This blog post is part one in a two-part series. You can read part two here.

When you think about growing your business, you probably conjure up images of shiny marketing brochures, more sales and huge websites, but if you’re focused on the future instead of the steps that will get you there, you’re missing out on some huge opportunities.

Finding ways to improve your customer service is the best way to get from where you are to where you want to be, but of course it can be hard for small businesses to go it alone.

Answering services are a great tool to bolster customer service and grow your business. Here are just a few ways that hiring an answering service or virtual receptionist can help level the playing field:

Providing your business a local phone number. Believe it or not, many customers balk at phone numbers that don’t appear to be local. Instead of calling a number that looks unfamiliar, they’ll choose a familiar phone number in order to ensure they’re really dealing with a neighbor. If you’re on the go a lot with your cell phone or happen to have an unusual or new local phone number, an answering service can back up your local service credentials.

Eliminating voicemail. Voicemail can be one of the fastest ways to lose customers. A huge percentage of people who call your company and reach voicemail first will hang up the phone rather than leave a message. For those who do, it may take several days to get a response if you’re too busy to retrieve the recordings. The clock starts ticking from the moment that caller hangs up the phone — the longer the customer goes without a return call, the more they’ll complain to their friends.

Immediate responses around-the-clock. Businesses like yours rely on quick responses to customer inquiries but you can’t be available 24/7, no matter how much coffee you drink. An answering service provides a way for your customers to get immediate answers around the clock, even if you’re having dinner or at your child’s Little League game. Customers will be thankful they reached someone, even if it wasn’t you.

Flexibility in emergencies. Whether it’s a natural disaster or just a leaky faucet, an answering service can act as a first line filter to prevent your customers from wasting your valuable time during their perceived emergencies. You can arm your virtual receptionists with all the information they need to handle common problems, answer general questions and set up appointments.

These are just a few ways that an answering service can help grow your business. Look for more ideas in the second part of this two-part post here.