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The Difference Between Virtual Receptionist And Live Answering Services

A virtual office receptionist and live answering service looks very similar from the outside, so it’s not surprising that some people get confused about the difference between these services. Indeed, they both offer phone support which can blur the line between the two. However, the difference does not lie in the physical appearance of the service, instead, it lies in how the calls are managed and what can be performed by each.

Understanding the difference between a virtual receptionist and live answering service could sway your decision on which service is right for you. This blog discusses the difference and similarities, in addition to some tips on how to select the right service provider for your business.


Live answering services use real humans to take a message rather than diverting to an automated answering machine. On the other hand, a virtual receptionist uses trained customer service specialists to answer phone calls and perform more complex tasks on behalf of another business. It should be noted however, that both services are extremely flexible and can generally be tailored to suit the needs of the client.

Unlike an automated voicemail, a live answering service uses real humans to answers missed calls. The phone is answered in a call-centre using a tailored script customised to your business. The agent usually asks a set of questions (as requested by you), and then relays that information to you via your preferred communication channel. A basic live answering service usually obtains the caller’s name, phone number, message and any other information requested by the client to be obtained. Live answering services are open 24/7, 365 days of the year to ensure that no calls go unanswered. A landing point is available where you can divert your calls to the live answering service. For example, you may need someone to answer your calls while you’re on holidays or when you’re in a meeting. Whatever the reason, once you activate the divert, the live answering agents manage your calls according to a script tailored to your business.

Common examples of businesses who use a live answering service:

  • Start-up businesses with limited staff
  • Businesses who receive a significant proportion of their leads via telephone call
  • Businesses who receive calls outside their trading hours
  • Remote workers, tradesman and other similar professionals who have their hands tied up all day and are unable to answer their phone while working on site
  • A virtual receptionist performs more complex tasks beyond taking a message. In addition to answering missed calls, the receptionist can book appointments, send SMS reminders for appointments, provide help-desk support, process orders, escalate urgent calls to managers or on-call technicians, escalation and triage and more. It performs similar duties to that of an in-house receptionist.

Common examples of businesses who use a virtual receptionist:

  • Businesses who receive a significant proportion of their bookings via telephone call (e.g hospitality, professional services, trades, beauty and more)
  • Businesses which require a reception service, but don’t want to pay full-time wages
  • Remote workers, real estate agents, tradesman and other similar professionals who are attending sites most of the day.


Regardless of the service used, both entail answering phones calls on behalf of another business, with the exception being that a virtual receptionist can perform more complex tasks.

The benefit of outsourcing to either service is that they’re open 24/7, 365 days of the year. This means that you can divert your calls at any time of the day or night, including weekends. It can also come in handy when you’re taking time-off to go on a holiday. Depending on the precise scope of the calls, the agent can forward or transfer calls to you or another staff member.

Finally, agents answering your phone calls are trained customer service specialists. The agents undertake a rigorous recruitment process, often including psychometric testing. Those that are successful then complete training, with ongoing feedback and Q&A checks being performed. It should be noted however, that differences in the recruitment process exist across service providers.

Which Service Is Right For You?

Before considering phone support, it’s important to first ask, “What does my business need? How can my business streamline its communications? What are my options?”

It’s common practice for business owners or managers to solely consider live answering services when first contemplating phone support. However, when they conduct more research and speak to providers, they often uncover many more ways to capitalise on the service which they didn’t even realise was possible.

For some businesses, they only require a professional receptionist to answer their missed calls, while for others, they require more support beyond taking messages. If you’re contemplating the latter, then a virtual receptionist might be a better fit for your business. Regardless of whichever service you select, both can be customised to the exact needs of your business, whether that be basic messages or more complex customer care support. Most outsourcing partners offer both services and thus, it’s worth having a conversation with them to discuss which service most closely aligns with your business’s needs.

How to choose the Right Provider?

Once you’ve got an idea of which service you’d like to implement, it’s important to consider the right service provider. This might entail having discussions with and obtaining quotes from a range of providers. You might also want to compare pricing models, service capabilities and years of experience across providers.

With 45+ years of experience, TMC has extensive experience in this sector. TMC knows how to answer the phones inside and out. They have built their scripting and training processes to ensure optimal professionalism across their business. Their difference is that they hire perfect first. They use the services of a professional Organisational Psychologist to work with their HR and recruitment team to administer skill and behavioural testing.  TMC focuses on professionalism and accuracy, whilst looking for reliability, attention to detail and empathy.