Virtual Answering Service
Description of a Conventional Answering Service
A conventional answering service is typically installed in an office with a number of incoming phone lines and a bank of switch boards or computers. Typically a doctor’s office will forward his phone number to an answering service after normal hours. If a call comes in to the doctor’s office when it is closed, the call is forwarded; and at the answering service, a light illuminates on the switchboard or a computer screen popup with the doctor’s name indicating which office was called. Because the operator now knows who was called, they can answer, for example, “Dr. Smith’s Answering Service”. With this information, a message can be noted; or in an emergency, the physician can be called.
From the point of view of patients, customers, or users, a virtual answering service works exactly the same way as the conventional system described above. The difference is that the answering service provider does not have to buy, install, or maintain any equipment or even have a central office. He does not need a bank of phone lines; and in the case of a power failure, his equipment continues to work.
Furthermore, the employees of the answering service can be anywhere. They can work from home if desired which makes it much easier for the owner of an answering service to find employees. It also provides jobs for digital nomads, freelancers looking for extra money, or anyone interested in working from home.
This means that the entry barrier to anyone wishing to start an answering service business is practically zero. They only have to employees to answer the calls and a group of clients who will use the service.
The virtual answering service works by using the VirtualPBX Direct Inward Dialing (DID) feature. Direct Inward Dialing works by automatically noting the incoming calling numbers and transferring a call from a predefined incoming number to a designated extension or ACD queue. An ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) queue is a sales, tech support, customer support, etc. queue which automatically distributes calls to the employees logged into the designated queue.
When a company signs up for VirtualPBX, they are given an 800/888/877 number, and extensions and ACD queues are defined as desired. Each extension can hold up to four contact phone numbers. When a customer calls the company’s number he can dial an extension directly, look up an extension on the company directory, or press a menu item for sales, customer support, etc. (ACD queues). When an extension is dialed, the contact phone numbers which have been entered by the extension owner will be tried one after another until the extension owner answers or the call is sent to voice mail.
When an ACD queue has been defined on a VirtualPBX system, any extension owner can call in to the system and log in to that ACD queue. As an example, suppose that a Sales ACD queue has been set up. Any employee who is going to work sales that day logs in to the Sales queue. When a customer presses the menu item for sales, the Sales ACD queue routes the caller to the next available extension logged in on a round-robin basis.
In order to set up a Virtual Answering Service:
- Give each employee an extension on your VirtualPBX system
- Define an ACD queue which will become the Virtual Answering Service
- In the DID routing table, define a list of the phone numbers of the clients who will be using the answering service
That is all there is to it, and VirtualPBX has technical support staff on hand to help with the initial setup so that all of the details are correctly taken care of.
Once the above system has been set up the answering service works as follows:
- Those employees who are scheduled to work that evening or night call into VirtualPBX and log into the answering service ACD queue. They can be located anywhere – at home, in the office, traveling on business at a hotel, in a vehicle with a cell phone, on the other side of the world – anywhere that there is regular or cell-phone service.
- When, for example, a physician’s office closes for the day, the receptionists forwards the physicians phone number to the answering service’s VirtualPBX 800/888/877 number.
- When a patient calls the physician’s number, it is forwarded to the Answering Service’s number, the VirtualPBX DID notes the incoming number (whether caller ID is blocked or not), and routes it to the next available extension logged into the ACD queue.
- When the answering service operator answers, the following message is played: “Call for [Extension Owner’s Name] from [Name of the office originally called]. To accept this call press #. To send the caller to voicemail press *.”
- The answering service operator answers the call and handles it in the appropriate way they have been instructed.