Tech-Enabled Virtual Receptionist vs. Automated Phone Service

Turning phone calls into customers

Before the technology boom, there was only one way to get your office phone answered—someone had to physically pick it up. These days you have plenty of options.

With phone trees, automated phone systems, and auto-attendants, you don’t even need a real person at your phone anymore. Or do you?

In the age of technology, human interaction is more valuable than ever. But that doesn’t mean technology doesn’t help. If you don’t want, or can’t afford, an in-house receptionist, you have two main options—an automated phone system or a tech-enabled virtual receptionist. What works best? Technology or human? We’ve found that it’s often the marriage of technology and the human element that makes the biggest impact.

Automated phone systems

An automated phone or interactive voice response system is a phone system that interacts with callers without a real human on the line. The entire phone call, or phone tree portion of the phone call, is done through interactions with a preset machine.

These systems vary, depending on what you’re looking for, but they have some general themes in common. They typically answer incoming calls and play a message, then ask callers to either speak in response to a question or press a button. Then, depending on the system, options, and the caller’s input, the automated phone system may play some pre-recorded information, route the caller further down in the phone tree, or connect them with a human.

Automated phone system strengths:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to use
  • Customizable

Automated phone system weaknesses:

  • Lack of human interaction negatively impacts customer service
  • Inefficiency in automated systems can frustrate or confuse callers
  • Without regular oversight, there is a risk of undiscovered malfunctions

Automation is the future, right? While automation always sounds like a great idea, an automated phone system runs the risk of alienating you from your customers or a potential new customer, by putting a mechanical wall between them and you. It can save you money, but it also runs the risk of costing you priceless customers and time.

Tech-enabled virtual receptionist service

Virtual Receptionists for AttorneysA virtual receptionist service is a real, live receptionist answering the phone for your business—but instead of working out of your office, they work out of their own. At Ruby, they’re located in Portland, Oregon.

Different virtual receptionist services offer different suites of features.

Ruby Receptionists offers a full-suite of phone services including 100% live call answering, Spanish-speaking receptionists, message taking and voicemail boxes, call transferring, intakes, the feature-rich Ruby mobile app, and outbound calling–to name a few. While callers are taken care of by a real person, Ruby’s proprietary technology is providing the receptionist (and you!) the tools needed to provide the caller with the best possible experience. The greatest advantage of Ruby’s technology? Callers don’t even know that the receptionist doesn’t work in your office!

The biggest difference between an automated service and a virtual receptionist service is the way technology is used. With an automated service, you’re basically getting a robot. A virtual receptionist service, on the other hand, is technology enabled, but still a real person. You get all the benefits of sophisticated technology, and your customers get to talk to a real, live human. A friendly voice on the other end of the line makes a great impression that will help you win business.

Virtual receptionist strengths:

  • You only pay for the time a receptionist spends on the phone
  • Sophisticated virtual receptionist services allow for a high-level of customization
  • Receptionists provide callers with fantastic first-impressions

Virtual receptionist weaknesses:

  • More expensive than an automation system
  • Limited to the information you provide the receptionists
  • Services aren’t 24/7 the way an automated system could be

What is right for you?

Business size, preferences, call volume, industry. All of these factors play an important role in choosing the right service for your unique business needs. If customer service is important to you, we always recommend providing callers with access to a real person instead of a robot. It tells your customers that they’re important to you. It’s a small thing your business can do to make a great impression that turns callers into loyal customers.

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Ruby’s Apple Watch App: A Journey of Innovation

Innovation Fest 2016
Can’t you just feel the innovation? Rubys rally for our first-ever Innovation Fest

“Innovation” has become something of a buzzword lately, and it’s on the mind of business owners everywhere. But how does a business get there? What’s the secret to coming up with an original, achievable idea? What differs between the company that develops the next big thing, and all those companies that, well, don’t? Maybe it’s the right combination of inspiration and luck, or perhaps it takes years of tireless work, but the end result is the same: a brilliant yet seemingly simple invention that leaves us all thinking, “Man, I wish I’d thought of that!”

Innovation Fest

While there may not be a straight and narrow path to a big, revolutionary idea, we’ve found there’s one way to predictably generate good ideas, and lots of them: collaboration. In that spirit, Ruby recently held our first-ever ever Innovation Fest. You may have heard of “Hackathons” or “Hack Days”—sprint-like design events geared toward intensive collaboration on software development projects. Innovation Fest put a Ruby twist on this popular practice by incorporating one of our core values: Innovate.

The goal of Innovation Fest was to develop something—anything! Our Product, UX, Development, and Q/A teams had one day to come up with an idea, gather a group together, and develop the idea into a product before presenting the product to the rest of the team.

