Answering Services for Small Business

Best Answering Services for Small Businesses

We compared dozens of answering services to choose our top picks for 2024


Fact Checked

Are you tired of missing calls and losing business? Small business answering services help prevent your customers from turning to your competitors when you can’t answer. From pricing to pros and cons, we review reputable answering services to help you choose one that best meets your small business needs.

Our Top Picks

Answering Services for Small Business Reviews

No matter the size of your business, our guide has you covered. How did we make our selections? We tested 24 of the leading companies that offer answering services for small businesses and handpicked five of the best.

We chose our top picks based on services offered, round-the-clock availability, pricing transparency, excellence in customer support, and a solid brand reputation among users. We also chose based on mobile access and bilingual capabilities. Check out our methodology for more details and information about our selection process.


Best for Flexible Pricing

Never miss a call again with VoiceNation. VoiceNation is a solution where real people answer your calls 24/7. The answering service provider offers extensive features, including intake services and order processing for many industries. Between live receptionists and live chat options, there are 15 flexible plans to choose from. You can take advantage of a seven-day free trial to determine which is right for you.

Abby Connect

Best for Live Receptionists with AI Assistance

At Abby Connect, you don’t just get a live receptionist; you get a team of five to ten live receptionists who understand your business, giving your customers consistent service. You also get Abby Intelligence, which means your live receptionists are assisted by AI to reduce errors, optimize your account, and improve the whole experience.

Specialty Answering Service

Best for Call Center Services

If you run a business with a high volume of calls, Specialty Answering Service (SAS) is your call center solution. Even if you already have your own in-house call center, SAS can help augment operations (especially if your call center is not enough alone). 

They have 300 live receptionists ready and waiting to take your calls, chats, and messages. SAS can even make call transfers and answer texts and emails. SAS is designed to let you massively scale and can take and dispatch calls to your on-call staff.


Best for High Call and Chat Volumes

AnswerConnect believes strongly in connecting your callers with a person, not a bot. They provide overflow call answering services and chat 24/7 during and after business hours. Their highly trained receptionists work from home/remote, so they are less susceptible to call outages. While slightly higher priced than its competitors, AnswerConnect’s lowest plan comes with 200 minutes.


Best for Small Business Answering Service

PATLive is an excellent choice for live answering and chat services. It offers an impressive range of features from call screening and transfers to many popular integrations. With PATLive, your small business can put forth a professional, streamlined image 24/7 without the overhead cost of live receptionists.

On this page:

Compare the best answering services for small businesses side-by-side

BrandBest ForStarting PriceFree Option
VoiceNationFlexible Pricing$65 /month /20 minutes7-day free trial
Abby ConnectLive Receptionists Assisted by AI$299 /month /100 minutesNone
Specialty Answering ServiceCall Center Services$38 /month + $1.38 /minute14-day free trial
AnswerConnectHigh call and chat volumes$325 /month /200 minutesNone
PATLiveSmall business$60 /month + $2.34 /minute14-day free trial

What is an answering service?

A live answering service is a third-party service that handles incoming phone calls on behalf of a company or organization. The primary purpose of answering service companies is to ensure that calls from customers, clients, or other stakeholders are answered promptly and professionally, even when the business is closed, busy, or understaffed. 

This service can be beneficial for small and medium-sized businesses, professionals, and organizations that may not have the resources to maintain a full-time, in-house receptionist or customer service team.

How do answering services work?

Answering services provide functionality by streamlining operations and handling incoming phone calls and chats on behalf of businesses or organizations. When a call comes in, the virtual receptionist provides:

  • Call Answering: They answer inbound calls in the name of the business. Virtual receptionists are trained to handle calls according to the company’s specific instructions, scripts, and protocols.
  • Message Taking: They record messages from callers and relay them to the business through email, text messages, or a dedicated online portal or mobile app. 

This ensures that important information is not missed. Sometimes, they will even provide follow-ups, which can improve customer relations. All the vendors we chose provide message-taking.

  • Call Screening: Receptionists screen calls based on pre-defined criteria, forwarding urgent or important calls to the appropriate personnel while filtering out unnecessary or spam calls. PATLive can screen and transfer calls for you, while Abby Connect blocks spam calls and transfers calls with custom transfer tunes.
  • Appointment Scheduling: Virtual assistants schedule appointments on behalf of the business, which is particularly useful for service-based businesses like healthcare providers, law firms, and salons. AnswerConnect integrates with your calendar to schedule appointments for you directly.
  • Order Taking: They process orders for e-commerce, answer customer inquiries, and provide product information. VoiceNation will take orders over the phone for you, streamlining operations.
  • Emergency Dispatch: They also follow specific protocols to ensure immediate action is taken in the case of emergencies, such as contacting emergency services. Specialty Answering Service is equipped to handle emergency dispatch.

What are the benefits of an answering service?

