virtual receptionist, but it would probably be to your disadvantage. The benefit of in-house receptionists is that they offer friendly, human, contact with your clients. They get to know each person individually, which helps form a working relationship with them. Ultimately, this has prolonged benefits as customers are more inclined to continue returning to a business that they’re comfortable with and where they know the people working behind the desk.
However, if you can afford to, you may use both in-house and virtual receptionists in tandem with one another. During office hours, you use your in-house member of the team to provide face-to-face customer service. Then, when the office closes, you can use a virtual receptionist to handle any calls or messages that come in. Yes, this cancels out the affordability of a virtual receptionist, but it does help you cover all bases with regards to customer service.
We touched upon this when talking about availability, but hiring a virtual receptionist doesn’t always mean you hire one person. If you contact a virtual assistant directly - and they’re a freelancer - then you will have one person to deal with. But, if you go through a company, then they usually give you access to an entire team of receptionists!
Consequently, this makes your business far more efficient. An in-house receptionist is just one person handling lots of tasks all in one go. They can only answer one call at a time, and they can only respond to one message before making it on to another one. With a virtual team, you’ve got multiple receptionists all working in tandem with one another. You can answer multiple calls at once, limiting the time you leave people on hold. More messages get replied to, emails are easier to manage, and it all leads to a more fluid and productive company.
In turn, this also bleeds into the affordability of a virtual receptionist. You don’t just pay for one person to do one job - you pay for lots of people to do loads of jobs all at the same time.
According to one research study, it takes around 8 weeks for a brand new receptionist to get up to speed in your business. This is because they need to undergo specific training to learn how you do things in your organization. Then, there has to be some sort of transition period where they gradually get used to your schedule and finally become a key part of the business.
During this time, you’re not operating at peak efficiency. You’re also wasting money on training that can be avoided if you chose a virtual receptionist instead! The people who work for you remotely will already have extensive training. They know how to man the phone lines and how to respond to customers in a friendly and helpful manner. In essence, they slip right in and offer full productivity from the get-go.
Thus, you don’t need to worry about operating below your usual efficiency levels, and there’s no transition period as you wait for them to get up to speed. This makes it a fantastic option for small business owners that want to hit the ground running and can’t afford to waste time and resources training employees.
If you’re thinking about how your receptionist connects to you and your business, then the in-house option may seem like the better of the two ideas. A virtual receptionist has no real link to your company. You’re just another job to them, and they may end up working for more than one company at the same time. Similarly, you could have multiple different receptionists working on any given day for your business!
In many ways, this is an advantage, but it’s a slight disadvantage if you want an employee that buys into the company culture and really gets to know you. Over time, an in-house receptionist will get to know your needs a lot more than a virtual one will. This may mean they know how to do things without any input from you. Also, they may care more for the business as they’ve connected with your brand and the company culture. So, there’s a chance they could be more committed to their job, providing a greater level of detail in their work.
Of course, there are many ifs and buts to take into account. However, when it comes down to connecting with your business, an in-house receptionist just edges it.
The final point we want to look at is employee retention. While the job of a receptionist is undoubtedly crucial for your company, many people see it as a stepping stone role. This means they take up the role with the aim of using it to gain enough experience to then apply for a ‘better’ job. This could be within your company or with a totally different business.
Either way, you’re in a situation where you need to hire a new receptionist. As such, you go through the entire onboarding process yet again, ramping up lots of additional costs. Research suggests the advertising costs alone can be around $320 per new hire - for companies with under 50 employees. This doesn’t factor in the cost of training, revenue lost during the training period, and so on. It’s all very stressful and can drain your resources.
Now, imagine needing to do this every couple of years - or more frequently than this. With a virtual receptionist, you’re guaranteed to have someone working for you until you say otherwise. The services only end when you cancel the contract. As such, the onboarding costs and the stress of constantly trying to retain employees is not a concern!
After weighing up both options, we can safely say that a virtual receptionist is perfect for small businesses that don’t have many resources. If you run your business remotely, then it’s a brilliant way of getting extra help without spending lots of money. In truth, the only reason you’d need an in-house receptionist is if you conduct lots of face-to-face business. In all other areas, it makes more sense financially and performance-wise to opt for a virtual assistant.