3 services for rethinking SMB customer service

Whether you want to answer incoming support inquiries more quickly or provide a more personalized experience for incoming phone calls, these offerings offer fresh approaches to a perpetual challenge.



Intuitively speaking, the last thing any company--big or small--wants to do is leave a customer question answered or force someone into "I'm on hold" hell, where they can stew away and help even the smallest issue spin out of control. With this in mind, here are three services targeted at small businesses that take a fresh look at this perpetual challenge of keeping clients happy. Two of them were just launched in the past several months, the third service has been around for a decade, but is gaining new attention in this "age of the customer."

LiveAnswer – Believe it or not, there are down times in massive contact centers. That's the idea behind this new service from Miami-based LiveAnswer, which offers a series of phone answering services to small businesses by borrowing blocks of times when large call centers are trying to boost their utilization. Think of it as a distributed approach.

Instead of being picked up by voicemail, your calls can be forwarded to live agents. The company offers script templates, so that businesses can control what they'd like to say. They can also pick the sorts of skills (including certifications) that might be required for their agent pool. Small businsses receive call reports, with location information, social media profiles of callers, and recordings of completed calls.

The starter service from LiveAnswer is priced at $49.95 per month for up to 50 minutes, and costs an extra $0.99 for each additional minute.

MightyCall React – Introduced in January by Seattle-based Infratel, this is a platform that helps companies merge incoming customer requests into a single queue, regardless of whether they originate on the phone, off the company Web site, through social media, or via email.

The activity list can be managed centrally, so that teams can follow up and share the responsibility of handling them, which is usually the norm for small organizations that don't have dedicated contact center agents. The service includes a Web interface, a mobile app for Apple iOS, a Twitter connector, a widget for integrating your Web site, a plug-in for WordPress, and a common email box. The voice channel is an optional add-on.

The basic service is free for up to three users. It costs $10 per month for five users; the add-on fee for the voice service with virtual phone system starts at another $10 per month for up to 300 voice minutes.

Ruby Receptionists – This service, which has been around for 10 years, and  is intended for small businesses that want to decrease the chances of missing a super important call, but don't have the money to hire an on-staff assistant or receptionist. 

The service combines virtual receptionists who work in Portland, Ore., with sophisticated customer relationship management software that offers customized information about incoming calls. So, for example, you could provide the team with special scripts for speaking with VIPs, like certain clients or the owner's wife. 

As of last fall, Ruby's team was answering something north of 20,000 calls per day, picking them up within four seconds.

This service requires an investment: it starts at $239 per month for services including 100 receptionist minutes, voicemails with email notifications (when they are requested), and real-time call reports. There is also a set-up fee of $95, which is charged at the end of a 14-day trial period.

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