“Virtual” phone systems like Google Voice and Ring Central, managed to signup more than 5 million small businesses in the 2000’s. Now several companies are pursuing technology to automate messaging, such as voice to text even though most potential customers of small businesses are looking to talk with someone when they call.

What many small businesses fail to realize is that purchasing is an emotional experience. Large internet retailers know this. When someone makes up his or her mind to call, providing a live answer is extremely more effective in converting that caller to a customer. Live answering services were a large industry (more than 20,000 companies) in the 80’s. Today there are less than 2,000 call answering service companies.

Live answering services, also called “virtual receptionists”, are facing a potential renaissance period though, as the small business (companies with less than 5 employees) market has tripled since the introduction of cell phones and voicemail in the 90’s. These companies are now 1/2 of the US workforce and are predicted to be 1/3 (70 million) by 2020.

Many of these companies are realizing that depending on voicemail is a liability. When they search for alternatives, there are not really any, as there is no substitute for a live answer.

However, there are significant differences in call answering services. Because of their technology, many cannot transfer callers to other numbers (they can only take messages). And, many have their messages sent by a different group in the company, so delivery is not immediate. New companies in the live answering service market, like US Answer, are using cloud-based voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) technology to transfer calls and take messages that are automatically sent as an email or text, with one click.

Companies like US Answer and Main Virtual Office didn’t stop there. Realizing the “Live” in live answering service was just as important as the technology; they developed and implemented a different method of selecting and training their “virtual” receptionists. Most call answering services are “call centers” with impersonal agents that have limited information on the company being called. US Answer has developed both technology and staffing practices that actually make it sound like our receptionists that are handling your calls, are actually right in your office.

Live answering services are now poised to be a viable alternative to voicemail for small businesses that have reached a “tipping point” with voicemail.