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Our small business answering service picks for 2024

By: JAMIE OSTROE | Fact Checked By: GABRIELLE CARPENTER | Updated: May 1, 2024

Missed calls can be a costly mistake for any business. In today’s technology-forward world, customers want immediate responses or will turn to another company—like your competitors. To avoid this mishap and keep your customers happy, we’ve compiled a guide with the best call-answering services for small businesses. Our guide includes the pros and cons and reviews of the top answering services today to help you dial in on which one best meets your needs.

Our Top Picks

  1. Abby Connect – Best for a Dedicated Receptionist Team
  2. AnswerConnect – Best for High Call Volumes
  3. PATLive – Best for Virtual Receptionists
  4. Specialty Answering Service – Best for a Tight Budget
  5. VoiceNation – Best Overall Answering Service for Small Business

Small Business Answering Service Reviews

Many inbound answering services are available today, and whether you have a business of five employees or 5,000, an answering service is a game changer. To find the best, we started with an all-encompassing list of 24 prominent service providers, and after meticulous research, we narrowed it down to the top five answering services for small businesses.

Our top picks are based on many factors ranging from services offered to availability, pricing, and reputation. Our team of experts then studied each vendor, parent company, and customer experience to ensure we provide you with the best choices. To learn more about our evaluation process, check out our methodology section.

abby connect logo

Abby Connect – Best for a Dedicated Receptionist Team

With Abby Connect, your callers won’t even know they’re talking to an answering service. Abby Connect offers distinctive features designed to continually improve your callers’ experience. It offers voicemail solutions, customer transfer tunes, and a mobile app. On top of that, you get a dedicated team of five to ten live receptionists (including two bilingual professionals) who are trained to handle your business’s needs.

They function as your in-house receptionists and cost of fraction of what full-time employees do. They answer calls, respond to chats, schedule appointments, provide FAQs, and conduct client intake. The team is also capable of transferring calls directly to you. Interestingly, they leverage an AI tool designed to enhance, optimize, reduce errors, and streamline your service.

Abby Connect combines AI technology and a personal, dedicated team to provide the optimal experience for your callers.

  • No contracts; cancel anytime
  • AI technology for optimized service
  • Dedicated team for continuity
  • Pricey compared to competitors

Abby Connect features

  • 24/7 availability
  • Bilingual service
  • Compliance and security
  • Mobile app
  • Omnichannel capability

How Abby Connect pricing works

The pricing structure is transparent. You can choose either a live answering plan based on per-minute cost, a live chat plan determined by the number of chats your team engages in, or a bundled plan encompassing both services. With no contractual obligations, you can cancel anytime without incurring penalties.

What markets does Abby Connect serve?

Abby Connect proudly identifies as the leading small business answering service, particularly for legal, dental, medical, and accounting companies. Integrating a live team well-versed in your business details, coupled with AI to minimize errors, Abby Connect is an exceptional option for small businesses seeking a cohesive and efficient approach catering to their callers.

answerconnect logo

AnswerConnect – Best for High Call Volumes

AnswerConnect is dedicated to adding a human touch to all your customer interactions, whether through live call answering or live web chats. Remarkably, they respond to an impressive 99 percent of calls within one to four rings. Their comprehensive list of services includes 24/7 live answering, after-business-hours support, bilingual receptionists, call forwarding, virtual receptionist services, inbound calls, call routing and transfers, lead capture, urgent call handling, appointment scheduling, and inbound direct response. They also offer Teleport video calls, with call recording available for every interaction.

One standout feature is its resilience against power outages. All receptionists work remotely from home, minimizing the risk of service disruptions. Additionally, a free mobile app facilitates instant messaging with receptionists for seamless communication and efficient management of call and chat scripts. The platform offers integrations with numerous business software and CRM systems.

  • Can handle high-volume calls and chats
  • Low incidence of downtime
  • CRM and third-party integrations
  • Instant message feature through mobile app
  • Gets costly if you go over the allotted minutes

AnswerConnect features

  • 24/7 availability
  • Bilingual service
  • Compliance and security
  • Mobile app
  • Omnichannel capability

How AnswerConnect pricing works

AnswerConnect offers a tiered structure comprising three distinct plans, each allocated a specific number of minutes. A one-time setup fee is applied, as is a variable charge for each minute exceeding your monthly plan.