Answering services offer several significant benefits to small businesses. By providing professional and reliable support, these services can help you build credibility, increase customer satisfaction, and ultimately grow your operations. Answering services are a cost-effective and efficient way to manage your phone calls and customer interactions. Here are some of the key advantages of using an answering service:

  • Professionalism: Answering services provide a professional and consistent image to callers. This can help you compete with larger competitors and make a positive first impression.
  • 24/7 Availability: You may not have the resources to offer round-the-clock customer support. Answering services can handle calls after regular business hours, on weekends, and during holidays, ensuring customers can reach your business anytime.
  • Reduced Missed Calls: A telephone answering service ensures that calls are answered promptly, reducing the risk of missed opportunities, leads, or customer inquiries. This can lead to increased sales and customer retention, as well.
  • Cost Savings: You can save on hiring and training a full-time receptionist or customer service staff. Answering services are typically more cost-effective, as businesses only pay for the services they use.
  • Scalability: These services can adapt to the varying call volumes of your business. They can handle a few calls during slow periods and manage a surge in calls during busy times.
  • Enhanced Productivity: Using an answering service allows you to focus on core tasks without constant interruptions from phone calls.
  • Improved Customer Service: Answering service professionals are trained to handle customers professionally and follow specific procedures provided by you to ensure consistent and quality customer service.
  • Multilingual Support: Some answering services offer multilingual support, which can be advantageous if your business serves a diverse customer base.
  • Flexibility: You can customize the service to align with your specific needs and brand, allowing for a personalized customer experience.
  • Competitive Edge: Using an answering service can give you a competitive edge by ensuring your business provides consistent and excellent customer service, which can differentiate you in the market.

How much does an answering service cost?

While there’s no such thing as a free virtual answering service, there are affordable answering services for small businesses. Of the vendors we reviewed, prices ranged between $38 and $325 a month. Pricing is complex and often based on a monthly fee and set number of minutes. 

However, some companies charge a base monthly fee and per minute. An example is Specialty Answering Service’s economy plan, which charges just $38 a month (no included minutes) then $1.38 per minute. PATLive is similar, with a $60 monthly charge plus $2.34 per minute for the lowest-priced plan.

Other providers do include minutes in their plans. For example, AnswerConnect charges $325 a month but includes 200 minutes in that plan. Abby Connect is $299 a month with 100 minutes included, and VoiceNation is just $65 a month with 20 minutes included. 

When we look at the overall cost per-minute price, AnswerConnect is the cheapest at about $1.62 per minute. Of course, if your business does not need 200 minutes, you should choose a plan that has an appropriate number of minutes at a lower cost. 

Other expenses to keep in mind are set-up fees. AnswerConnect charges a one-time set-up fee of $49.50, while Specialty Answering Service charges an even $50 for setup. Several companies like Specialty Answering Service, PATLive, and VoiceNation offer free trials of 7 to 14 days, allowing you to test the service and decide what plan will work best. 

It’s wise to choose a provider that offers month-to-month plans so you can easily cancel or scale as needed. 

Answering Services for Small Businesses FAQs

How to choose the best answering service?

To choose the best answering service, you want to first identify and carefully consider your business or personal needs. You should also consult guides, do research, and conduct due diligence. Once you have all the information, you can choose a service that aligns with your needs, supporting your business properly.

Consider the following when assessing small business answering services:

  • Your call volume
  • Hours of operation
  • Reputation of companies
  • Licensing and compliance
  • Pricing and transparency
  • Customer support
  • Privacy and security
  • Scalability of plans
  • Integrations
  • Free trial periods
  • Reliability
  • Customizations available

What is the difference between an answering service and a virtual receptionist?

A phone answering service typically consists of a team of operators who answer calls based on predefined scripts and protocols. They handle high call volumes and ensure that important calls are not missed. 

Most answering services also have virtual receptionists available. These operators can perform a broader range of tasks, including appointment scheduling, customer inquiries, and order processing. They aim to offer a more customized and comprehensive customer experience.

The choice between an answering service and a virtual receptionist depends on your business’s specific needs. If you require efficient handling of a high number of calls, an answering service may be more cost-effective. However, a virtual receptionist might be the better option if you prioritize a personalized customer experience and a wider range of services.

Why do small businesses need answering services?

Small businesses and startups need answering services for several reasons. Many work within smaller budgets, and answering service companies can be cost-effective solutions. Answering services streamline phone operations ensuring that all calls are answered promptly and professionally. 

They also handle calls after business hours, which small businesses would not normally be able to receive. Additionally, these services free up time for small business owners and staff, allowing them to focus more on core operations.

Methodology: How we chose the best answering services for small businesses

We compiled a list of 24 live answering services for small businesses. Out of these, we identified the five leading vendors that earned significant attention due to their offered features, customer support, and brand reputation.

Our information-gathering process involved collecting data from these vendors. We meticulously verified the data through interviews, video and live demonstrations, and thorough reviews of vendor and parent company websites. 

Furthermore, we scored providers on a scale from 1 (subpar) to 5 (outstanding) in vital categories like features, pricing transparency, onboarding and support, and brand reputation. Each of these categories carried a weight of 25% in our overall evaluation.

When reviewing all the best answering services for small businesses, we emphasized the following key criteria:

  • Live Answering and Chat: Recognizing the need for businesses to adopt an omnichannel approach, we made sure the services offered both live answering and chat services.
  • Availability: To meet the high expectations of customers, we ensured that the selected vendors provided services around the clock, 365 days a year.
  • Privacy and Security Measures: We chose based on whether providers were HIPAA compliant and met security protocols for payment processing and safeguarding customer information.
  • Mobile App: We also considered whether they offered a mobile application to allow you to create and modify call and chat scripts, manage messages and calls, and facilitate communication with virtual receptionists.
  • Bilingual Support: We checked for language support in both Spanish and English, even in the less expensive answering services for small businesses.

About the Authors

Raechel Conover headshot

Raechel covers HR, finance, technology, and small business software for the NAWBO Expert Reviews Team. As an experienced journalist and small business owner, she is passionate about helping entrepreneurs make informed purchasing decisions.

jamie ostroe headshot

Bringing more than a decade of editorial experience to the NAWBO Expert Reviews Team, Jamie is dedicated to ensuring articles are accurate and helpful. Her experience running a small business inspires her to help others choose the best products for their unique business needs.

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