For many advisors and business professionals, having to answer an unexpected call isn't something to look forward to. In a perfect world, most calls would be scheduled in advance, and any unscheduled calls would be fielded by someone else, giving you a choice in deciding whether you need to stop what you're doing to take the call or if you can return the call later. Historically, the norm in the business world has been to assign these call answering duties to administrative or support staff, who dutifully make themselves available to drop whatever they're doing and answer the phone, route calls accordingly, and take down messages when other staff members are unavailable.
In much larger office settings, this type of phone duty could very well be a full-time job. For smaller offices, teams, or solo practitioners, however, answering the phone is likely to be a part-time responsibility at best, particularly if the business allows clients to schedule meetings in advance using an online scheduling service. In these cases, support staff are required to make themselves available to answer phones while juggling other responsibilities, advisors have to stop what they're doing to answer unexpected calls, or both (particularly if support staff are out of the office or unable to get to the phone). This naturally results in decreased productivity for both advisors and staff members, and could potentially damage a client relationship if an advisor is caught off guard or if a call goes unanswered. Further, prospective clients that choose the phone as a first point of contact expect their call to be answered and are likely to hire the most responsive advisor.
One potential solution to these problems is a virtual receptionist or call answering service. With a virtual (or remote) receptionist and answering service, business calls are either made directly to a new business number or forwarded to your provider of choice, where they are answered by a real human being (in another office, call center, or their own home) who will greet callers, check to see if you or another staff member is available to take the call in question, and take down a message if not. If the caller is a solicitor, the agent answering the call can typically be given prior instructions to take a message instead of trying to transfer the call. Many services also offer to take additional actions, such as scheduling a meeting, gathering information, or even making calls on you or your personnel's behalf.
This can make a significant impact on productivity by limiting advisor interruptions and can reduce the amount of stress during a busy season or when out of the office. For businesses with full or part-time administrative staff who are tasked with answering calls in addition to other duties (such as operating the front desk), a virtual receptionist can liberate them from the phone and free their time to focus on other projects that improve your client experience. Smaller businesses may also find that outsourcing call answering can save an enormous amount of money relative to the cost of hiring a full-time receptionist, and larger operations are likely to see cost savings by freeing up time for more productive work for their administrative staff.
Given the popularity of virtual receptionist and call answering services in recent years, there are a seemingly infinite number of providers to choose from. However, advisors looking to outsource call answering would be well-served to start their search with the following services, with which many in the industry have already found success.
Ruby Receptionists Started in 2003 and based in Portland, Oregon, Ruby Receptionists is a full-service virtual receptionist service that can host your existing number or provide a telephone number in the area code of your choice. All calls are answered by a live agent from their offices, and availability or temporary call-handling instructions can be managed by syncing your calendar through their mobile app. You can choose to have phone calls screened by a Ruby representative, or have them ring you first and forwarded to Ruby only when you don't answer. Ruby will also make sure calls are answered on evenings and weekends, thanks to receptionist coverage hours of 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. PST on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST on weekends, and can make outbound calls on your behalf to confirm appointments or schedule new appointments. Pricing plans are based on desired features, number of users, and the number of receptionist minutes your business requires. While all plans include a company-specific greeting, all but the "Solo" plan include advanced features such as call routing based on call type (new versus existing client), custom FAQs and intake forms, appointment scheduling, custom hold music, and a few app integrations.
Pricing: A Solo plan is $149/month, while Business plans range from $299 to $1,269/month. Potential discounts available for NAPFA and FPA members.
Smith.ai Based in Palo Alto, California, Smith.ai has a call answering team that is spread across North America, with U.S.-based receptionists answering calls. Similar to Ruby Receptionists, Smith.ai offers a complete virtual receptionist experience that includes extended call answering hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST) on weekdays, lead qualification and intake, call screening and prioritization, appointment scheduling, outbound calling, and several app integrations. Users of Wealthbox CRM stand to benefit from a direct integration with Smith.ai that allows calls handled by a Smith.ai receptionist to be documented in your CRM immediately after a call, including prospective clients who will be added as new contacts. Pricing starts at just $60 per month and is based on number of calls rather than call minutes, and users aren't charged for spam or unwanted sales calls (as long as they give permission to have them blocked in the future). CRM integration, appointment booking, and other advanced features are available as add-ons and priced per call, per month.
Pricing: $60/month for a Starter plan, $150/month for a Basic plan, and $450/month for a Pro plan, with advanced features available as add-ons.
Co-Working/Physical Workplace Solutions Advisors already making use of co-working or other shared physical office space may find that the companies from which they're renting also offer virtual receptionist services and at a competitive price point. Several workplace solution companies including Regus, Carr Workplaces, and Intelligent Office offer phone answering services for call screening and dedicated voice mailboxes. For advisors renting physical space from these companies, bundled call answering services can function as a "hybrid" receptionist, as they're able to answer the phone when you're out of the office but also screening calls while in the office. Having a consistent receptionist (or team of receptionists) answering calls can be a significant benefit, though unlike truly virtual options such as Ruby or Smith.ai, service under these workplace plans is typically limited to basic call answering, forwarding, and voicemail, with calls only answered during business hours.
While a virtual receptionist or call answering service can be a smart way to outsource a distracting aspect of business administration, some advisors may find that their client base simply expects to speak with a known staff member when picking up the phone. However, for advisors fielding the occasional unexpected call and who primarily work with their clients in-person, via email, and via pre-scheduled virtual meetings, a virtual receptionist service can be a great fit by making sure the phone never goes unanswered.
Access Ben's article archive here. Ben Brown is a certified financial planner and an IRS-enrolled agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, serving clients in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.
The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.