What markets does AnswerConnect serve?

AnswerConnect recommends its services for various industries, including healthcare, e-commerce, real estate, finance, legal, tech, service providers, franchises, and marketing and media companies. Businesses with substantial call and chat volumes will find great value in AnswerConnect. Each plan comes with a generous allocation of minutes. Plus, the 24/7 real human service is a must-have to boost customer satisfaction.

patlive logo

PATLive – Best for Virtual Receptionists

PATLive is a specialized small business telephone answering service. It’s distinguished by its US-based virtual receptionists, who undergo 80 hours of intensive training to ensure excellent service on every call 24/7. What does this mean for your business? No more missed calls or chats and increased customer satisfaction. PATLive boasts of answering calls within four rings and responding to chats within eight seconds.

PATLive offers virtual receptionist solutions, scripted calls and chats, a user-friendly mobile app, scheduling capabilities, lead collection, event registrations, message handling, call screening, order processing, and seamless call transfers. The service also provides extensive integrations with popular apps, spanning from calendars to CRM. If you can’t find the desired integration, an API is available for further customization. It’s worth noting that bilingual answering services are available but for an additional cost.

  • 24/7 availability to live receptionists
  • Scalable plans and no contracts
  • Prompt answered calls and chats
  • Bilingual answering service is an extra cost

PATLive features

  • 24/7 availability
  • Bilingual service
  • Mobile app
  • Omnichannel capability

How PATLive pricing works

PATLive offers a “white-glove treatment,” encompassing complimentary setup and onboarding. Pricing starts at $60 per month and $2.34 per minute. With nine plans to choose from, you have flexibility without being tied to a contract. Billing is month-to-month, and you can adjust your plan at any time, scaling up or down or canceling. Additionally, the 14-day free trial allows you to explore and determine which services best suit your needs.

What markets does PATLive serve?

If a live person answering your calls consistently is crucial for your call center or business, PATLive is the solution. With 24/7 live, US-based virtual receptionists, you can rest assured that incoming calls and chats will be answered promptly, and no calls will be missed

specialty answering service logo

Specialty Answering Service – Best for a Tight Budget

Specialty Answering Service (SAS) stands out as a comprehensive and feature-rich answering service, surpassing many competitors in the field. With a team of over 300 live receptionists, SAS offers a diverse range of services, including live answering, call center services, support for small businesses, both inbound and outbound calls, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, automated answering services, call dispatch, text and email message handling, appointment setting, emergency response services, and more.

Designed to cater to businesses of any size, SAS seamlessly scales with your call volume, providing 24/7 availability and bilingual services. Even if you already have an in-house call center, SAS can complement your operations during downtimes, efficiently handling and dispatching calls directly to your on-call staff. The package includes a robust mobile app equipped with insights, custom scripts, and call management features tailored to various industries.

Ensuring compliance with HIPAA regulations and prioritizing privacy and security, SAS is not only suitable for healthcare and emergency healthcare companies but also caters to 25 other diverse sectors.

  • Robust and unique feature set for the price
  • Interactive voice response is available
  • Scalable plans
  • One-time set-up fee required

Specialty Answering Service features

  • 24/7 availability
  • Bilingual service
  • Compliance and security
  • Mobile app
  • Omnichannel capability

How Specialty Answering Service pricing works

First, a one-time setup fee of $50 is applied. Then, SAS charges a monthly base rate for each of its eight plans—the lowest starting at $38. Each plan is allocated a specific number of minutes, and you’ll pay a fee per minute over that allotment. To help you determine the most suitable plan, SAS provides a 14-day free trial where you can assess your minute requirements.

Billing is conducted on a month-to-month basis, providing flexibility for users. You can cancel your subscription or switch plans at any time without incurring any penalties.

What markets does Specialty Answering Service serve?

SAS is a versatile solution that suits a wide range of businesses, from startups to large enterprises. It is notably suitable for healthcare and emergency services with its HIPAA compliance and emergency dispatch capabilities, allowing it to seamlessly manage large emergency inbound call volumes. Additionally, SAS is an excellent complement to large-volume call centers, extending business hours to 24/7 and enhancing overall call center efficiency.

voicenation logo

VoiceNation – Best Overall Answering Service for Small Business

VoiceNation is poised to be your answering service partner with plans specific to virtual receptionists, chat management, and everything in between. It offers flexible plans and pricing, and 24/7 service is available 365 days a year. Plus, unlike some answering services, it provides bilingual services as needed.

