Nov 16, 2023

Face-Off: Virtual Receptionists vs. AI Voice Assistants   

Virtual receptionists have been a part of the business landscape for years, serving businesses such as small law firms, personal-care businesses, and larger corporations in banking, financial services, and insurance. Businesses adopt these services as an alternative to traditional phone answering services, eliminating the need for a full-time, in-house receptionist.

But with dramatic new technologies arriving in the last few years, such as AI, how is the market changing?  How are virtual receptionists stacking up against innovative new technologies like AI-powered voice assistants, which use voice AI to converse with callers and answer their questions in a natural way.   

We’ll take a deeper look at the pros and cons of each and help you decide what’s best for your situation.   

Quick comparison: virtual receptionists vs AI voice assistants

Virtual receptionists are remote professionals who provide phone answering and administrative support services and act as an extension of your company. They perform many of the same job functions as a traditional receptionist, but are not part of a company’s culture as they are provided by a third-party service.  

AI-powered voice assistants also respond to callers but the newest generation offers a dramatic improvement in voice understanding using techniques such as advanced natural language understanding (NLU) and automatic speech recognition (ASR) so they can understand and talk naturally with callers. This is unlike automated answering services we’ve become accustomed to such as IVR systems that often offer a bad customer experience.   

Benefits of virtual receptionists

Human touch. No matter how advanced AI voice assistants have gotten (and they’ve gotten quite advanced, watch this), some customers prefer to speak with a human.   

Time management. By outsourcing phone answering tasks to virtual receptionists, businesses can save time and focus on core activities, improving overall productivity.

Cheaper than in-house receptionists. Because virtual receptionists are remote, they are more affordable than maintaining a full-time, on-site receptionist.  

Flexible. A virtual receptionist service can adapt to the changing needs of a business, adding additional receptionists to handle high call volumes during peak times or during special campaigns.

Benefits of AI voice assistants

Calls answered on the first ring. Because of ongoing staffing issues, long hold times are a top pain point for customers. In fact, 50% of callers hang up after 90 seconds on hold (Source). An AI voice assistant ensures your phones are answered quickly.

Knowledge of the business. A product such as SoundHound’s Smart Answering includes an extensive Knowledge Base that uses AI to scrub all data from your website and other sources so that the voice assistant can answer many of your customers’ questions.

Rapid response. AI voice assistants can process information instantly, leading to faster query resolution.

Cost effectiveness. AI voice assistant services offer a more predictable monthly cost structure, that can range from as low as $99/month to $499/month depending on the features and minutes included.

Scalability. As AI is not limited by human resources, it can easily handle large call volumes without a decrease in performance.

50% of callers hang up after 90 seconds on hold.

Testing Phone Customer Service Wait Times, Formilla

Drawbacks of virtual receptionists

Limited knowledge of business. Since virtual receptionists work remotely and for multiple clients, it’s often challenging for them to build a deep understanding of each company’s unique culture and values.

Higher costs.  While cheaper than hiring an in-house receptionist, virtual receptionists can still be costly depending on the plan you select.  Virtual receptionists plans range anywhere from $25 (low end) to over $3,000 per month, along with hidden fees and upcharges for different service levels 

Limited availability. Virtual receptionists may not be available 24/7, which means that there may be times when customers cannot reach a human representative. 

Human error. Virtual receptionists are human, which means that they are prone to making mistakes. They also have different levels of training and with today’s staffing challenges and turnovers, keeping receptionists trained and knowledgeable on business values is difficult.

Drawbacks of AI phone answering

Automated voice. While AI voice assistants today are light years ahead of old-school voice automation, it’s not a human voice, which some prefer.

Interdisciplinary tasks. Complex issues often require human expertise to resolve, whether it is customer service or backend support.

Emotional intelligence.  Humans have an innate ability to understand emotions, read between the lines, and respond with genuine care.

Comparing AI voice assistants vs. virtual receptionists

Virtual receptionists, with their human touch, provide a level of personalization and emotional intelligence that AI systems have yet to match. This human element can be crucial in industries where customer experience and understanding nuanced requirements are key.

The benefits of AI phone answering systems are also significant, especially in terms of efficiency and reliability. The ability to answer calls on the first ring and ensure that 100% of calls are answered can drive more revenue as 50% of callers hang up after 90 seconds on hold. This level of responsiveness is particularly beneficial for customer satisfaction, as it minimizes wait times and the frustration that can arise from missed or delayed call responses.

In conclusion, if personalized customer interactions are your highest priority and cost is not a barrier, virtual receptionists hold a clear advantage. But if it’s important that your calls are answered promptly, that they are answered round-the-clock, are easy to set up and modify, and cost is a deciding factor, consider an AI voice assistant.

Want to test drive an AI voice assistant?

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