Hiring an answering service for the first time can bring more questions than answers.

There are so many offerings, lots of different package configurations, plenty of features and it can be difficult to know exactly what distinguishes one service from the next. With more companies utilizing entire remote workforces, it’s common to hear questions about virtual offices and how they relate to answering services.

Where Answering Services and Virtual Offices Meet

Answering services, unlike virtual offices, are real live places where telephone operators are trained in professional telephone handling skills. However, you can use an answering service to power your virtual office, and many companies do — the two are a great marriage of technology and skill sets. In some ways, in fact, your answering service becomes your virtual office.

Virtual office packages through an answering service include features that offices find useful, but your virtual office can certainly mix and match whatever meets your particular needs.

Most answering service packages for virtual offices will suggest options like:

  • Local phone numbers. No matter what market you’re trying to break into, it’ll be a lot easier if your phone number is local. Sometimes you simply can’t get a good local number, other times your office isn’t quite in the right place to be local to your market—but with a virtual office that doesn’t really matter anymore. Choose a local number that makes sense for your business and give your customers confidence that they’re dealing with someone truly invested in them.
  • Message relay. Beyond basic message logs, message relay gets a caller’s message directly to you right away. Choose SMS (text) or email delivery for quick notifications, even in environments that require HIPAA- and HITECH-compliant messages. There’s nothing like quickly returning a call to win business for a lifetime.
  • Call overflow. You’re probably taking some calls yourself, but as call volumes increase, you’ll need a helping hand. Your answering service can act as your virtual receptionist to handle those extra calls and patch them through to the appropriate person in your organization, or take a message as necessary.
  • Appointment setting. Even if your office is entirely virtual, you can still book an incredible number of meetings via the Internet or tools like Skype. An answering service can help keep your appointment setting organized by connecting directly to your office calendars and booking appointments for you when you can’t get to the phone.
  • Bilingual answering services. An increasing number of your friends and neighbors speak Spanish as a first language, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with them. Your answering service is keeping up and is able to service them as well as their English-speaking counterparts. This is the kind of thoughtful touch that lets your customers know you care—and that you want to do business with them.

Many answering services will offer virtual office packages, but your answering service should be as real as your dentist’s office. All those very real operators do an amazing job creating a seamless experience for your callers so that your virtual office seems a little more real and your business has a chance to grow some roots in the real world, no matter what industry you happen to be in.