VoiceNation offers many features, including order processing, appointment setting, outbound call handling, intake services, call transfer, custom call scripting, and highly trained bilingual operators. Message taking is also included, and you will get message notifications by text, email, or voicemail. A tech-forward dashboard with detailed reports is available. All of this is set up on a local or toll-free phone number you can give out as your own number or have calls forwarded to. VoiceNation is also HIPPA-compliant, making it great for medical and legal agencies.

Getting started is quick and easy. After signing up, you receive immediate account activation and the ability to customize features within just 24 hours. A comprehensive dashboard allows you to monitor and modify interactions in real-time, and you can customize everything through a robust mobile app, making VoiceNation an impactful choice for businesses looking to enhance their operations.

  • Bilingual answering service included
  • Scalable, flexible plans
  • Instant activation available
  • Overage charges are not transparent, making it hard to compare pricing

VoiceNation features

  • 24/7 availability
  • Bilingual service
  • Compliance and security
  • Mobile app
  • Omnichannel capability

How VoiceNation pricing works

VoiceNation offers 15 flexible plans—seven live receptionist and eight chat plans, with a special offer of a 20% discount on the chat plan when combined with a live receptionist plan. A seven-day free trial allows you to choose the plan that best suits your specific needs. The services are commitment-free, allowing you to instantly adjust or scale your plan through the user-friendly dashboard.

A base rate is billed monthly and includes a specified number of minutes or chats. There is an extra charge if you go over your minutes. It is not indicated whether or not there’s a setup fee.

What markets does VoiceNation serve?

VoiceNation is an exceptional choice for small businesses needing an answering service. With 15 flexible and scalable plans, each encompassing a comprehensive array of essential features, VoiceNation emerges as the ideal solution that seamlessly evolves alongside your business. It’s not just an answering service; it’s a dynamic partner primed to support and nurture the growth of your business.

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

Software Name Why we picked it Starting price for the cheapest plan Highlights
Abby Connect Best for a Dedicated Receptionist Team $200 / month / 100 mins A dedicated team that uses AI to optimize your service
AnswerConnect Best for High Call Volumes $325 / month / 200 mins Remote virtual receptionists that can handle high volumes
PATLive Best for Virtual Receptionists $60 / month +$2.34 / min 24/7 real-person answering service and chat
Specialty Answering Service Best for a Tight Budget $38 / month +$1.39 / min Robust feature set that competitors can’t beat
VoiceNation Best Overall Answering Service for Small Business $65 / month / 20 mins Flexible, scalable plans that can grow with you

What is an answering service?

An answering service is a professional service that manages incoming and outbound calls on behalf of a business. Instead of relying on in-house staff to answer calls, an answering service employs trained professionals, known as virtual receptionists, to answer phone calls, take messages, provide information, and handle various inquiries. Answering services contribute to improved customer service, increased accessibility, and the ability to maintain a professional image by ensuring that calls are handled with care and professionalism.

How does an answering service work?

A phone answering service provides dedicated trained professionals to handle incoming calls for your business. By outsourcing call handling, you can ensure that your calls are managed efficiently, improving customer service and freeing up internal resources for other critical tasks. Answering service providers use the following methods to handle your business calls:

  • Setup and Onboarding: Initial setup and onboarding include providing information about your business, scripting responses, and configuring call handling preferences.
  • Call Routing: Calls to your business phone system are redirected to the answering service.
  • Live Answering: Trained virtual receptionists answer incoming calls on your behalf. They follow predefined scripts or guidelines to provide information, take messages, schedule appointments, order taking, or perform other tasks based on your requirements.
  • Customized Scripts: You can customize scripts to ensure that virtual receptionists provide consistent and accurate information to callers.
  • Call Handling Instructions: You can provide specific instructions on handling different types of calls, ensuring that the virtual receptionists align with your policies.
  • Reporting: You will receive regular reports summarizing call activities, response times, and other relevant metrics.

How much does an answering service cost?

