How to Choose an After-Hours Answering Service

By Numa -

When you close up shop for the day, people don’t stop calling your business. In fact, if you’re only open during regular business hours, that’s when most of your customers are working—so it may be more convenient for them to call you after hours.

If you don’t answer the phone, you’re handing off business to the first competitor who does. Some callers will wait until you’re open again, but others will keep working their way through search results until someone picks up the phone.

But you can’t be open 24/7. And you don’t want business calls interrupting social gatherings and getting in the way of your personal life. So what do you do with all this call overflow?

An after hours answering service can take the load off, serve your customers, and prevent missed calls from becoming missed business. But there are a lot of options. There are multiple types of after hours answering services and numerous companies offering them. 

So how do you choose the right one for your business? In this guide, we’ll help you:

  • Understand the kinds of after hours answering services
  • Find out their limitations
  • Compare pricing structures
  • Make the best choice

Let’s start by looking at the types of services you can choose from.

Understand the Kinds of After-Hours Answering Services

It’s easy to assume that every after-hours answering service is essentially the same. But after hours answering service is actually just another way to refer to phone answering services, which is a broad category of technology and services that pick up the phone when you can’t. This means there are lots of different ways to get the support you need.

Here’s a quick look at the after hours phone solutions you can choose from.

Virtual receptionists

A virtual receptionist agency is a team of remote receptionists who answer calls and provide service over the phone on behalf of your business. You provide the script, and they follow it to a T. A virtual receptionist can take messages, relay information from your script, and add a personal, human touch to your after hours answering service.

Call centers

Call centers are similar to virtual receptionist agencies, but they are much larger and more likely to be international. As a result of their larger size, call centers have a greater capacity for handling inbound calls, so they’re more suitable for large organizations. They also offer a wider range of services than most virtual receptionist agencies, such as making outbound calls, and they may use different pricing structures.

Auto attendants

An auto attendant is like a self-serve menu your callers can navigate using the number pad or their voice. It uses interactive voice recognition (IVR) to understand what callers are saying and help them get the service they need. People can request information and complete some basic transactions through the auto attendant without ever speaking to a person. Typically, auto attendants also provide options to route callers to particular departments or employees.

Call forwarding

Call forwarding is the simplest solution to answering after hours phone calls—but it also puts the burden on you to pick up the phone. When someone calls your business phone number, a call forwarding solution automatically redirects that call to another phone, such as your personal cell phone.

If you’re a solopreneur and every call requires your personal touch, call forwarding may be enough for you. But for most small business owners, it’s hard enough already to create healthy work/life boundaries. Making yourself available at all hours is draining. And the reality is you’re still going to miss some of those after hours calls. When you can’t pick up, most of those callers will give up, change their minds, or call your competitor.

Text answering

Text answering lets your after hours callers start a text conversation instead of leaving a voicemail. So when you close up shop for the day, you can make sure callers get a response—without having to answer the phone yourself.

Numa is a business texting solution that uses conversational artificial intelligence to serve your customers anytime you can’t. Numa automatically identifies common questions it thinks your customers will ask, then creates answers. This covers things like operating hours, location, services, products, etc. 

You can approve Numa’s list of questions and answers, add or remove questions, modify responses, and tell Numa what else you’d like it to handle.

Anytime Numa can’t answer a question, it notifies you in the Numa app, and you can reply at your convenience. But here’s what really sets Numa apart: it learns from your response. The next time a customer asks that question, Numa suggests your previous answer, and you can tell Numa to handle those questions in the future. This functionality means Numa can answer far more than just basic questions about your business. 

after-hours answering service

Over time, Numa can completely handle more after hours interactions with your customers, and every response comes across in your business’ voice.

And of course, you can jump into the text conversation yourself whenever you have time. Sending a customer a quick text is far less disruptive than taking a call. And the entire conversation can happen asynchronously. On a phone call, people obviously expect instant replies. If you don’t pick up, they call a competitor. People have different expectations for texting, and you have more time to respond before they’ll move on.

Find Out Their Limitations

Before you choose a phone answering service, make sure it can actually do everything you need. The service you select will affect how your after hours callers will get served and how well this solution will actually support your business.

Here are some questions you’ll want to answer as you compare your options.

Do they have enough capacity to handle all your calls?

If your after hours call volume is low, you probably don’t need to worry too much about a service’s capacity. But if you get lots of calls when your business isn’t open, you may need to think about what happens when multiple people call at the same time.

A virtual receptionist agency uses a team of receptionists, but they do have limits, and you’re not the only client they’re answering phones for. If too many of them are tied up at once, your callers are going to wind up waiting on hold or landing at your voicemail box.

Call centers work similarly, but they have far more agents available to answer calls. However, if you pay to have a dedicated agent, their capacity becomes much more limited.

Call forwarding obviously depends on your capacity. If you get more after hours calls than you can handle (or want to answer), this isn’t a good option.

