Though many consumers now prefer to do all of their business from an Internet browser and/or email app, the phone is still the go-to when it comes to seeking out customer service. As the owner of a growing business, you need to make sure every call coming into your company is answered.

When you or your front-line staff aren’t available to take a call, customers still want to speak to a human voice in order to feel like they’ve been heard. Protip: Voicemail needs to stay in the 90s where it belongs! Voice recordings are far too impersonal, and the majority who call will hang up rather than leaving a message; but they’ll happily leave one with a real person.

Virtual receptionist answering a call

Having the best virtual receptionist to answer your calls adds immediate perceived value to your products and services. They can determine who to forward calls to in the company, assure callers of their place in the queue when they’re placed on hold, and also help with sales and support in many cases.

Here’s 5 important criteria to use when choosing a virtual receptionist:

1. Cost Effectiveness

Most of the tips and tricks you’ll read online make it like price has to be far down on your list of criteria for choosing a product or service. This is rarely the reality, and every business owner focus on making profits knows what I’m talking about!

Fact is, after you’ve identified the top three or so service providers, using reviews and word of mouth recommendations from your peers, there’s little reason to throw caution to the wind with pricing. The overall value you receive from a virtual receptionist depends on cost, after all other criteria are checked off.

Look for the service that offers all the add-on services you need, then make the final cut based on pricing in relation to what’s offered. After all, side by side, there’s no reason to spend $XXXX more per year just because company “A” charges more than company “B.”

Revenues minus expenses, folks.

2. Reviews about the service

There’s little reason to consider using a service with a bad reputation. That’s why it’s much easier categorizing the best and the worst before proceeding on with your decision. Don’t rely on review sites, or the provider you’re considering for that matter for unbiased reviews from real customers. Review sites often aggregate recommendations based on the referral fees they can earn, rather than the value a given company will provide.

Obviously, provider’s will have the ability to filter the reviews displayed on their site, so you’re unlikely to get anything unbiased there. You can look toward trusted friends, social media noise, reputable third party blogs and vlogs, and forums relevant to online marketing and services. Do keep in mind that most people are most likely to be vocal when their displeased, opposed to when they’re happy with a service.

A few totally bad reviews out of a hundred isn’t abnormal or cause for concern. Whereas, an overwhelming majority of negative-to-positive is a clear sign to turn around and run the other direction.

Virtual receptionist in a virtual office

3. Virtual reception services offered

Ask yourself lots of questions…

Do you just want someone to answer the phone and greet the customer, forwarding calls to you, and taking messages when you’re not around?

The most basic level of service is easiest to achieve and find, whereas more specialized services need to be chosen more carefully.

How many calls will need to be answered throughout the day/night?

If you don’t expect very many, you may need a service that bills you by the call, rather than those who offer larger blocks of calls in a monthly package that would work best for high call volumes.

Is it important to have the same receptionist answering the phone every time?

Having “Suzy” or “Gwen” answering your phone each time a customer calls can really add a level of warmth and family to your service. Though, this option can also put more pressure on the budget.

Are your call volumes easy to predict?

If not, you need a service that can scale indefinitely to meet changing call volumes. Otherwise, a service that offers just the basics, and charges per-call, will work wonderfully for your needs and budget.

Do you require specialized skills from your virtual receptionist?

Specialized knowledge such as medical, dental, emergency response, order-taking and more, will all require virtual receptionists with specific backgrounds to meet both yours and your caller’s needs.

There are several other questions that can be asked, depending on your industry and consumer’s needs. Make sure you ask all that you can think of before moving forward.

4. Language ability and flexibility

Language ability is one of the most important skills a virtual receptionist can have. When hiring a freelance receptionist, it’s very easy to test their language skills, though reliability can be compromised when going this route.

Going the service route, reliability can be increased, since they have more staff on hand to accommodate for sick days, etc. However, it’s also more common to see people with varying language skills working for large service businesses. Make sure to ask sales reps for a few phone numbers linked to their service that you can call randomly to test their receptionists in real-time.

Consider the languages of your most common customers too. If you service customers in areas where English is spoken, but most prefer to speak their native language, you’ll want access to bilingual receptionists who can adapt as needed.

Receptionist in the reception area

5. Hours of availability

Last but not least, you have to consider how much time they can dedicate to answering your calls. This is where hiring a virtual reception service shines over hiring freelance employees.

A local freelancer will likely only want to work during business hours. Online virtual reception freelancers offer more flexibility, but if you need 24/7 service, you’d need to hire more than one person, and likely three or more in order to cover all shifts and account for days off.

A service should be able to guarantee covering all the time slots you require, and additionally be able to scale in call volumes handled as the business grows — or during boom/bust seasons.

Check these 5 criteria off your list and you should be well on your way to hiring the best and brightest virtual receptionists to handle the calls coming into your business.