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AI Phone Answering Service for Business

At Perfect Reception we have been exploring the use of AI as part of our products and services, and we have recently launched Pepper Potts who is our Virtual Telephone Answering Service. We don’t believe that the bots will be over taking the humans anytime soon, and indeed our clients are telling us as much. But there may be some that would quite like the novelty of trying AI, perhaps at certain times of the day so we have developed what we consider to be the best tool out there, feel free to give ‘her’ a try!

The Benefits of AI in Business Telephone Answering

As you will have seen, our AI known as ‘Pepper’ is specifically trained to be Perfect Reception’s enquiry management and incoming calls response service for anytime our agents are busy working for our clients. Pepper is continuously learning, so the more the calls and information that is received, the brighter and more responsive Pepper will become to more complex enquiries. We have wrestled around the morale and ethical questions around whether we plan to call Pepper an ‘it’ or a assign a human gender given we have created a human caricature around the AI but we have settled on referring the AI as ‘’ Pepper’ or ’it’ in the narrative below..

We have spent several months working on Pepper and testing and at this stage we are yet to offer the product to our customers and will be  testing  via our own incoming enquiries when they come through online and via the telephone (you can reach Pepper via our telephone number during out of hours).

To be honest, we are still ironing out issues but within the next few months we would expect the AI telephone answering service to be configurable around any clients needs and undertake perhaps the general information you would expect a human to give you should you call up requiring either information, or to be transferred to a named individual or department.

What AI cannot do in this particular context, is process complex information or  instinctively manage more challenging calls. And that’s a very key difference between our telephone answering teams and the AI at the moment. It could be a client of one of our legal service customers who is under acute emotional stress, or it could be an angry client’s customer who feels that have an immediate issue that needs resolving.

It is here that the our AI would likely struggle and that’s why we have no plans whatsoever to replace our humans with AI, we expect it to become an overflow cost friendly alternative (particularly outside traditional office hours). If you wish to learn more about configuring our AI as a telephone answering solution for your business please get in touch.

A little bit of History from automated Phone Systems to AI driven Telephone Answering

In recent years, technology has delivered automated telephone answering systems that are popularly known in the Industry and IVRs (Interactive Voice Response Systems). These have been around for many years and are often deployed by financial industry corporations to create efficiency in their call centres, but funnelling calls in specific routes taking automated payments, or placing people in managed call waiting times. In more recent years functionality has been added to provide slightly more customer friendly solutions, such as managed call backs to save customers waiting for prolonged periods of time to talk to an appropriately qualified human being.

The issue with all of this, is that whilst is may have saved companies huge sums of money due to reduced headcount, the customer experience is often unsatisfactory and very few of us have come away from one of these experiences (which we all now encounter almost daily) with a more positive view of the business we were trying to call.

The Telephone Answering Industry

Businesses like Perfect Reception and other competitors of ours in the industry such as Moneypenny, have worked hard over the years to provide a cost-effective alternative option to businesses so that they don’t need to rely  on automated solutions, and have their telephone calls answered promptly and professionally, by an informed human. Whilst there is a great deal of efficiency in using a telephone answering service (calls centres such of ours manage a range of difference clients during the day, we can work hard to keep costs down through improved efficiency); some customers still believe it to be an expensive option, particularly during out of hours service where call charges can be higher but it would still make business sense to have incoming enquiries around products and services, or urgent calls managed 24 hours of the day and throughout the weekends.

Pepper Potts, Perfect Reception’s AI Solution

The difference between today’s product offering via AI for telephone answering services, and the historical solutions, is that an AI answering service deploys artificial intelligence to answer incoming calls and enquiries in a way that makes it much harder to distinguish between a human receptionist or a robot.

There is a key point here that we are making, and it differs from what you may read elsewhere and in that, we appreciate it is subjective. At Perfect Reception, we don’t believe that at this stage (albeit things are changing very quickly) that you could not tell the difference between a human and a robot if you were notionally aware that it could be one or the other, and we certainly don’t believe that any customer should be tricked into thinking they are talking to a human when they are not. Our AI has been told to identify themselves as an automated receptionist, and outline briefly what they will and won’t be able to do, and; within those perimeters, deliver an exceptional service to whoever is making the incoming call. Until we are convinced Pepper can do this, we will not be progressing our test to a real time environment.

In this way, we believe that we are working to achieve the best of all worlds. We don’t want (and currently our customers don’t want) robots to be managing the phones all the time, and from our perspective, whilst the AI may develop and refine much quicker than we imagine, our belief is that the market will require us mixing the latest in AI technology with the unmistakable reassurance of humans. However, it is important to reiterate that it is human telephone answering that will be the preferred solution for the majority of customers in our industry for many years to come.

No need to make a Choice between AI vs: Humans for Telephone Answering

There can be no question that the remarkable rise of AI even as recently as 2023 and into 2024 has meant that the option of AI across a range of sectors has become very real and, in many cases, will increase productivity at a remarkable level. If we look at the NHS for instance, the ability of AI to diagnose, treat and assist in managing chronic illness could be revolutionary. But will it replace the friendly face of a local GP anytime soon? We don’t think so.

