We know that a virtual phone answering service is a great way to stay in touch with your customers without missing a beat, but what is it, exactly, that live telephone answering does for you that an answering machine or voicemail cannot?

Besides there being a number of benefits to hiring a virtual receptionist to answer the phone 24/7, making this decision will boost your customer service level considerably.

Here are just four ways you’ll notice improvement almost right away:

Enterprise-level engagement. It can be hard to compete with big box stores and companies with enormous call centers that are open around the clock. You can’t possibly engage your customers all day and all night with the staff you’ve already got, but by hiring a virtual phone answering service, you’ll be able to answer any question your customers may have any time of the day or night.

Fewer abandoned calls. Numbers differ depending on whom you ask, but some studies say that as many as two-thirds of your customers will hang up the phone if they can’t easily reach a live operator. That’s terrible news if you’re banking on customers leaving a message that you can answer in the morning. By bringing live telephone answering into the picture, even if it’s done remotely, you’ll be able to service all the calls that come in, when they come in, and not just the one-third of callers that are willing to leave a message.

No more forgotten voicemails. No matter how good of a businessperson you are, you’re bound to have one of those days now and then. You know the kind — you spill your coffee on your way to the office, only to find that half your staff is sick and you’ve got a big order to fill. When work gets overwhelming, voicemails left the night before are often neglected until it’s embarrassing to return the calls left on your answering machine. With a virtual receptionist, all your messages are sorted neatly and delivered at one time in an easy-to-digest form, ensuring you never overlook another late night call.

Direct routing for emergency calls. When there’s an emergency, it can be difficult for a customer to know just who to contact. An answering service can help by routing calls to the appropriate phone number, whether that belongs to an all-night handyman or the cell phone next to your bed. Knowing that they won’t be left on their own during an emergency is a liberating feeling for many people and one that’ll earn you plenty of kudos.

When you’re looking to improve your customer service level, start by throwing away that old answering machine and hiring a team of pros to answer your calls when you’re away. After all, even a remote operator can respond to a customer’s need much faster and in a great deal more detail than the most sophisticated voice mail system.