The results? A Ruby app for Apple Watch, to name one! Check out our latest mobile app overview video featuring Apple Watch:

Ruby’s emphasis on technology allows us to not only scale and grow as a company, but to enhance the services we provide to our customers—something we’re always working to do. In an effort to complement our feature-rich mobile app, one Innovation Fest team dedicated itself to building an Apple Watch app to simplify status updates for Ruby users on the go. Led by Software Developer Shawn Bernard, Team Apple Watch was inspired make it even easier for busy customers to update their call-handling instructions on the fly, keeping our talented receptionists in step with their changing day.

And now, a few short weeks (and a lot of work) later, the app has come to life! Ruby customers can use their Apple Watches to view their last three calls, open call details from a notification, return a call from a message or voicemail, and set a status with just one tap.

Innovate and Grow

Ruby’s inaugural Innovation Fest wasn’t just a salute to our core value Innovate, but a celebration of our core value Grow as well. Of the four members of Team Apple Watch, three began their Ruby careers as receptionists, growing into their current tech-focused roles through hard work and determination. Q/A Tester Heather Hill had this to say of the Innovation Fest experience and her career journey at Ruby:

Having been with Ruby for 5 and a half years, I’m honored by all the opportunities I’ve had to stretch myself and grow. Innovation Fest was a true testament to living out our core values, and gave us the opportunity to get creative and really challenge ourselves. Working on a team to help design and develop Ruby’s first Apple Watch app has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. We were able to put our collective skillsets to the test, think outside of the box, and collaborate on what we thought would increase our service level and delight our customers. As a member of Team Apple Watch, I am THRILLED to release the app into the wild!

Associate UX Designer Macie Groves echoed Heather’s sentiments:

It was exciting to explore such a new realm of technology, and it was also an incredible testament to how far I’d come already. In 4 years, I went from answering phones to designing a wearable tech app—that’s amazing!

Congratulations to Team Apple Watch for their innovation and growth! If you’re an Apple-loving Ruby customer, we hope you enjoy using our new app as much as we enjoyed building it!

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What kind of phone system should I get for my business?

phone options

Nearly every business needs a phone system. There are more means of communication than ever, but in many ways, the telephone still reigns supreme. Short of a face-to-face conversation, there’s no replacement for being able to actually speak with a client, customer, or business partner over the phone.

That doesn’t mean phones haven’t changed in our time. Far from it: the internet and the smartphone have both altered phone communications, opening up new platforms, features, and options for voice chat.

So, how should businesses sort out those options and find the best one for them? In the end, that comes down to a business: a 10-person company with a small sales team is going to have very different needs from a three-person accounting firm, which is going to be different from a one-person solopreneur operation. Let’s discuss your options so you can decide which one may be best for your small business’ needs.

You have three main options for a small business phone system: VoIP, landline, and virtual phone system apps. Let’s take a closer look at each below.

Voice Over IP (VoIP) Phone System

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP for short, is common technology you’ve probably used before. If you’ve ever made or received a Skype call, you’re already familiar with VoIP. As the name suggests, this type of phone system uses the Internet to transmit voice calls. Some VoIP providers go exclusively through desktop or mobile apps—more on that in a minute—but first let’s focus on business VoIP systems, which work primarily through desk handsets. Here are the main benefits of a VoIP system for business:

When compared to the installation fees and monthly charges associated with a landline, a VoIP phone line is much friendlier to your budget. A VoIP system for five employees will typically cost between $150-$300 a month, compared to a landline at $400-$500 a month.

Easy to install and use.
If you have the Internet and a VoIP handset, you have everything you need to install and operate a VoIP phone system. Handsets range from $30 on the low end to several hundred dollars for the top systems. With most VoIP providers, your service can be operational within minutes.

One of the best reasons to go for VoIP is flexibility. Unlike with a landline, you’re not tethered to your desk. You can leave the office and forward your incoming calls to your smartphone or any other line.

What type of business should use VoIP?
Since VoIP is so affordable, it’s a great option for any small business. Businesses that may benefit the most from a VoIP system include those with distributed teams that have no central office. If you manage a remote team but need everyone to have access to a central phone system, VoIP is a smart choice.

VoIP is also great for customer-facing businesses. Using advanced features such as barge or whisper, you can listen in on phone calls between your staff and customers and also coach them (or whisper) in real time. You can use these features to improve your customer service and employee training.

The biggest caveat is you need a reliable high-speed Internet connection to maintain consistently clear phone calls. For this reason, we recommend businesses take a VoIP speed test before committing to a VoIP provider.

Virtual Phone System Apps

Is your small business fully mobile? Do you operate a small business where there’s no need for a dedicated office space with desk phones? Perhaps you’re always on the go and need your phone system to travel with you? A virtual phone system app may be the perfect solution to your needs.

