Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Many Firms - Just One Receptionist

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Many Firms - Just One Receptionist

Article excerpt

If you're fed up with automated phone systems, press star now. I'm sorry, you have pressed an incorrect key. If you're fed up with automated phone systems, press star now.

I'm sorry, that is not an option. Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. And no, you won't be able to speak to a real person, so stop pummeling the zero key.

If this scenario evokes bad memories, you've joined the millions of customers around the world who are having what the automated phone-service industry calls "a negative call-center experience."

The good news is, businesses are acutely aware of the problem and are trying to do something about it. The bad news is that few companies are turning away from the technology, because they are unwilling to pay for a live receptionist - especially one that works in the United States.

But here and there, a few companies are bucking the trend toward automation. By combining technology with a little creativity, they've found ways to maintain a human touch with an American voice.

"Our clients realize that not everything was as expected, so a number of them are bringing their [call-center] operations back to the US," says Esteban Kolsky of Gartner Inc., which provides research on customer-service trends to midsize and multinational corporations in the US.

A cost differential remains, however. An in-house receptionist costs $4.25 per transaction - compared with about $1.80 for an overseas receptionist, according to Gartner research. Comparatively, the same transaction could be handled by a computer for 65 cents or an automated phone system for $1.85.

US companies that prefer - but don't want to pay for - the friendly personable service that in-house receptionists provide can turn to a relatively new option: the "virtual receptionist."

At a fraction of the cost - and without the hassles of dealing with late-to-work employees, vacation time, and benefits, a virtual receptionist company can provide all-day, economical support from a remote location.

"I'm in the retail business, not the management business," says Richard Swartz, owner of Mano Swartz, a luxury fur business in Baltimore.

Selling furs is Mr. …

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