Picking up the phone is a highly lucrative activity for local businesses. Nearly half of local mobile searches end in a phone call, meaning your phone line is teeming with potential customers.
But small business owners are only able to answer 38% of calls, and most callers won’t wait more than a minute for someone to answer. What’s worse, 85% of callers who go to voicemail won’t call back, meaning you’ve likely lost a customer.
With potential revenue on the line, why do local businesses have such a hard time answering the phone?
Managing unexpected surges in incoming calls is a constant balancing act. Local businesses can’t afford to over-staff receptionists, so the customer experience suffers.
But there’s a better way.
Call overflow solutions can support your phone staff and prepare you for unknown ebbs and flows in customer calls. It can help you delight current customers and convert new prospects, all while ensuring you never miss another call.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through five of the main call overflow solutions, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. But first, let’s clarify the problem: what is call overflow?
Call overflow refers to any incoming calls that your staff can’t answer. It can be the result of not having enough employees, having an unexpected volume of in-person customers, or simply receiving calls outside of business hours.
It’s a problem Main Street businesses simply have to plan for. If you don’t have a solution for handling call overflow (such as a phone answering service), then these calls either go to voicemail or the caller hangs up. Either way, you’re probably losing business.
Sometimes the causes of call overflow are predictable. During major events like the Super Bowl, restaurants should expect a lot more calls (and have more staff on hand). As a local prom gets closer, hair salons and barber shops should plan for more calls and walk-ins. And realtors know they’re going to be busiest during the summer.
But say a large group of friends spontaneously decides to visit your establishment after work. Or a well-connected client posts a glowing review on social media. Or there’s a large wedding nearby. Maybe an employee called in sick. Your business could be swarmed with phone calls or more in-store customers than you can manage.
Call overflow services can support expected and unexpected increases in call volume so you can capture more business through the phone.
Hiring full-time staff to manage excess calls doesn’t always make financial sense for a business. And not having enough staff is only part of the problem. A front desk receptionist is a huge investment, and they have limited capacity. Plus, when they go home for the day, there’s nobody around to answer inbound calls.
In these cases, outsourcing phone support is a scalable and cost-effective option.
Here are 5 call overflow solutions to reduce your rate of missed calls.
A call center is an organization that specializes in providing inbound and outbound phone support to businesses. When you don’t have capacity to answer the phone or there are particular times you need extra help, an overflow call center can take the pressure off your team and elevate your customer service.
Vendors can help you create a phone tree and set up call forwarding after a set number of rings or when the phone line is unavailable.
The cost of a call center will depend on a few key factors:
Typically, larger organizations that receive hundreds or thousands of calls per day are most likely to benefit from a designated or outsourced call center. Some examples include tech companies, oil and gas companies, financial services companies, larger retailers, and healthcare agencies.
Call centers can support whatever volume of overflow calls your business receives, but if you use dedicated agents, it can cost as much as hiring a full-time employee. And if the call center isn’t local, that can make it more difficult for customers to interact with your business, too.
Virtual receptionists take on some of the traditional roles of a front desk receptionist, but they work remotely. They answer incoming calls, take notes, provide information, forward calls to the right person, and make appointments.
When you work with a virtual receptionist, you’re actually getting a team of people that can all follow a script you’ve provided and connect callers to the service they need.
Virtual receptionist services range in price, starting at $50 per month (for extremely limited service). Pricing is based on how many minutes or calls you need covered each month, and the costs can add up quickly during peak times.
Medical offices, marketing agencies, real estate agencies, and law firms tend to take advantage of virtual receptionists to reduce missed calls.
Like call centers, virtual receptionists should be able to handle your overflow call volume, but there are a few downsides. They do have limited capacity, so if you receive a high volume of overflow calls, some of them may still wind up at voicemail. Plus, if a customer needs to speak to you or one of your employees in order to get the service they need, your overflow calls are still going to wind up on your plate.