Auto attendants can handle infinite simultaneous callers. So can Numa’s text answering service. No matter how many people try to reach you at once, they’ll all receive the same immediate service. The difference, of course, is how they’ll get that service—the convenience of texting, or the frustration of talking to a recording.

Can they handle other inbound communications?

People don’t just call when they want to reach your business after hours. They text your phone number. They message you on social media. And they use your website’s chat system. If your business uses these communication channels, you want an after hours service that will manage them for you while you’re away.

Some organizations include services like these. Others charge extra for it. And some will just provide support for inbound calls. An auto attendant obviously can’t handle anything that’s not an inbound call. And call forwarding won’t help when someone messages you on Facebook. 

Numa consolidates messages you receive via text, on social media, and over web chat into a single universal inbox, and uses the same conversational AI to give your customers quick, reliable service.

Will they serve your customers, or just take messages?

You already have a voicemail. Why pay for another message-taking service, or a solution that still winds up sending people to voicemail? If your after hours phone answering service doesn’t understand your business well enough to serve your customers, those calls ultimately get routed to you or your voicemail.

Human solutions require a script. When customers ask questions your virtual receptionist or call center can’t answer, they take a message or forward the caller to you. They don’t see how you respond or follow up with that caller, and the script stays the same. 

With Numa, the script evolves based on how your customers interact with your business and how you respond to new questions. So it’s always getting better at serving your customers, and fewer calls wind up on your plate.

Can they serve your non-English speaking customers?

You may not need translation services. But if your business serves customers who don’t speak English, you can’t assume that your after hours service will be able to serve them, too. Some virtual receptionist teams are multilingual by default, some may charge extra for it, and some won’t be able to serve these customers.

When a customer texts you in another language, Numa converses with them in kind, translating your approved responses. If that customer has a question Numa can’t answer, it automatically translates it into English when it notifies you in the app. And when you respond in English, Numa automatically translates your text for the customer.

translation of a text conversation from Spanish to English

Will your customers like it?

Any time someone calls you after hours, you want their interaction with your business to be as frictionless as possible. If your answering service annoys them or doesn’t meet their needs, they’re probably not going to do business with you in the future.

In general, consumers prefer to speak to a person when they have to talk on the phone. Talking to a recording or a robot is frustrating, because you don’t know how “interactive” the voice response is. 

But you know what consumers prefer even more than talking to an employee on the phone? Texting. 

Texting is the most convenient way to interact with your business. People don’t have to pay attention to verbal cues or worry about trying to sound polite or be patient, and it’s easier to text without bringing your emotions and stress into the interaction. It takes seconds to ask your question—and with Numa, it takes seconds to get an answer.

Compare Pricing Structures

It’s OK if you don’t know exactly how many after hours calls you get every month. Or how many minutes those calls take. But if you’re going to compare call answering solutions, you want to have a pretty good idea how much their services will cost you each month. 

There are three main pricing structures phone answering services use:

  1. Cost per minute
  2. Cost per hour
  3. Cost per call
  4. Cost per month

Most services will use a combination of these models, charging a monthly fee for a fixed number of calls or minutes, plus a pay as you go option for anything beyond that. This means you’re always either going to pay for more than you need (because you’ll have extra calls or minutes at the end of the month) or you simply won’t know how much you’re going to pay each month.

Cost per minute

Most calls to your business don’t take much time. A knowledgeable employee should be able to serve most callers within seconds of picking up the phone. The more complex the call, the more time it takes to resolve. With a cost per minute model, you wind up paying a lot for some calls, and very little for others. (But this is still obviously much more affordable than paying for a full-time employee).

The important thing to keep in mind with a cost-per-minute model: your answering service isn’t financially motivated to end calls quickly. They’ll take as much time as it takes to serve the customer. And instead of eating up one of your monthly calls, spam calls just take seconds of your allotted time.  

Cost per hour

Some call centers give you dedicated representatives for an hourly rate. Depending on your location, this may be less than minimum wage. (Remember, call centers often operate overseas.) But it’s usually comparable to hiring a part-time employee just to answer the phone. In most cases, this will cost you a lot more than it’s worth for after hours calls.

Cost per call

With a cost per call model, every spam call counts against you. And while every call costs the same no matter how long it takes, the model incentivizes your service to end calls as quickly as possible—so they can answer more calls per month and serve more clients.

Cost per month

With a flat monthly fee, it doesn’t matter how many people call your business, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes to serve your customers. The cost is the cost. You don’t have to estimate how much you’ll need to use your service; you just have to select the features you want.

That’s how Numa works. Our plans start at just $49 a month. No matter how many people call or how many texts Numa sends to serve them, that’s all you pay.

Serve Your Customers 24/7

Every after hours call is an opportunity to earn someone’s business. And every one you miss could send business to your competitors. Numa ensures that anytime you can’t answer the phone—after hours or not—your customers get served quickly and conveniently.

Consumers want to text your business. So why not kill two birds with one stone: enable business texting and help every after hours customer.

Try Numa free, no credit card required.