Based on the five answering service vendors we reviewed, these services normally charge a monthly base fee and a per-minute fee. For some, like PATLive and Specialty Answering Service, you pay the monthly fee plus the per-minute rate. For others like Abby Connect, AnswerConnect, and VoiceNation, you get a certain number of minutes included in your monthly plan, then pay a per-minute rate if you go over those assigned minutes. There is also a set-up fee to take into consideration. The following chart will help you compare pricing on our top five vendors.

Answering Service Monthly Base Rate Number of Minutes Extra Charge Per Minute Over Set Up Fee
Abby Connect $200 100 Not specified Not specified
AnswerConnect $325 200 Not specified $49.50
PATLive $60 None $2.34 Not specified
Specialty Answering Service $38 None $1.38 $50
VoiceNation $65 20 $2.19 Not specified

Small business answering services FAQ

What types of businesses benefit from an answering service?

Any business that relies heavily on phone communications, experiences high call volumes, and/or needs after-hours support will benefit from an answering service. Often, missing a call means losing business. As an example, here are types of small businesses that can significantly benefit from an answering service:

  • Consulting firms
  • Dental practices
  • Fitness centers and spas
  • IT support services
  • Legal firms
  • Medical and healthcare facilities
  • Real estate agencies
  • Restaurants and catering businesses
  • Retail outlets
  • Service providers

What services do small business answering service companies provide?

Answering service companies offer various services to help small business owners manage their incoming calls. These services enable small businesses to maintain professional, efficient communication and to follow up with their customers, which allows you to focus on core business activities.

Some common services include:

  • Phone answering
  • Bilingual support
  • Message-taking and delivery
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Call screening
  • Order processing
  • Emergency dispatch
  • After-hours support
  • Live chat support

What should business owners look for in an answering service?

To choose the best answering service that meets your business requirements and enhances customer communication, start by clearly defining your specific needs. Look for a 24/7 service for after-hours and your customers in different time zones. Ensure the service can scale to accommodate fluctuations in call volume as your business grows. Prioritize professionalism, seeking a service that projects a positive image through customized scripting, personalized greetings, and well-trained operators.

Consider technology integration by opting for a service that integrates with your existing tech deck, such as CRM software. Take advantage of trial periods offered to assess quality and alignment with your expectations. Emphasize security measures to protect sensitive customer information and maintain confidentiality.

Choose a service with multilingual support for your non-English customers. Evaluate the cost structure, compare pricing models, and be aware of any hidden fees. Read customer reviews and testimonials to gauge brand reputation and, finally, inquire about reliability measures to ensure continuity of service in case of technical issues or emergencies.

Why choose an answering service instead of a receptionist?

While a receptionist can provide a personal touch, answering services offer many benefits. Choosing an answering service over a traditional receptionist is a cost-effective solution for businesses, especially smaller ones. These services offer 24/7 availability, are scalable to business needs, and provide a professional image through consistent interactions.

Companies can customize services based on their unique requirements, making answering services a practical option for cost optimization and improved customer communication. With a live receptionist, you must account for equipment costs, office space, salary, benefits, and paid time off. A receptionist is also not scalable to your call volume—there’s only so much one person can do, and you will still need an after-hours service.

How we chose the best answering services for small businesses

In order to identify the top answering services, we started with a list of 24 standout providers. We narrowed our list to the five best contenders based on specific features that our team of experts deemed necessary. The particular features we looked for include:

  • Around-the-clock (including after-hours) answering services.
  • Bilingual (English and Spanish) answering and customer support.
  • Omnichannel approach with at least chat and a live answering service.
  • Robust mobile app to manage your service.
  • Security measures for HIPPA compliance and payment processing.

We then studied, rated, and reviewed these five vendors based on a proprietary rating scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) spread among four categories. Each category carries 25 percent of the final score. These categories include:

  • Features
  • Price transparency
  • Onboarding and customer support
  • Brand reputation

Finally, we reviewed each vendor’s website and parent company. We verified data through interviews with experts and customers. We took and studied all live demonstrations to get an overall sense of the company and product. Our information-gathering and evaluation process is done by our team of experts to ensure our reviews are thorough and objective, bringing you the most up-to-date and useful information to help you make a well-informed decision based on your business needs.