For some companies, the majority of callers just need to be routed to another person or department. Or perhaps they just need some basic information, or they want to complete a simple transaction. In these cases, auto attendants are a viable solution for handling call overflow.
Auto attendants essentially act as a switchboard to send calls to specific team members. Some can also answer simple, non-technical or industry-specific questions as well, such as, “Where is your business located?” or “What are your hours of operation?”
If an auto attendant is going to forward calls to individual employees or departments, your overflow calls are still going to become missed calls. When no one is available to answer the phone, an auto attendant only helps in situations where it can actually provide the service your callers need. And that’s not always possible.
When you’re out of the office, that doesn’t have to mean you’re unavailable. After hours calls are one of the biggest sources of call overflow. If your business uses a landline, you can set up call forwarding to have them sent to a cell phone. This lets you answer business calls from home or wherever you happen to be.
You can typically enable call forwarding through your existing phone provider. You can also use a call forwarding program.
If you are a solopreneur, frequently step out of the office or employ a handful of people, call forwarding is a cost-effective way to answer more calls. But it’s not a great call overflow solution if you’re simply receiving too many calls. Any calls you can’t answer still send clients to voicemail. And most people don’t want to receive business calls after hours.
Relying on humans to answer every call is expensive and unnecessary. Often, your phone staff is answering the same basic questions about your business, which makes these interactions easy to automate.
Text answering services like Numa give callers the option to transition to text messaging instead of voice when you’re not available to answer the phone—whether that’s because you’re too busy or it’s after business hours.
When your callers opt-in to receive a text message, Numa texts them right away. Using conversational artificial intelligence, Numa can answer common questions about your business and assist with taking orders, scheduling appointments, routing conversations, and more.
Numa’s AI assistant learns about your business over time, but you have complete control over what it can and can’t answer on its own. It can handle unlimited conversations, it never sleeps, and it always delivers fast, convenient service.
If you’re looking for scalable, 24/7 support and a flat, predictable fee, Numa is the perfect solution.
Outsourcing phone answering to a call center or answering service might save you from hiring another full-time employee, but it’s crucial that you have a way to determine if your call overflow solution is actually working.
If customer service agents, auto attendants, and virtual receptionists can’t handle most caller requests, you might need a different solution.
With the right metrics in place, you can make sure overflow calls are actually decreasing as a result of your efforts and your solution has been set up correctly.
Here are some metrics to help gauge your call overflow solution.
Abandon rate measures the number of inbound phone calls that are dropped by the customer before speaking to someone. To measure the average abandonment rate, divide the number of abandoned calls by the overall number of calls you’ve received.
Note: Most companies leave out any calls that were dropped within the first five seconds.
The average time to answer, or the average speed to answer, measures how long it takes for an agent to pick up the phone. It specifically calculates how long an agent’s phone rings before they pick up, not how long your customer spent in the queue.
On the other end of the spectrum, the average time in queue measures the customer’s time spent waiting for someone to pick up the phone. This call center metric correlates with customer satisfaction, especially given that customers aren’t willing to wait more than a minute for a business to answer the phone.
If your callers are spending a long time in the queue, that’s an indicator that the company you’re using as a call overflow handling service doesn’t have enough capacity to answer your calls in a timely manner. Their agents are too busy to give your customers the attention they deserve.
With visibility into these metrics, you can make informed decisions about the best way to handle your overflow calls. It may be as simple as making small adjustments. If you have call forwarding set up on the third ring, but most customers hang up by the second ring, you’ll need to change the way you’re using that service. But if the service simply isn’t serving your customers, it’s probably time to switch to another overflow answering service.
Missed calls mean lost business. No matter how busy you are or what time of day it is, you want to be confident that overflow calls will get answered, and your customers will get served.
In 15 minutes or less, you can set up Numa to rescue potential missed calls and revenue for a fraction of the price of traditional solutions.
Ready to see Numa for yourself?