So how AI will be deployed and the relationship between AI and humans right up to the point of governance by our national and international leaders is possibly the defining question of the 21st century. We will leave that one to the powers that be and focus on our own AI solution here at Perfect Reception. Our view is that a tailored solution for our customers telephone answering service will always be the way we approach our business, and if Pepper is part of the mix, it is a pleasure to introduce that service.

The future of AI and call centres

As this article is written (January 2024), we still believe that humans have considerably better problem-solving skills in many fields, than artificial intelligence. Our own AI can answer questions, and even have a conversation but it continues to operate in what is known as a ‘closed domain’ meaning there are limits on what it can discuss. Frankly, at certain times of day, this may well be a good thing. Most of our customers require a prompt, professional and friendly service that automatically gets to the point of the call. But small talk, polite chat about the weather and being able to read the tone is what makes us human. It is one of the things that  defines us, and always will define us. Our humans will have had conversations on behalf of our customers many times and will use their intuition to ‘read the room’. They will always go the extra mile. That’s why we don’t believe AI will ever fully replace humans when managing incoming calls and enquiries for companies that genuinely care about their own customers.

Perfect Reception’s Phone Answering Service

If you’ve read all the way down to here, we hope we have given you an objective and reasonable informed view about our AI, and its strength and weaknesses relating to the telephone answering industry. You may not have read about our core business if you came straight to this page so a little more about us, and what make’s us different. Given all businesses have plenty of options when it comes to a telephone answering service fromlarge call centres with hundreds of people on phones, to the smaller operators with just a handful; here at Perfect Reception you might think it is hard to explain why we think our telephone answering service is unique. The reason we do however comes down to two core elements that we believe we are exceptional at, Transparency and Innovation.

Transparency

We occasionally post on LinkedIn one of the many price comparisons that we are asked to do for our telephone answering service, and the reason we don’t do it every time is due to a little debate that is ongoing between our team about whether it gets a bit dull to repeat the same post all the time. But generally speaking; if we see an invoice that we are asked to quote against for say £450 we will often come in somewhere between £220 - £275. One of the reasons for this is that we price check with other suppliers to ensure we are market leading on all of our telephone answering price packages. But another important point is that we work very hard to offer transparent pricing to all of our customers. There are no low headline rates followed by charges for call transfers, or ‘rounding up’ minutes as a lot of other telephone answering suppliers do. We have often found that telephone answering providers try and offer low front up pricing but their customers can be surprised by the invoice when received as there are various additional charges applied to the account as is standard industry practice. We work exceptionally hard to avoid this whilst maintaining industry leading prices for business telephone answering services, and we have never lost a customer to a competitor to our knowledge on price or service or for any other reason. We fully intend to keep working hard to keep it that way.

Telephone Answering services and Technology

Telephone answering companies will often talk about their large infrastructure and deployment of the latest in technology, in that it creates differentiation in the marketplace and gives them a point of difference in a fiercely competitive industry. Here at Perfect Reception, we always with asking the question ‘What purpose does the technology serve?’.

The purposes of Technology for Business Telephone Answering

Without the basics of technology (available to pretty much any business of any size thanks to the cloud-based nature of how these services are delivered today) there could be no telephone answering service. From our telecoms partners to our switchboard software partners, through to our back up generator capabilities, our databases, our computers, our telecoms hardware and a great deal more, we are reliant on a whole host of technology to stay reliable, relevant and competitive. We don’t tend to boast about this or present ourselves as different, but suffice to say we make the right investments at the right time to ensure that our investment in the deliver of our service remains as competitive, as up to date, as reliable and as quick as the very best of our competitors. And despite all of that, and indeed, despite our new AI offering; we are a people business. It how we started and it is how we will always be. We invest in our people first and foremost and they remain front and centre of the business. We offer telephone answering calls from less than £1 per minute, but we will never compromise on ensuring all of our team feel valued, looked after and enjoy their important role in providing the very best telephone answering services for business in the United Kingdom.

How will things look at the end of 2024 for Business Telephone Answering?

We can only predict the future to the extent that we are able to control things, and at Perfect Reception, the team will remain committed to offering the very best telephone answering services. Is our AI service known as ‘Pepper’ going to be part of that solution, indeed part of the team…..? Difficult to say that what is essentially technology will be part of the team, but Pepper will be a voice and as such will very much be an extension of our brand. It of course, will never be human but there is a distinction between the voice created by technology and the type of technology we invest in for reliability, consistency and core product delivery. And that difference is that whether a bot or a person, whoever / whatever answers the call most be prompt, professional, friendly, courteous and above all ensure that the incoming caller has a satisfactory, and ideally delightful experience. And in that respect, we need to think of Pepper as a Human and that’s why we gave it a name. So by the end of 2024, if we keep on growing as a business and aiming to be the best telephone answering service in the UK, it is likely that we will have a larger team, and its also fair to say that we will have invested more in people answering our telephones that we will have done in AI, something we will always be very proud to say. Its also likely that if you were to call one of our customers businesses, you might encounter the effortlessly polite, pleasant, knowledgeable and courteous Pepper Potts. And whether it is Pepper or one of our hugely professional, proud bunch of people, we will always aim to give each and every customer the best possible experience. Thanks for taking the time to read.

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