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How to Best Use an Answering Service to Convert Those After-Hour Calls You've Been Missing Having somebody available to pick up the phone after hours may be worth every penny you pay.

By James Parsons Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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A constant push and pull goes on in the world of small business and entrepreneurship: Do you set and work "business" hours, or do you personally handle anything and everything for your business, regardless of when those things happen?

Some entrepreneurs are more than happy to work 100 hours a week, while others cite their need for work-life balance as absolutely critical to their business success.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Good Customer Service Is Your Most Important Metric

My own position is that, regardless of how many hours I work -- or anyone else works -- it's often a good idea to impose limits on outside contact. Running a small business that offers 24/7 support is just asking for pain. Virtually no task can be completed in a reasonable amount of time when you have to keep dropping everything to answer the phone.

So, what to do? The typical answer is voicemail, but a voicemail is impersonal. When someone wants to call your business, he or she has a concrete reason in mind, whether it's the need to obtain technical or customer support or to talk to your sales staff.

And this is important because after-hours sales leads can be incredibly lucrative; yet the problem is, you never know how many leads you miss when a call goes to voicemail and the caller leaves no message.

The best solution, I'd suggest, is to hire an answering service. An answering service can take several forms, whether it's a call center or a freelancer operating through a virtual call center service. These options all function essentially the same way: Someone calls your business line, and when the call meets specific criteria, the answering service picks up.

How an answering service benefits a business

The first and most obvious benefit to using an answering service is to capture leads and issue information outside of normal business hours. Your customers and potential customers aren't always able to call during the workday -- many of them work 9-to-5 jobs, as well – so being able to connect with them outside of business hours is a huge boon.

Answering services also allow you to more effectively distribute your time. When you're able to offload business calls, you can use that time to work on important contracts, building assets or app development, or just spend time relaxing with your family. You don't want to face burnout, after all.

Related: Why Your Business Still Needs To Be Available On Phone In This Digital-First World

A voicemail box or a robot call handler is simply so impersonal it can drive customers away. It can be too generic; it can be too complex to navigate; or it might be too poorly laid out for your usual use cases. Besides, a huge element of small business success is the humanity and personality of the brand involved. So, relying on impersonal robots and mailboxes means you lose that crucial element of the personal touch.

Effectively using an answering service

There are two excellent ways to use an answering service when you are a small business or a busy entrepreneur. The first is to set business hours. Any call coming in after the close of business or before the start of the workday is then directed to the answering service, whose staffers take basic lead information, fill out a support ticket or alternately engage with a customer who would otherwise be left with a voicemail inbox.

The other option is to configure your answering service to pick up if a call goes unanswered for a specified amount of enough, usually meaning a number of rings or seconds after the connection is made. This way, you can ignore a phone call during the workday if you're in the midst of a difficult task or in a meeting; the answering service can still gather the relevant information to pass along.

The key to effectively using an answering service is to configure different scripts for different contexts. An after-hours call should be answered with a flexible script that can take down information about service outages, website issues or other troubleshooting problems. The service can then record contact information for potential leads your sales team can follow up with the next day.

You don't need your answering service's workers to be a sales team; you just need them to scoop up the potential leads you would otherwise miss. A different script for use during business hours is an easy way to tell a caller, "I'm in a meeting, but give me your number; I'll call back in 15 minutes."

Related: 4 Simple Ways to Communicate Better With Your Customers

Customers are going to call you outside of the 9-to-5. That's a given. But you have several choices here. It's up to you how you handle those calls.

James Parsons

Content Marketer and Author

James Parsons is an entrepreneur, marketer, web designer, growth hacker and Apple fanboy. When he's not writing at his blog, he's working on his next big project.

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