February 7, 2023

What is an Answering Service? Everything You Need to Know

What is an answering service? Here is an image of a woman answering the phone as part of a live answering service

You’ve probably heard a lot of different jargon when talking about call centers and answering services, which could be confusing to some. There’s a significant difference between an answering service and a call center. So, in this article, we’ll provide some clarity by answering the question: “What is an answering service?” We’ll give you everything you need to know about live answering services as well as call centers, so can determine which one might be best for your business.

Defining Live Answering Services

A live answering service replies to phone calls on behalf of another business. With a live answering service, like a virtual receptionist, an actual human being takes the calls instead of forcing callers to be greeted by automated voice response systems. Numbers show that voicemail and bots reduce the quality of customer service by frustrating and agitating callers. 

Taking business calls can be incredibly time-consuming and can distract decision-makers and their staff from more important work. This is why more small-to-medium business owners are turning to live answering services to help handle the flow of daily business calls. A receptionist with a live answering service is a trained and skilled professional who can answer calls and handle an array of situations and questions. These professionals can offer full customer support and service. 

So, what are the ins-and-outs of a live answering service? 

First, an account specialist does the work to understand your business, brand, specific challenges, and who your customers are. This research usually goes into crafting a custom call script so the live agents know exactly how to address your callers and pass the appropriate information to your callers as well as your team. This means you don’t have to worry about micromanaging your answering service, and you’ll never miss an essential call.

Many virtual receptionists are trained for:

  • Screening calls
  • Setting appointments
  • Taking bilingual calls
  • Handling urgent calls
  • Providing sales and marketing support
  • Managing call overflow efficiently
  • Enhancing customer service
  • Handling routine tasks when overwhelmed

Defining Call Centers

A call center works like a live answering service but uses sophisticated scripts to answer frequently asked questions, manage other communications such as email and web chat, or take orders over the phone. Call centers are traditional answering services that are less personal than a virtual representative, but still allow your customers to interface with a human being rather than a bot. 

Call centers are often large operations that specialize in marketing, sales, and customer support over the phone. You can envision it as an office where a large volume of phone calls are processed, especially those offering customer service functions and trouble-shooting.

There are three key types of call centers:

  1. Inbound
  2. Outbound
  3. Virtual

As you can imagine, inbound call centers employ agents to field customers’ inbound calls. With outbound call centers, the representatives make the calls, reaching out to prospects or to existing clients. Outbound call centers are usually linked to sales, customer surveys, and other promotional activities.

Virtual call centers, also known as cloud-based call centers, are a more recent phenomenon, and operate much in the same way as inbound and outbound call centers, but instead of having a central location, the agents operate from anywhere in the world, without requiring a physical office. 

It’s important to note that a call center can also utilize software that will help improve customer satisfaction, service, and sales.

When considering a call center that integrates software, you should look for the following features:


  • Automatic call distribution (ACD)
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Call recording
  • Call transfers
  • Contact management
    Interactive voice response (IVR)

Specific Advantages of Live Answering Services

If you’re planning on switching to a live answering service, you’re probably making a worthy investment. Aside from improving customer service and satisfaction, a live answering service can offer numerous opportunities for your businesses of all sizes. Below are some of the primary benefits of switching to a live answering service.

24/7 Availability

A live answering service can improve your customer experiences and increase availability while you sleep. Live agents are on standby 24/7/365. Working with a live answering service means that you can easily increase your hours and boost profitability even outside of regular operating hours, when you’re on vacation, or if your staff is at a conference. 

You can rest assured that you always have a dedicated team handling calls from prospective customers, scheduling appointments, making sales, and handling outbound calls. These kinds of services also help to increase consistency and reliability.

Professional and Personalized Service

Handling calls with calm and poise is crucial for any business. An answering service answers your important calls with professionalism and steadiness – helping provide your prospects and current customers with a great experience. This can help your business seem more established. 


Labor is one of the biggest expenses facing businesses of all sizes. Startups, especially, need ways to minimize their expenses while simultaneously maximizing your customer service and efficiency – quite the challenge! Hiring in-house staff to take care of incoming and outgoing calls can be costly, especially considering training time and possible turnover. 

Using an answering service or a virtual receptionist could be the ideal solution to improve your customer service and eliminate the costs of hiring multiple administrative assistants. This move helps free up funds to invest in other areas of your business. 

Specific Advantages of Call Centers

As mentioned earlier in this article, call centers are specialized departments that are set up to handle large call volumes. They’re an important tool for businesses whose services depend on continual customer communication. 


Utilizing a call center allows you to grow your business more quickly and the call center can easily scale with your business growth. They provide better productivity and lower your staffing costs. In addition, working with a call center helps increase sales and prevent lost opportunities, providing you with more control over your sales leads to prevent them from being lost. It also gives you a competitive advantage with constant coverage that allows you to be a more viable option than your competition.

Easily Adaptable

No matter what kinds of services or products you offer, you can easily incorporate a call center in your business model to take over customer support calls, as well as sales and marketing. Plus, if you work in a multilingual or bilingual sector, a pro call center can easily manage this. You can set up your call center service to your client’s needs by requesting the desired languages. You can also have agents work for extra hours to keep your peak hours staffed. 

Automation Opportunities

Another benefit of using a virtual call center is using technology or software to perform routine, time-consuming processes and tasks. This can help make the call center agents more effective and efficient and save you more. Call centers can utilize automated features such as chatbots, interactive voice recognition, and self-service help centers to provide immediate support to your customers. They can answer simple questions and then forward them to the correct agents to help prioritize and organize the influx of calls.

When Should You Choose a Live Answering Service or a Call Center?

Cost Comparison

For independent professionals, small businesses, startups, or entrepreneurs, a live answering service is the ideal option, especially for those looking to cut costs. A call center service can come with a higher price tag since it usually requires more people to handle the number of calls that a call center requires. Therefore, it’s best for large companies whose business depends on their high call volumes.

Do You Need Automation?

Scripting is the main difference between a call center and a live phone answering service. Call center services are conducted in a scripted environment implying that the customer service reps sometimes must follow sophisticated explanations. On the other hand, live phone answering services usually just require simple scripts, ensuring more natural conversations with clients and a better flow. 

As mentioned, call centers can utilize technology or software to conduct routine, time-consuming processes and tasks. If your business can utilize a combination of automation with human communication, call centers might be the best choice for you. 


When it comes to availability, both live answering services and call centers can be available 24/7/365. So, if you operate in a business where customers are always searching for your products and services, it’s best to go for an answering service. The agents are available regardless of the working hours or time zone, so you’ll stay connected with your callers.

Benefits of Choosing the Right Service for Your Business

Now that we have answered the question: “What is an answering service?” as well as “What is a call center,” hopefully you have all the information you need to select the service that best suits your business. Consider cost, automation needs, and call volume to narrow down which is the ideal service for your business. 

Contact us today to learn more about the differences between call centers and answering services. Our team is happy to answer any questions you have and help direct to you the most suitable Always Answer service. Click the following links if you want to learn more about live answering services and call centers.