Operating like any other app, a virtual phone system can be accessed by clicking on an icon on your mobile device, such as a smartphone. You can add departments and a variety of extensions to employees across multiple continents, and receive calls from any location.

A virtual phone system app gives you the option to use your existing number. You can also go with a toll free or local number—whichever would be easier for your customers to access. The varied options are perfect for businesses who want a separate phone number with advanced features but don’t necessarily need a desk phone. Most VoIP providers also include an app with their service.

What type of business should use a virtual phone system app?

A virtual phone system app is also a great option for small businesses. If you’re a solopreneur or a small team with the need to place and phone calls on the go, an app may answer all of your phone needs. You can pay monthly while also presenting a professional appearance to your customers.


Next up is the old faithful: landlines. Many businesses go with a landline because it’s the most traditional choice. However, compared to the agility of a VoIP system, landlines are sluggish, expensive, and antiquated. That said, there is at least one reason why a small business may choose to use a landline service instead of a VoIP: Internet. If your Internet service is unreliable, weak, or non-existent, a landline phone may be your best option. VoIP relies on Internet, but landlines are analog systems that use copper wiring. Businesses that experience frequent power outages may also benefit from a landline phone system.

What type of business should use a landline phone system?
Small businesses without access to reliable high speed Internet service should either consider upgrading their Internet package or go for a landline system. This system is also best paired with office staff that work from one stationary location, without leaving the office.

Final Thoughts
Which phone system should you choose? It depends on your budget and your office set up. If you need or want desk phones, opt for a VoIP system that gives you everything a traditional landline system does and much more at half the price. If desk phones aren’t important or necessary, choose an app that can be accessed on your smartphone.

Any of the above options will help you succeed in the most important task: being accessible to your customers. It’s only a matter of how much you’d like to spend and how often you’ll use your line.

Jacqueline ThomasJacqueline Thomas writes about small business development, business technology, and real estate for Fit Small Business. She can be reached on Twitter @kyothomas, or on her personal website,

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Ruby & Clio—Together At Last!

Ruby Receptionists: Lawyer Answering ServiceAt Ruby, we know communicating with clients is a critical part of an attorney’s job, but also one that can take up a great deal of time and energy. Keeping track of that communication can prove even more difficult.

Ruby® Receptionists and Clio want to alleviate this burden and streamline attorney and client communication with our new integration. Now Clio users can automatically have Ruby messages and voicemail notifications sent to their Clio account, making it easy to associate these notifications with specific matters and contacts.

Communication log screenshot

For example, if a caller’s contact information matches the contact information of an existing contact within Clio, the Ruby message will automatically be assigned to that existing contact. Clio users can then go in and edit the message, add notes and contacts, or connect the message to a matter by typing in the matter number. Additionally, Clio users can add time to a message for billing purposes.

With Ruby and Clio together at last, attorneys will be able to:

  • Delight Callers: Callers are greeted by a cheerful, knowledgeable receptionist trained to deliver exceptional experiences.
  • Grow Your Practice: Missed calls are missed opportunities. Ruby answers 100% of calls live—13 hours a day, 5 days a week.
  • Break Free From Your Desk: With Clio’s cloud-based management software and Ruby’s ability to transfer calls to wherever you are, there’s no need to be tied to an office.

Enjoy peace of mind knowing your calls are handled by a highly skilled and friendly receptionist, while saving you time with all your client’s details in one place!

If you’re a current Ruby and Clio client, download our instructions for integrating your Ruby notifications into your Clio account.

For Clio clients interested in learning more about the Ruby/Clio integration, or how Ruby can help your practice, send us an email at

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When Your Laptop Is Your Office: Preparing To Go Mobile

Mobile Office Tips

A mobile office gives you a level of autonomy you can’t achieve in a traditional office. While this can be liberating, it can also be inconvenient if you’re not equipped with the equivalent of items you would have available in a regular office. Whether you’re transitioning or looking for ideas to make your mobile office more efficient, we’re here to help!

Continue reading “When Your Laptop Is Your Office: Preparing To Go Mobile”

Cyber Sleuth: Use Social Media to Create Connections with Your Clients!

Photo by timofeia
Photo by timofeia

Facebook, my dear Watson!

The pinnacle of Ruby service (and customer service in general) is making meaningful connections with clients, but actually getting to that point can be a little tricky. That’s where social media can help! In addition to listening for cues and asking questions, social media can help you get to know your clients and even WOW them!

Play detective! Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn…it’s enough to make your head spin. Not to mention that as of this writing, we have 1,406 Twitter followers and 1,332 Facebook “likes.” That’s a lot of folks to keep straight!

When a new client signs up, I do a quick search for their business on Facebook and Twitter and segment them with streams in Hootsuite. At a glance, I can see what our clients are talking about and what interests them, and depending on the info, we might reply via social media or add it to their account so that the rest of our virtual receptionist team can get to know them, too!

