What comes to mind when you think of answering services? Maybe it’s the image of someone waiting on standby at a call center to direct your call to the desired location. Or maybe it’s the experience of interacting with an automated voicemail system, in which you end up entering about 25 numbers to get where you need to go.
These allusions don’t seem problematic on the surface: they just simply reflect reality. However, the problem is that these experiences and archetypes of answering services haven’t changed much over the past twenty years.
Dan L’Heureux, Executive Director of the Southern Telemessaging Association
, diagnosed this problem as an industry-wide issue while dismissing it as a misconception:
“So the general misconception, however, is that if people think about an answering service they kind of still think that there’s one person sitting by one telephone trying to answer phones.”
L’Heureux’s diagnosis is correct in labeling the idea that answering services are completely automated or human-operated as a misconception. The answering services industry is not totally stuck in the pre-internet era. Newer types of answering services have indeed been introduced to the market which leverage modern technologies. The majority of these fall under the category of a live virtual assistant or internet platform technologies, particular VoIPs, or Voice-over Internet Protocol services.
However, while these technologies have made a dent in today’s market and provide more streamlined and arguably more efficient answering services, more than half of companies that use answering services for their business still use a form of automated answering services, according to recent research
This lingering attachment to automated answering services is in part due to larger industry dynamics, which currently have the effect of boxing in businesses to where they are stuck using automated services.
Eric Schurke of VoiceNation, identified the limited operational software options available as a reason why many businesses remained attached to automated answering services.
“There’s about 3 or 4 major providers of live answering service software… It’s a 6 figure startup cost – anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000 just for maybe 10 licenses.”
These massive startup costs essentially bind businesses to automated platforms by creating a sizable financial barrier to internal innovation or investment in a more technologically advanced platform. Ultimately, this dynamic has the effect of keeping the industry in a perpetual loop in which businesses that use an automated service cannot afford move to a more advanced service, which in turn reinforces the archetypal answering service as the image described by L’Heureux.
In addition, the limited number of platforms available to use has the effect of creating an answering services market of non-distinct services, as businesses that use those platforms all offer essentially the same services and features.
VoiceNation, though, provides a good example of how the industry can move out of this self-reinforcing loop. Instead of paying the hefty buy-in and licensing fees of larger software platforms, they developed an in-house platform, from which they operate their answering services. Although the development almost certainly detailed an elevated initial investment, it will likely result in a competitive advantage over the long-term.
If more answering services firms were to develop distinct software, like VoiceNation, they would have the opportunity to attract customers and gain market share by offering distinctive services. In addition, an influx of new and unique software and features have the potential to rescue the industry’s image from its current perception that it lives in the past.
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