Don’t just listen, jump into the fray! Even the term, “lurker,” seems dubious; a friendly conversation always has two sides! We try to share others’ helpful articles and add a bit of commentary whenever possible, and we always reply to folks who mention us on Twitter or post on our Facebook page. When our clients see that we’re just as real and friendly as we are over the phone, they keep coming back!

Know when to have an aside. When I post to the Ruby Facebook page or tweet from @callruby, most of the time, I’m speaking as Ruby (you know, the royal “we,” the editorial…). However, if I ever see anything that strikes a chord with me personally, it’s “Quick! To the notecard cabinet!” And of course, a little context never hurts (Saw your tweet the other day that your daughter was ill. I hope she’s feeling better!).

We’d love to connect with you, too! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and strike up a conversation!

Robot Versus Human: Who’s Better for Your Business?

Real human vs automation

I stumbled upon an article on Inc. magazine the other day about chatbots — avatars you can put on your website to answer questions and help customers (not to be confused with Autobots). While virtual receptionists are real people who work out of a remote office, chatbots reside on websites and are typically cartoons or photos of people that have been programmed to automatically respond to common questions.

It got us thinking…who would win in a fight to provide the best customer service for your business? Let’s get ready to rumble!

  • Round I: Understanding. While a bot can hazard a guess at a person’s intent, a live virtual receptionist will be able to interpret it better. If a chatbot misinterprets something, it could be frustrating for the customer to have to rephrase their question. And a live person can always ask a quick qualifying question if necessary so that customers won’t have to repeat themselves (“Were you looking for car insurance or life insurance?”). Point: Virtual receptionists.
  • Round II: Tone. Sometimes it’s not what a person says, but how they say it. A live person can pick up on inflections in the caller’s voice and tailor responses to their mood. Someone in a hurry may type the same question as someone who has oodles of time; a live virtual receptionist can differentiate between the two by their tone and match each caller’s communication style. Point: Virtual receptionists.
  • Round III: Price. Both chatbots and virtual receptionist services are a fraction of the price of having a full-time employee in the office, but if you have a small business, a chatbot may be cheaper. Though sites with large numbers of queries may cost around the same amount per month as a live virtual receptionist, we’ll call this round in favor of the robots. Point: Robots.
  • Round IV: Going above and beyond. A chatbot won’t be able to make the same judgment calls a live person will, no matter how smart the programming. A human can anticipate a caller’s needs and offer to help before they even have to ask. Point: Virtual receptionists.
  • Round V: Personal connection. While a cartoon or photo of a human may be smiling, there is no substitute for an actual human who will crack a joke and share a laugh with your customers. People do business with people they like — and that’s the K.O. for the bots in this battle!

Winner: Virtual receptionists!

3 Ways to WOW Customers with Speedy Responses

Photo by Brett Jordan

Doing what you say you’ll do may be the table stakes of great customer service, but responding quickly to clients can take it one step further and WOW them. You don’t need to be the Flash to be super responsive; try these three steps to save the day!

Answer calls promptly.

After five or six rings, callers tend to think no one’s there, so they may hang up (and if they’re a new client, they may call someone else who answers right away). Having a virtual receptionist service at the ready can make you look good. Our virtual receptionists cheerfully answer 95% of calls within the first two rings and 99.8% within the first four rings, and we often hear from surprised callers “how fantastic it is to speak to someone right away!” The simple act of a live person answering the phone right off the bat can impress callers and will set a great tone for the rest of the call.

Use ShortKeys.

If you find yourself typing the same phrases over and over throughout the day, ShortKeys can kick start your response time and knock out pesky typos. Our virtual receptionist team uses ShortKeys to write frequently used phrases like “Declined to leave a message, just FYI” and “Solicitation” and help us send lightning-fast, accurate messages. This text replacement software works across a myriad of applications (Outlook, Word, etc.), and best of all, ShortKeys Lite is free!

Bonus shortcut: If you’re on a PC, press CTRL and the up arrow to bring up ShortKeys and add a new phrase!

Save email templates.

When responding to a timely question, having a template saved with some basic info can make a huge difference. Our Client Services team — or Problem Solvers & Happiness Makers, as we call them — also likes to follow every call with an email. For example, if a client has a question on forwarding their phone to Ruby, they’ll talk them through it over the phone. Afterward, they’ll pull up a template, customize it, and in minutes, the client will have written instructions to reference, too!

If you use Microsoft SharePoint, you can save and share your email templates with your team, or simply save them right in your email client. Templates won’t be one-size-fits-all, so it’s best to personalize them for each individual; however, they can sure help you hit the ground running!

What do you do to be extra responsive? We’d love to hear from you! Share by Tweeting us @callruby!